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  • Pre-Nationals

    Posted on October 26th, 2009

    Just over a week ago, Northern Arizona was back in action at the Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, In. Every year, most of the top ranked teams in the nation flock to the location of the national championships for a chance to see the course and see where they stack up among the nation’s best.

    The field is split up into more-or-less equal fields in the “White” and “Blue” race. This year, NAU competed in the Blue race with defending national champions Oregon and third ranked Alabama.

    Our race was scheduled for 11AM, so we made plans to meet as a team at 7 for a 10 minute shakeout run. This was 4 AM PST, but luckily we did our travel on Thursday so we had a day of adjusting under our belt.

    Breakfast followed with the usual oatmeal, banana and bagel after the shakeout. After a little stretching and relaxing, we headed off to the course at 9:30… with most of the team. Unfortunately, Jordan Chipangama (winner of the Aztec Invitational and Cowboy Jamboree) and Ahmed Osman (our expected 5th man) thought we would be returning to the hotel after the course to shower, so they did not have their bags packed. Coach Heins made a quick decision to take the rest of us to the course to begin warming up, and Coach Watkins would bring Jordan and Ahmed to the course when they were ready (we later found out that it didn’t go as planned… Jordan and Ahmed hopped into a taxi, but got to the course just as we started to warm up).

    Our instructions were to get out like we want to at nationals and to race from there. After winning the Cowboy Jamboree two weeks earlier, we didn’t need to have a great race to ensure our place at the national championships.

    Temperature was around 45F with a little wind and the course was a little soggy from rain the previous few days. It felt cold standing on the line, but once the gun went off, I never thought about the temperature which is a good thing. I was focused on the task at hand, racing.

    I got out well in the first 800m somewhere around 50th place and came through the 1 kilometer in 2:48. Seems really fast, but there is quite a bit of downhill in that first kilometer. I was so focused on seeing my split that I hardly realized that I was right on teammate Ben Ashkettle’s shoulder.

    From there I could see 7 yellow Oregon jerseys packing it up front. Some of them should come back to me. I continued with the pack, passing 2k in 5:56. As the field winded through the course, I could see the front pack and saw Dave McNeill, Jordan Chipangama and Diego Estrada up there. I specifically remember thinking, “Dave looks like he is jogging.”

    Moving to the 5k, I was passing a few runners that had clearly gone out way too hard, but was being passed at an equal rate. Shortly after crossing the 5k in 15:25, Coach Watkins told me I was in about 60th. I was 65th last year, and I know I am a lot better than that. I kept pushing and passed a few more runners. Things were looking good until about 7k.

    Just ahead I saw Dave fading bad. Coach Heins was there to point out the unfortunate truth, “PD, you are our 5th man today!” It is never a good day when a team’s 6th man is passing its 1st. But who says it has to be a bad day? We won the Cowboy Jamboree without Dave running, surely we are still a great team without him.

    As I passed Dave, he was clearly hurting bad. I did not know it at the time, but he said after the race that he came down with the worse side stitch of all time. (ALL TIME! Stupid Kanye…) With about 600m to go, Dave made one last effort to salvage some points and came flying by me. It wasn’t to be and he faded to 61st.

    Knowing I was a scoring man gave me that little bit of extra drive and I was able to pass a few runners in the final stretch to finish 53rd in 24:43. As a team we finished 3rd, behind first place Oregon and one point behind Alabama. Jordan and Diego had great days once again, finishing 3rd and 4th, and Ben moved way up from Cowboy Jamboree finishing in 16th.

    After the race, Coach Heins reminded us that a loss is not always such a bad thing. 5 weeks out from Nationals, there is still plenty of work to be done. With Dave’s off day and the less-than-ideal morning that Ahmed and Jordan had, we definitely have a lot of upside. Had Dave finished with our Ben, we would have beat Oregon.

    My individual race was good, but not great. The course was definitely slower than last year, which accounts for running 5 seconds slower and placing 12 spots better. I am dissapointed that I finished one place behind Oregon’s 7th man. At Nationals, I want to make a difference for my team, and if I’m not a scorer, that means placing on every other team’s top-5. I know I can run with those guys and I just have to believe during the race. I have seven 100 mile weeks under my belt this season and a bump up to 10k at Nationals will play in my favor.

    Results | Recap on | Video on Flotrack

  • Cowboy Jamboree

    Posted on October 4th, 2009

    Yesterday Northern Arizona’s cross country teams competed in the 73rd Cowboy Jamboree hosted by Oklahoma State in Stillwater. This meet would be the first challenging race of the season for as the mens field was very competitive with nationally ranked #2 Oklahoma State, #13 William and Marry and #1 in Division II Adams State.

    Heading to Oklahoma, I wanted to improve on my 25:14 with hopes of being around graduate Mark Fruin’s mark of 24:49 from last year’s race. An hour or so before the race, Coach Heins told me Ahmed Osman, Jordan Chipangama and Diego Estrada would be taking it out hard from the gun. Ben Ashkettle would be going out a little more conservative as it was his first race back. I had envisioned getting out like I normally do and moving up through the race with Ben once he passed me.

    As we got together as a team just before the start, Coach Heins told us he wanted all of us to get out hard and really get after it. So I threw out my plans of a conservative start and we did exactly what Coach Heins asked. I came through the 800m mark in 2:22 and I crossed the mile in about 4:42 a couple of seconds behind teammates Diego and Ben who were leading the race. Jordan and Ahmed were somewhere in the pack between me and the leaders.

    After about 2.5km, the course goes into a woodsy area with a number of steep inclines and descents on a wood chip path. It is a pretty cool course, weaving through trees and spectators running through the woods. I crossed the 2 mile in 9:35 and around that point about 5 orange Oklahoma State jerseys passed me. Knowing I would be a scoring member of the team, I followed along and tried to stay on OSU’s 5th man.

    I came through the 5km in 15:12, only 2 seconds slower than last years leaders and just 22 seconds off my track PR. I knew I would be setting a PR today, hopefully under 25 minutes. I continued following the bright orange jersey and suddenly, one of those orange jerseys came back to me! I would later find out that was David Chirchir (15th at NCAA’s two years ago). Coach Seth Watkins found me in the woods and reminded me that I was the 5th man, and if we wanted to win this meet, I could make it happen.

    A few more runners came back to me in the final 800m, and with about 400m to go, I finally passed that OSU runner that I had been following for the last few miles (Jonathon Stublaski). With about 200m to go, the course kicks up one more time before a flat sprint to the finish. As I crested the final incline, I saw one more orange jersey and I knew this one was Girma Mecheso (18th place last year at NCAA’s). I was able to kick by him, but unfortunately Stublaski had a better kick and finished a second ahead of me.

    Just before crossing the line, I saw the clock read 24:32. Knowing that I was the 5th NAU runner, I was fairly certain we had won the meet and felt the urge for a little celebration across the line. I am glad I restrained myself as I had no idea what place I had finished and would later find out the score was much closer than I thought.

    Jordan won the race, apparently with a big move with 1km to go, in 23:44. Diego finished 5th in 23:55, Ben and Ahmed were 13th and 14th in 24:22, I was 19th, Tim Freriks was 40th in 25:07 and Simon Gilna was 65th in 25:30.

    Hours after the race was over, we finally got a phone call (we were already on our way to the airport in Oklahoma City) that we had won. William and Mary finished just 7 points behind us and Adams State finished 3rd ahead of 4th place Oklahoma State. I was really surprised that 1) William and Mary was so close (I mostly focused on the orange jerseys in the race and nearly forgot about W&M. Scanning through the results I was happy to see that I beat their 5th man, even if it was by just a half a second.) and 2) Oklahoma State finished 4th at their own invitational (even if they sat out German Fernandez and Ryan Vail).

    I was 42 seconds off my time from last year. 24:32 would have made me our second best runner. I can think of many great performances in my 16 cross country season, and a few stick out as breakthroughs; this one definitely ranks high on that list. Looking forward this season, I know I still have room to improve as I ran 90+ miles last week. Once we throw World Championships competitor David McNeill into the mix, the team looks even better. It will be tough for me to be a scorer on the team, but I am super motivated to putting myself ahead of every other team’s 5th man. If I can make every team in the country’s top-5, except NAU’s, we are gonna be tough to beat at Nationals.

    Results | Recap on | Video on Flotrack

  • Aztec Invitational

    Posted on September 27th, 2009
    Leading the 2009 Aztec Invitational

    Leading the 2009 Aztec Invitational

    I have been looking forward to posting my race report of the Aztec Invitational all week. School was quite busy last week, with three tests on top of the usual load, and I couldn’t justify spending time updating this blog when there was other work to be done.

    Last weekend’s Aztec Invitational was the first time I led a cross country race alone since the Woodbridge Invitational in 2002, my freshman year of high school. I ended up winning and it still stands as the last cross country race I have won.

    The race started out exactly as Coach Heins wanted it to, fairly conservative with NAU packing it up in the 10-20 spots. University of San Francisco had seven or eight runners leading the charge through one mile, with Junior Eric Lynch, freshman Tim Freriks and myself following close behind. The course is rather hilly, and shortly after the mile marker, an extremely steep hill kicks up towards the heavens. Lynch swore “that hill is definitely over 45°.” As I predicted the day before as we jogged the course, several runners found it necessary to make a move up the hill. Maybe us Lumberjacks are a little conservative when it comes to hills because we are used to reaching a point of no return level of oxygen debt when making moves up hills in Flagstaff at 7,000 feet… Nevertheless, the USF runners quickly paid for their efforts.

    At the top of the hill, we meandered our way through a dog park, of all things, and a few more inclines before reaching the 2 mile mark. Around this point, NAU took over in a dominating fashion with Tim, sophomore Diego Estrada, and juniors Ahmed Osman and Jordan Chipangama taking over the lead pack. After a fast downhill half mile, the course kicked up again with a short, steep uphill with Jordan moving to the lead. I followed his move and closed the gap. Jordan seemed content to let someone else lead, and just like that, there I was in the lead.

    Pretty quickly I realized that this was the first time in a long time that I had led a cross country race. Might as well roll with it, right? So I continued on, passing a large group of spectators (where I specifically heard my Mom with a very excited voice), back through the dog park and down that very steep hill. Shortly after reaching the bottom, Jordan came by with some words of encouragement, but I was unable to keep up. Ahmed and Diego came by me within the next mile, and I ended up finishing the 8km course in 25:41 in fourth.

    I was really amazed that I was actually slower than a year ago on this course — 9 seconds slower. There was no doubt better competition last year. Add that to a very conservative first two miles and I guess that leaves me with a slower time than last year.

    Nonetheless, I still finished really excited about the race, especially since we scored an almost-perfect-16. Leading the race, even for just a short kilometer or so, re-lit a little flame inside of me. Why not stick my nose in it and go for it?

    Shout outs need to go out to the middle distance guys (“MD Crew”) for really stepping it up. Sophomore Darius Terry finished 6th overall and 5th on the team. Just a few seconds behind him were sophomore Joe Withers and junior (and roommate) Kam Holbrook. They suffer through the beatdowns in long runs and workouts all fall from the longer distance guys. I know they were happy to be putting the hurt on the other guys for a change.

    In a week NAU will be competing at the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Ok. Last year we finished 2nd to a very strong Oklahoma State team. This year they are even stronger, with rankings of 1st and 2nd from and the national poll. This will be our team’s first test of the season, even though team leader David McNeill may opt to miss the meet for a couple more weeks of solid training.

    Results | Recap on | Photos

  • George Kyte Classic

    Posted on September 9th, 2009

    2009 George KyteThe George Kyte Classic on Saturday kicked off NAU’s 2009 Cross Country season. The team has been looking very good in all of our workouts and the race was no different. Despite the heavy rain the last 1.5 miles, many people set big course PRs, including myself with a 30 second improvement over last year to finish 8th overall. Sophomore Diego Estrada won in 24:57, a 71 second improvement. Sophomore Andrew Belus also had an outstanding performance, breaking his SEA LEVEL PR with a 25:39, a 66 second improvement.

    The team won easily, despite running many runners unattached with 24 points, 32 points ahead of the University of Arizona. When I saw 24 points, it brought back memories of the 2005 California State Meet when Royal scored 24 points. Still gives me goosebumps when I think about that dominating performance.

    I am really happy to be 30 seconds ahead of where I was a year ago. All of my workouts show that I am more fit than a year ago and it is nice to back that up with a race result. The crazy thing is I am in the exact same boat as a year ago… not sure where my place on the team will be. Like several other teammates, I am hoping to solidify myself as a top 7 runner. The only way I know how to do that is continue to have good workouts, take care of my health and race well when it matters. The next opportunity is in a week and a half at the Aztec Invitational in San Diego, Ca. I had a great performance there last year, setting a new PR of 25:32. The goal this year is to be close to 25 minutes.

    Results | Article on (with a photo of yours truly) | Photos (coming soon)

  • Doing Work at 7,000 Feet

    Posted on August 22nd, 2009

    Summer is always over too soon. I leave behind a summer of great opportunity (internship at ITT Aerospace Controls), my first Olympic distance triathlon, training with friends and great memories from my brother’s wedding.

    I have made my way back up to Flagstaff, Arizona for another year of school and running. Tina and I made the ~7 hour drive on Tuesday. Let the acclimating begin.

    Upon arriving Tuesday, I got an easy 5 mile run in with Kam, Darius, Joe and even a few minutes with Tina. I averaged slower than 7:30 pace so natuarally I felt great. That evening, my new roommate Myles Kloer cooked a delicious dinner for his Mom, sisters and his roommates. He’ll be a great fit.

    Wednesday I got an 11 mile run in on Soldier’s Loop then headed over to my physical at NAU’s Skydome. Later in the evening I got to meet most of my teammates for the year at our compliance meeting.

    Thursday I helped move freshmen into Reilly Hall from 8-noon. I was exhausted all day (part of the acclimation process I think), but my legs perked up in the afternoon for a 12 mile run with some strides.

    Yesterday we had our first workout as a team at Buffalo Park: 4x2  mile repeats. We were supposed to be going 80%, but I admit I definitely was running harder than that. I was happy to see that I was 15 seconds faster on the same workout a year ago. I am feeling fit and I think I still have lots of room for improvement in the near future. A few short months will confirm or deny this.

    In the evening Tina and I drove down to Munds Park to meet some UCLA cross country runners for dinner. They are staying in a cabin there for a few weeks of altitude training. Tina and I were amazed to see so many large, beautiful homes down there as we have passed through Munds Park many times on our way to and from Phoenix. From the highway, all you can see is a mobile home park, a couple gas stations and a church. Nevertheless, we had great food and enjoyed a game of the Royal favorite Go Home. Of course, my team won. (Thanks for the clutch rolling Tina. Sorry Kelcie… you really have Alex to blame.)

    Today was a recovery run. 11.5 miles to the base of Fisher Point with Andrew Belus, Ben Ashkettle and Simon Gilna. We stopped briefly on the run just to look at the beautiful setting. If I ever get a mountain bike out there I will take pictures.

    Tomorrow we will be doing a long run, hopefully ~18 miles for me to put me at 100 miles for the third consecutive week. My miles of trials is only just beginning.

  • One 100-Mile Week Down…

    Posted on August 15th, 2009

    …20 miles to go on my next.

    Last week I finished my first 100-mile week of the season. I got two double days in and finished it off with the longest run of my life, 20 miles. Tomorrow I have another 20 miler scheduled to cap off my first 100-mile week in singles. I can say that doing that mileage in singles has been much more difficult than when I have done it in the past in 9-12 runs.

    I am feeling strong and I am really happy with my fitness right now. As I have said in the past, it is going to take some big improvements for me to make my cross country team again this year. I am hoping I get adjusted to altitude quickly after I get to Flagstaff on Tuesday and I am looking forward to getting to work with the rest of my teammates.

    On a sad note, the Director of Track & Field and Cross Country, J. W. Hardy, is leaving NAU for a better oppurtunity at Boise State University. Hardy was a great coach and an even better person and NAU will miss him. I wish him the best of luck at Boise State. Fortunately, Cross Country and distance in general is coached by Eric Heins so there shouldn’t be any differences in training for us next year. The question becomes, who take Hardy’s position as Head Coach? Heins has my vote!

  • Summer training, Internship & Cross Country

    Posted on August 1st, 2009

    Wow, is it August already? Nearly done with another summer break. I don’t have too many of these left actually, which is kind of depressing.

    Since the triathlon, I have been increasing my mileage to prepare for what I believe will be my 16th cross country season (I took the 2000 season off to keep me feeling fresh. Great decision). Since the break I have logged 70, 80 and 90 mile weeks and should finish this week a bit over 80 with a day off. I have started to throw in a few workouts and I have been happy with all of them. The plan is to get in a couple of 100 mile weeks before I head back to Flagstaff on the 18th.

    I am really excited about this season and I have high hopes. In 2008 I had a great season and would love to continue to build on it. The team is looking great with returners David McNeill (competing in the World Championships in Berlin for his native Australia this month), Ben Ashkettle, Diego Estrada and myself. Ahmed Osman had a great track season breaking 29 minutes in the 10k and finishing the year as an All-American. We have lots of new faces coming in that should mix it up with the rest of us.

    Just like last year, it looks like I will be fighting for my spot on the team.

    The only thing standing in my way lately is work. I got a 6-week internship at ITT Aerospace Controls. It is a great opportunity especially since my resume is lacking in experience. I am learning a lot and I am being included in a lot of different aspects. With that said, it does make running a little more difficult. Many of my weekdays lately consist of waking up at ~6, commuting to work 35-45 minutes each way, working 8-9 hours, getting my run in, dinner and then off to bed by 10. I just barely fit everything in, but barely is enough. I hope.

    I can see how trying to do anything well in addition to working full time (e.g. running, triathlons, studying, parenting) would be extremely difficult. It is crazy to think that for many years, the world’s best athletes had to be amateurs and could not be paid for competing in their sport.