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  • One more time

    Posted on May 19th, 2011

    February 3, 2011,

    Now I was a little banged up over winter break, but I would be foolish to think my last collegiate season would come without some adversity. Every time I go out on the track PRs aren???t going to happen just because I???m convinced I???m a better runner now than I was a few years ago. The work needs to be put in and I need to be ready for battle every race. If I do that I know I will be competing at Hayward Field at the end of May, satisfied.

    Here???s to making the next four months count.

    “Adversity” — what an understatement.

    In all honesty, I haven’t seen all that much of it in my 24 years. I have lived a fortunate life with little worry, surrounded by the best family and friends. Perhaps this is why my life is so involved in athletics — I have had the opportunity. I never had to work late nights to pay for my college education and could always afford to travel to the very best competitions. But from my sheltered perspective, the last 14 months have been quite trying.

    In March of last year I had knee surgery, forcing me to forfeit an indoor and outdoor track season. In May, I split with my girlfriend of 4.5 years, who was my biggest supporter and best friend. Running helped me get through it, focusing on the outstanding cross country season NAU was sure to have. A couple injuries to key members of the team and an unfortunate day for our captain David McNeill at NCAAs turned our national championship dream into just another top-10 team. I, however, had a pretty successful season, improving on my NCAA finish from the year before. But it was no All-American performance.

    Shortly after beginning training for my final track campaign, I started battling IT band pain in my knee. While cross-training in December, I crashed on my bike and broke my wrist, limiting my cross-training options. I got through the indoor season and made a — now considered a very successful — debut in the 10k on the track. Then, with less than three weeks until the Big Sky Conference Championships I developed an Achilles injury. Still, I knew I had to give it my all in the 10k and 5k as it could have been my last track meet, my last time wearing a Lumberjack jersey. Then I got that infamous blister

    This post is not meant to be me complaining about how unfortunate I am or how “rough of a year I have had.” Weeks, months and years from now I am going to read this post, and I want to capture exactly what I was thinking and feeling the day I found out I had one more, and this was all a part of it. Yes, that painful 5k at Sacramento State last weekend was not my last track race in NAU blue and yellow.

    At practice this morning, I nervously checked my iPhone to see if the declarations for the NCAA West Prelim were posted. Once they were, I slowly scrolled through the results. When I got to the men’s 10k, I went one name at a time.

    13th. Ahmed Osman.

    31st. Tim Freriks. “I moved up 10 spots. PD, you got a shot.”

    I paused at number 47. This is my track season. The next name determined whether or not I am a collegiate athlete anymore. This is my 18 year long running career we are talking about!

    48th. The final qualifier to race the 10,000m at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field is. . . JASON PEDERSEN.

    I lit up. I was sure I had no chance of qualifying. Someone pinch me. Surely I was dreaming. Nope, this is for real. I have one more race. One more time to pull that NAU singlet over my shoulders. One more time to line up against the nation’s best college athletes. One more time to say thanks to all my supporters over the years by simply doing what I love, running hard.

  • Big Sky Outdoor Championships

    Posted on May 16th, 2011

    Saturday marked my final Big Sky Conference Championship, and depending on factors now out of my control, possibly my last track meet ever. I have known this moment was coming for a while now, but writing those words really makes it sink in. I may never wear an NAU Lumberjack singlet again.

    But before I get too sappy, let me fill you in on the lead up to Big Sky and the races. About two and half weeks earlier, while doing a relatively easy steeplechase workout, I felt some soreness in my Achilles. I didn’t think much of it as it didn’t bother me too much during the workout. The next day it was worse, and by two days after the workout I wasn’t running. I decided to forgo my final tune up meet before Big Sky, the Double Dual Meet down in Tempe, so that I could get healthy. The pain persisted and I took to the pool and, whenever possible, the bike. I told Coach Heins that I felt my Achilles would hold up better in a 10k then the steeplechase, so the decision was made to effectively never race a steeplechase again — at least not for NAU anyway.

    The Achilles pain continued throughout the final build up to Big Sky, limiting my running to just workouts, some of which I was unable to finish. In the two weeks prior to this weekend, I probably logged less than 30 miles. There were two possiblities: I would feel fresh or completely flat.

    10000m

    Tim Freriks leading the 10k

    While warming up for the 10k on Friday evening my Achilles felt pretty good — probably the best it had felt in a week. The conditions were much better than the last time I raced at Sacramento State in 2008 when temperatures were over 100 degrees. There was just a calm breeze and the sun setting. With just 13 entries in the race, it felt like a very low-key affair. Orders from Coach were to take the race out at a respectable pace of around 74 seconds and picking it up in the 2nd 5k. My initial plan heading into the race was to go for a Regional qualifying mark, which I thought would take about 29:50. Once Coach told me his plan, I realized that if I went for the PR I could blow up after 5k and fade badly in the later stages of the race. Considering the lack of work I had done leading up to the race, this was a good possibility. Conference Championships are about team titles, not individual glory. The decision was easy.

    Sophomore Tim Freriks took the lead the first mile and put the pace right where it needed to be. I took the pacing duties for a couple laps, followed by junior Ahmed Osman and freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns (aka “BB”). At around two miles, the group dwindled down to a pack of five: the four Lumberjacks and Nick Atwood from Montana State. I was clearly having a tough time hanging with them, and when Coach yelled to Ahmed to not press too hard as to not drop me, Atwood took that as a hint to surge. Great move tactically for him. That was the end of me and I would run all but the final 400m of the race alone.

    "A slow and painful death"

    About halfway through the race I began to feel a blister starting to form on the ball of my left foot. Since I have done so little running in the last few weeks, it was no surprise that I would suffer from a little blister or two. As the race continued, the pain increased with each step, and by the final mile it was affecting my stride. I was told by a few different teammates watching the race that they could tell I was limping the final 800m, but they assumed it was due to my Achilles.

    While the blister on my foot was growing, my lead over 6th place was shrinking. I was dieing a slow and painful death. With one lap remaining, Bowe Ebding of Eastern Washington came by me with Ben Ashkettle. I tried to respond with a sprint. The pain in my foot suddenly increased tenfold and I limped home to finish 7th place, scoring just two points, in 31:03.98. I threw myself to the ground, looked at my foot, and saw blood on my shoe. “Blood has run through my compression socks and my shoe? This must be bad.” I ripped off my shoe and saw the damage. Somehow I managed to tear off the thick calloused skin on the ball of my foot, hardened from thousands and thousands of miles, right off. Below are a couple of pictures of the carnage. Sorry if you have a weak stomach.

    First look

    Athletic trainers removing the "old" skin with a scalpel

     

     

    5000m

    After treating the foot and getting a tough night of sleep (Tim and I were suffering from cases of “gut rot.” Something about 25 laps…), I started to think about Saturday’s race. It was quite painful to walk, and I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to run. I talked to coach just before warming up and he said, “I don’t think you should run it.” I asked if it would make a difference and he replied, “Yeah, if you win it it will make a difference.” Well that wasn’t going to happen, but he said if we were within 30 points with just the 5k and 4×400 relay remaining, the team had a chance at winning the conference title.

    At first I thought, “what if I don’t run and we lose by a couple of points. How would I feel if I hadn’t at least tried?” After beginning my warm ups, I turned that negative thought into, “what if I score a point or two and that is the difference?” Once again, from there it was an easy decision for me. I had six other teammates lining up for the 5k, maybe just by standing next to them on the starting line I could inspire one of them to be tough. Then it would be worth it.

    In the end, I didn’t score any points in that 5k. I was almost last, finishing 18th in 15:10.03. This race could have been my last. I was injured and might as well have not raced. What a rough way to finish up my college career.

    Or maybe not. I didn’t contribute to the team score, but there were my teammates. My teammates shined, scoring 29 points and setting three PR’s. What if I did have an impact on one of them? Maybe one of them dug a little deeper because they knew I was somewhere on that track limping behind them, hoping they could to it because I couldn’t.

    On Sunday, Tim wrote this on my Facebook wall to wish me a “Happy Birthday:”

    On the last day that you were closer to 18 than 30, I saw the runner that summed up Jason Pedersen for me. Determined to make a run at a point or two for his team with half his foot torn off??? More than talent, training regimes, or determination, that selfless attitude is what has allowed the Lumberjacks to be a top-10 NCAA team the last four years in a row. You???ve shown me the ropes, and as you move on to bigger and better things I feel like I have some size 17+ shoes to fill. As Coach (italicized) Mo would say, be proud of your legacy here on this team because you have left a burning impression on the minds of all those that come after you. Happy birthday big guy, 24 years isn???t all that many when you know the best is yet to come. To many more inspiring years, it???s almost time to show the triathlon world what J. PD is all about!

    I am forever indebted to Tim for writing this and making me feel like my futile effort in that 5k was anything but. After reading this message Tim wrote, my Dad said to me over the phone, “It seems like a rough way to finish up, but it is clear that you made an impression on at least a few people by running that race. I wouldn’t have raced if I were you, but I’m proud of you for doing it.”

    The end?

    Before I continue on this path of I-will-never-race-on-the-track-again, I will wait to see if I have one more race. I am currently ranked 65th in the West Region for the 10k, and 48 people qualify. So 17 people need to decide they have better things to do in a week and a half than to run 25 laps at Hayward Field. Yes, it is a stretch. I will know for sure on Thursday.

  • NCAA Cross Country Championships

    Posted on December 10th, 2010

    We are now over two weeks out from the NCAA Championships, my last collegiate cross country race, ever. I am filled with mix emotions — happy for what I was able to accomplish, a little sad because I know I will never be apart of a team like that again, and so on. One thing I am not feeling, however, is regret. I have none. I have devoted myself to this sport for years, running my first cross country race in 1993 as a Simi Valley Running Rebel. I had to make some sacrifices along the way, missing out on some things and unfortunately putting strain on relationships at times. But if I had to do it again, would I do anything differently? Hell no. I did everything I could to be the best cross country runner I could be.?? I will never regret anything. The fictional running hero Quenton Cassidy said it best, or rather wrote it, in a letter to his ex-girlfriend Andrea regarding his final races:

    I discovered early on that the truly great advantage of going all-out every time is that later you don’t have to waste a single instant second-guessing yourself. (Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr.)

    I have made it no secret that this season I wanted to be an All-American, to finish within the top 40 in the nation. Based on what I have accomplished in the last few years it was a very lofty goal. However, when I came to NAU as a recruit in 2005, Coach Hayes, the cross country and distance coach at the time, said something that stuck with me. He said, “I don’t want you to come here if you don’t want to be an All-American.” I knew at that moment that NAU was where I wanted to spend my next few years. Before my final cross country race, these words rung in my head. Could I do it? Maybe not. But I was going to give myself a chance.

    Final stride outs

    I think I will always remember the few minutes just before that gun went off. Obviously I did the normal strides and we clapped it up as a team one last time. But what is really going to stick with me is the exchange I had with my dad about 100m out from the line. He was out taking pictures of us, which is where this one to the right came from. He gave me a hug and told me to have fun, one last time and that he was proud of me. It was quite emotional for me and I fought back tears. He knows this, but I love you Dad.

    The Race

    I got off the line well and quickly tried to find a body to get behind as there was a strong headwind, probably close to 20 mph. Like I had for most of the season, I got out well and was able to comfortably tuck in. These races are tough to judge where exactly you are, but I was probably around 50s or 60s in that first kilometer — exactly where I wanted to be to give myself a chance to potentially move up to that top 40 position.

    Because this race is over two weeks ago now, I don’t remember most of my splits, but I think they were fairly similar to Pre Nationals. I tried to focus on staying inside a pack so I wouldn’t have to fight that strong wind. I know for sure that I came through 5k in 15:12 and saw a very large pack just ahead. I knew that was where All-American was. Unfortunately, it was too much and I was not able to make up much ground in the second half of the race.

    Still, I was having a good race. As far as I knew, our team was running well too. More important than my individual goal was that I was expected to be our 4th man. But then, suddenly at around 6k, my positive outlook for the team’s finish took a turn for the worse. I came by David McNeill, our top runner and one of the contenders for the National Championship. I instantly knew what the problem was: a side stitch. I had seen it before; last year at Pre Nationals. Dave was a fighter that time and I knew he would be a fighter again today. He is a humble, graceful champion and knew we were counting on him to do everything he could for the team. That is exactly what he did and we love him for it.

    Everything I had, one last time.

    The last few kilometers was a dog fight. Battling the wind, constantly surging to bridge the next gap ahead. It was a rough day for a lot of people. The final uphill finish was simply ridiculous. One by one a runner would try to kick away from our pack, but would get swallowed back up because it was just too much to handle. I got to a point where I thought I could last to the finish. Nope. My fate was the same as theirs.?? I ended up in 87th place, just breaking 31 minutes. Slower than last year, but 8 spots better. “I couldn’t do what I thought I could,” but no worries. As I said in the opening paragraph, no regrets. Ever.

    As a team we finished 9th. Had Dave not held on like he did, we would have been well outside the top 10. After last year’s 4th place finish, this was a bit disappointing. A year ago, however, I could not have imagined how much would change. Considering all the adversity we faced, collectively as a team as well as individually, I am proud to say I was a part of another top 10 team for the Lumberjacks.

    (By the way, that is 4 top 10’s in a row and 8 in the last 10 years. Not bad for “a little school in the pines.”)

    Results: IndividualTeam | Photos: 12

    Coach Mo, Matt Coloe, Ahmed Osman, Diego Estrada, David McNeill, Andrew Belus, Tim Freriks, Eric Lynch, and Coach Heins: thanks for a great season

  • Mountain Regional

    Posted on November 20th, 2010

    What a busy week it has been for me. I have on a number of occasions excused myself from writing a race report for a few days because my agenda on Mondays and Tuesdays is normally quite full (on top of the usual school and running duties, I teach a Thermodynamics recitation in the evenings on these days). What about Sunday you ask? Well??? God said on the seventh day you rest, right? (surely he wasn???t thinking about running when he decreed that, though)

    But this week had a few extras in it. It was so busy because it is NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK! At NAU the week leading up to the NCAA Championships is full of festivities, such as our last two ???workouts,??? keeping the media happy with endless interviews (see the video below), and making arrangements with professors for the classes and exams that will be missed on Monday.

    So now that I have spoiled any suspense you may have had if you did not know that we had qualified for nationals, here is my race report from Saturday.

    Our morning in Salt Lake City began just like any other race morning, with a 10 minute shake-out around town. Unlike our last one in Spokane, WA, the sun was up and the team had a more stoic feel. Conference is about winning a title and making memories; Regionals is strictly business. All that matters is that we qualify and prolong our season by nine more days. With this in mind, we decided that as long as we finish within the top-4 we should have no troubles (the first two teams are automatic qualifiers so any other teams to qualify are at-large selections).

    Coach???s instructions were for Dave and Diego to get out towards the front and finish comfortably amongst the top-5, for Ahmed to run smart and hopefully place in the top-20, and the rest of us to be somewhere close to the All-Regional distinction of top-25.

    As the race got underway, I found myself in an unusual position: in the front. I was running in about 3rd position after 400m and came through 1k and the mile mark with the leaders. I would normally not be so aggressive, but I really felt that the pace was extremely relaxed. We came through 1k in 2:56 and the mile in 4:48 ??? most of these bigger races I go out faster than that and find myself jockeying for position back in the trenches. So, while it was an unfamiliar position for me, I was not worried that I had gone out too hard.

    Just as we approached the mile mark, Diego told me he was going to make a move, and I said, ???Go for it buddy.??? I tucked in and awaited the pack of runners that was surely going to come around me and close any gap Diego would form. That???s just what happened and I moved back in the race to a place closer to where I belong. Unfortunately I let too many runners by me and probably dropped back to the mid 30???s by the time I reached half-way. Worse than all the positions I had just given up, I really wasn???t feeling all that good. Maybe I had gone out too hard?

    At 7k I was joined by Andrew and reassured with a pat on the back. We know each other incredibly well and I am sure Andrew could sense that I wasn???t feeling my best. Andrew???s gesture woke me up and I hopped on his train. That is what teammates are for.

    We went by Coach Heins and he told us our position was fine, that there was no one around us, and to run the next couple kilometers controlled. Andrew and I did just that and ended up finishing the race strong, passing four or five runners in the last kilometer.

    I ended up finishing 31st in 30:47, which is a 5 second PR from NCAAs last year. It would have been nice to stand on the stage as an All-Region runner, but the truth is we did good enough without it. We finished 4th behind New Mexico, Colorado and BYU. Later that afternoon we would find out that we were the 28th selection to the NCAA meet (out of 31). I couldn???t believe how late in the selection process we finished, but again, another detail that just doesn???t matter.

    Now we are on our way to Terre Haute, Indiana for the big dance. As I noted in my Tears of Joy post, ???it will be my final race wearing an NAU cross country singlet, racing alongside six of my closest comrades whom I have shared victory and defeat with, racing in quite possibly my last cross country race, ever.??? Sigh. More of that emotional stuff to come before and after Monday???s race.

  • Pre-Nationals

    Posted on October 22nd, 2010

    Before I get into the race report, I want to say congratulations to David McNeill for his 8th place finish in the 5k at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India. Obviously Dave is a huge talent, but he is an even better person. I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to train and race alongside him the last few years (even though I am often trailing way behind him).

    Living in the mountains is hard to beat. (and yes, I am using a measuring wheel while wearing compression socks)

    We left for Flagstaff last Thursday at 2pm and arrived at our hotel in Indianapolis on Friday at about 1:45 am. A solid 9 hour journey. It wouldn’t be so bad, but whenever we travel we have to drive several hours down the mountain to Phoenix and fly from there. That always adds a good 3 hours to our travel. I guess it is just the price you pay to live in the beautiful mountains. Definitely worth it.

    After sleeping in a bit on Friday we made our way to Terre Haute to check out the course. First impression was how brown everything was. I had heard that the area had been in a drought, but I did not expect this. The course was bone dry and quite hard. The consensus was that the races would be very fast.

    The rest of our afternoon and evening were nice a relaxing. We made our usual pilgrimage to Penn Station for some delicious subs and Olive Garden for dinner. Thanks to Coach Mo “Co Mo” for picking up our dinner so we didn’t have to sit at the restaurant for several hours. We had a meeting with Coach Heins about the race and he told us to take some risks and go for it.

    I woke up Saturday feeling good. We went on our usual 10 minute shakeout about 4 hours before the race and I had my usual breakfast: Coach’s Oats with cranberries and brown sugar and a bagel. (my key to success, take note Rube)

    Before my last two races I have felt surprisingly relaxed. In high school I had a really difficult time with nerves before races. At times it got to the point where not racing sounded a lot better than toeing the line. “Why didn’t I pick a different sport?,” I would ask myself while warming up. It was definitely not conducive to racing well and I think some of my improvement can be attributed to a simple attitude adjustment before races. But before these last two I have been much calmer than I had expected. While training, I often think about, for better or for worse, how little time I have left — how few races remain — and I would anticipate this to make me really nervous before each competition. Perhaps this is a result of maturity and hopefully a new mindset will once again translate into big improvements.

    The Race

    Sophomore Tim "Rube" Freriks and junior Ahmed Osman with me on the opening stretch.

    Taking coach’s advice, I decided to get out hard off the line and really stick my nose in it. I wanted to feel like the race was right there, instead of being another guy in the middle of the pack. I hit 1k in 2:46, about 4 seconds or so off the leaders. After a blazing fast opening kilometer, the course winds its way gradually up some hills to the 5k mark. From 1k to about 4k, I was being passed by lots of runners. I didn’t stick with my original plan of competing with the top guys and should have been more aggressive during this part of the race. After the race I spoke with Eric Lynch about it, and we agreed that at that point I should have committed to my fast start and held my own up near the front. Lesson learned.

    I came through the mile in 4:38 and hit the two mile in 9:32 (just 7 seconds off my high school PR). Once I fell back to around 50th or so, I began to move back up and came through the 5k in 15:07. The final kilometers I told myself I am strong, I have put in just as much work as these other guys. This was enough to keep me moving up through the field until I was in about 40th coming onto the finishing stretch.

    Bridging the gap

    The finishing stretch is about 500m long with a gradual incline. On Saturday it also had a bit of a headwind to make it a little more difficult for the fading to hold on. For some reason, I have a knack of getting to this finishing stretch with a nice gap in front of me to the next group. I always spend a good chunk of this stretch just trying to catch up to the pack ahead of me. Luckily there are always a few stragglers, so even if I don’t bridge the gap, I am able to kick down the less fortunate.

    This time I ended up passing a few people and finished in 38th with an 18-second course PR of 24:20. I really wanted to finish in the top 30, but I was only 6 seconds back. I am right there!

    The team finished 4th without Dave (still recovering from Commonwealth), thanks to a MONSTER effort by junior Diego Estrada, leading the team with a 5th place finish in 23:30. Diego has had to miss some training this season, but it is amazing how well he races despite it. He is a very tough racer and Saturday’s performance was very inspiring. Ahmed finished 13th in 23:58, junior Andrew Belus continued his great season by finishing 61st in 24:33, and sophomore Tim Freriks rounded out our top 5 in 75th at 24:42.

    ResultsPhotos

    It looks like we finished well enough that our spot at nationals is almost guaranteed. Assuming we finish in the top-4 at our regional meet in a few weeks, we should have no problem being an at-large selection. As NCAAs come closer, I will take a good look at where I think our team stacks up with the rest of the field, as well as my chances of finishing top-40, and share my thoughts with you.

  • NCAA Cross Country Championships

    Posted on November 27th, 2009

    What a season. I have so much to say about this season that I think I will break it up into several posts. Today, I want to recap the race while it is still fresh in my mind. This weekend I will have some more time to reflect on everything.

    2009 Division 1 NCAA Cross Country Championships

    2009 Division 1 NCAA Cross Country Championships

    Pre-Race

    Heading into this race, I tried to do everything the same way that I have done it all season. Pre-race rituals get you to the starting line feeling the same way every time. If the feeling is good, the routine is good. Likewise, if the feelings are bad, the routine needs some adjusting.

    8AM my roommate Jordan Chipangama and I awoke from a great night’s sleep on the cozy beds of the Terre Haute Hilton Garden Inn. We met our teammates for a 10 minute shakeout and then ate breakfast. For me: oatmeal, banana and a blueberry bagel.

    Unlike Pre-Nationals, we all made the ride to the course together. Before leaving the van, Coach Heins told each of us that he believed in us and that he believed we could achieve our personal goals. He recognized the importance of the race, and told us, “Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds.”

    With those words resonating in our heads, we went through our usual warm up routine: 2 mile warm up 60 minutes before, some stretching and a 3 minute LT 20 minutes before the race. It seems we were able to iron out any of the problems we had earlier in the season as everything was like clock work before the race.

    Diego Estrada's name was written on our hands

    Diego Estrada's name was written on our hands

    Half the battle was already over. I was standing on the starting line with my teammates at the National Championships healthy and almost 1,800 miles of training behind me. Unfortunately, Diego Estrada was unable to race, but he was definitely there with us and we hoped to represent him well. We all wrote his name on our hands to remind us that, if Diego was racing, he would run the only way he knows how — guts and glory all the way.

    Senior Simon Gilna gives a final speech

    Senior Simon Gilna gives a final speech

    In the team clap before the race, senior Simon Gilna reminded us, “Believe we can become diamonds, guys. This is the greatest day to be a Lumberjack!” And with that, we raced.

    The Race

    The moment before the gun was fired was an eternity. I stared at the gun intensely, thinking, “Here we go.” Then it was over and we were on our way.

    Heading into the race, I had planned to get out well, perhaps as high as 60th. I went with a bit more comfortable start and was probably somewhere in the top 150. I came flying through the 1km in 2:48. The pace seemed fast, but it was fast for everyone. I continued on in about the same position and came through the mile in 4:37. I found Oregon’s AJ Acosta and Stanford’s Brendan Gregg (Oregon’s 6th and Stanford’s 5th man) and decided to run off them for a while. I hit 2k in 5:50 and 3k in 8:55.

    Me and Ahmed Osman approaching 5k

    Me and Ahmed Osman approaching 5k

    Acosta began moving up through the field, so I followed behind him. As we approached 5k in 15:11, I was very happy to see Ahmed Osman come by me. I gave him some encouragement, something like, “Lets go buddy.” Ahmed would spend the second half of the race passing lots of people. Passing people wasn’t as easy for me.

    I was hurting. But this is the National Championships and no one wins anything without a fight. I slowly went by one runner at a time until 6k when I noticed the next runner was German Fernandez. Either I am having the best race of my life or German was having the worst of his. Judging by the desperation in German’s coach’s voice as he cheered him on, I think it was a little of both. So I went by German without looking back.

    Around 7k it hit me, it is almost all over; just over 9 minutes to go. I tried to push a little bit harder and came through the 8k in 24:38, 5 seconds faster than my 8k time at Pre-Nationals and equalling my course PR set last year. There was no question that I would be setting a big PR today, but how many runners could I pass?

    I continually heard coaches yelling to their runners around me that they were around 100th. In the beginning of the season I set a goal to be in the top 100. It is a very exciting thing to realize you are on the verge of besting a longterm goal. I decided several months and many miles ago that I would work as hard as I had to to reach top 100. Now, with the absence of one of our best runners, that goal was so much more important to me. I was the 5th man, in the thick of the race, and my points mattered.

    Kicking with everything I have left

    Kicking with everything I have left

    With 1k remaining, I tried to put the hammer down and continued passing runners one by one. As we made our last turn, Coach Seth Watkins reminded me, “You want it!” I did want it and I thought about Diego. Diego would finish strong like he always does, leaving everything out on the course. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a gap ahead of me and I spent most of the finish closing the gap. Once I finally bridged the gap, I was able to pass a couple runners.

    I finished in 95th place in 30:52.3, 99 places and 51 seconds better than last year. My season was over and I reached my goal. I was content. I talked to my teammates and heard that David McNeill was 2nd and Jordan was 5th! NAU had by far the best 1-2 punch in the country. Ben Ashkettle finished 59th and Ahmed was 74th. Andrew Belus finished 149th and Simon was 196th.

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

    As a team we finished 4th, on the podium. We were all very happy with the outcome. Upon looking at the results, Oklahoma State won with 127 points to our 190. In team scoring, I scored 75 points. If Diego had run, he would have had to be 12th in team scoring, which was 14th overall, for us to win the meet. Most of the season, Diego ran just behind Jordan, and assuming today he was within 15 seconds of him, he would have been 14th.

    As I have talked to family and friends since Monday, and explain the situation with Diego, many of them think it is a bummer that we were so close. We were so close, but once we swallowed the pill and realized that Diego would not be competing, new goals had to be created. A guy like Diego Estrada simply cannot be replaced. Heading into the meet, I think each of us wanted to compete in a way that would have put us in the hunt had Diego been there — and that is exactly what we did.

    I am very proud of my team for never backing down in the face of adversity. This race, this season, this team will forever hold a very special place in my heart.

    Thank you David McNeill, Jordan Chipangama, Ben Ashkettle, Ahmed Osman, Andrew Belus, Simon Gilna, Diego Estrada, Kam Holbrook, Tim Freriks, Darius Terry, Joe Withers, Eric Lynch, Scott Blair and Dan Lanzilotti.

    Results: Indvidual Team | Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Recap on Letsrun.com | Highlight Video on NAUAthletics.com | Photos (Album 1 & 2)

  • Why Not?

    Posted on November 22nd, 2009

    It is finally here; NCAA Division 1 Cross Country Championships are tomorrow. Since July 6, my first run of this season, I have logged 1,796 miles. Each and every one of those miles had a purpose: to make me run faster in tomorrow’s race.

    I will not lie, we, as a team, have had some setbacks in recent weeks. We are no doubt not as strong as we could have been. With that said, I believe this is still a great team — a podium team — and on the right day maybe even a national championship team. For us to reach that potential, everyone on the team will need to put out an outstanding effort. Tomorrow I am hoping for the best race of my life.

    This past week I have been asking myself, “Why not?” I have been racing competitively for 16 years now, and I have had some very good races. The way I see it, all my experiences, all the miles run, will culminate tomorrow. I have been training specifically for November 23 to run the fastest 10k I can for the last 4.5 months. Why not make it the best of my life?

    David McNeill, Jordan Chipangama, Ben Ashkettle, Ahmed Osman, Andrew Belus and Simon Gilna will be lining up next to me at 12:08 EST, ready to hurt for eachother one last time this season.

    Coverage on Versus starts at 12pm EST.

    Go JACKS!

  • Big Sky Championships

    Posted on November 4th, 2009

    The Big Sky Cross Country Championships were on Saturday, Halloween, in Greeley, Colorado. As I said the night before the race, the conditions were wet and muddy. The weather did warm up a bit for the race, partially thanks to the races being postponed one hour, as it was over 50 degrees when we left Greeley around 2pm.

    It was a quick trip, leaving Flagstaff at 5:50am Friday (with 20+ Track & Field athletes sending us off. I was really impressed. Awesome to have their support.) and arriving back in Flagstaff by 9pm on Saturday. It was a business trip: we did work and then hopped on a plane home.

    The course started with an uphill on a fairway before turning onto the muddy section. I got out real well and hit the first turn in about 2nd place. It was nice to be able to pick my footing and not be dictated by the pack. After about a quarter mile, David McNeill came flying by and never looked back. Looks like he solved his side stitch issue from Pre-Nationals.

    mudI was amazed to hear that my mile time was 4:56, but I quickly realized that the first mile was a net downhill. At that point, I was just in the top-10 with Ben Ashkettle and Ahmed Osman. A pack of about five formed ahead of us. Ben took off after them and within another couple of miles, left them behind.

    As the course meandered through fairways, cart paths and mud, I worked my way up the field. With about one mile to go, I found myself just off of 5th place’s shoulder. I worked hard for at least half a mile to catch Montana State’s Nick Atwood in 4th, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I settled for a 6th place finish in 25:51.

    After finishing, I turned around expecting to greet Andrew Belus at the finish line. Instead, Kam Holbrook came flying into the shoot just 3 seconds behind me. HUGE day for him. I think it is safe to assume that he was the only one in the field that set a new PR over 8km.

    2009 Big Sky Cross Country Champions

    2009 Big Sky Cross Country Champions

    I entered the race with just two goals: win as a team and earn an All-Conference award which is top-10. It was a successful day with the team scoring just 19 points to win the third Big Sky Cross Country title in three years, even without running #2-3 man Diego Estrada.

    I have to give a shoutout to Nell Rojas and her dad, the legendary Ric Rojas, for hooking me up with a Ric Rojas Running shirt. Huge fan! (Check out page 217 of Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr. Note: his name is spelled wrong)

    Results | Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Photo Album by Heather Kennedy