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  • Big Sky Indoor Championships

    Posted on March 17th, 2011

    Holt Arena: home to Idaho State's wooden indoor track

    A couple weeks ago now, the NAU track team traveled to Pocatello, ID for the Big Sky Indoor Championships at Idaho State’s Holt Arena. I, along with a few other lucky teammates, was signed up for the 5k-3k double. 40 laps is a lot of laps on a banked wooden track. 41 is even more.

    5200m

    Yes, you read that right. Five thousand and two hundred meters. They made us run an extra lap. So what, right? Everyone had to do it. What’s an extra lap. Well here is how it happened.

    As we gathered on the starting line before the race, I noticed the lap counter was on the ground. An older fellow dressed in obnoxiously orange attire (Go Tigers!) was fiddling with the lap counter. From what I could discern, the first digit of the lap counter was stuck and he couldn’t get it to go to “2.” About this time I noticed the gun went up and got ready to start the race. I came by the first lap in a good position near the front. Still no lap counter. Finally, as we rounded our fourth bend, there was the lap counter, showing 24 laps remaining. This is a joke, right? Do they really think we just ran a 200m in 70 seconds? As each lap went by, I hoped they would correct their error, but to no avail. Eventually, I canned it and realized they had no clue. But then I started to wonder about the other competitors. Did they realize the mistake? When will they kick? Are they going to run the full 5.2k or will they stop when we are supposed to. As you might guess, this is a terrible state of mind to be in when racing.

    Sharing the lead in the "5k" with Ahmed Osman and Andrew Belus

    In the end we ended up running that extra 200m, and no one else in the field seemed to really notice. Of course I voiced my frustrations to one of the officials after I finished to which she replied, “Oh, it was off.” I guess I should give them some credit for thinking something might be off. Good work, gang. After the race, there was some talk about protesting the finish, because at 5000m NAU’s finishing places were 1-3-5-6-8 (24 points) as opposed to 2-3-5-6-7 (23 points). We decided that wasn’t fair and let it be.

    3000m

    By this point in the meet it had come down to a two-way dog fight between NAU and Sacramento State. Sac State had no one competing in the 3k, so it was up to the distance crew to close the gap on them. Before the race, a few of us made some very sarcastic comments to the officials about counting the laps correctly. I was happy I wasn’t the only one that was annoyed.

    Diego took the race out at a solid pace, just like he had promised. Andrew Belus followed close behind and then I tucked in after him. Around we went, hitting the mile just under 4:30. I knew exactly where my race was, and that was right on Andrew’s heels, but I just couldn’t hang. A few runners slowly passed me, and Andrew continued to do battle up ahead. In the end, Diego won, Andrew was 4th was a huge PR of 8:25 (converts to ~8:15!), I was 6th in 8:35.53 and Tim Freriks was 7th.

    Our 4×4 team somehow managed to win even though they were in the slower heat. We thought everything was working out perfectly. Then they read the scores: we lost the meet by HALF A POINT! Brutal. Now that mistake in the 5k hurts even more, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m proud of the team as a whole, and especially John Yatsko, for rallying behind each other. This was definitely NOT the most talented team NAU has taken to a Big Sky Track Championship, but, since I have been here, it was the best team effort.

    A little side note: in 2008 the Indoor Championships were also hosted by Idaho State. On that occasion, Sacramento State won both men’s and women’s titles, like this year. In 2008, NAU went to Sacramento for the Outdoor Championship and took the men’s title home. By chance, the Outdoor Championships are in Sacramento once again. Will history repeat itself? You know what I think.

  • FTC: For The Chubs

    Posted on February 25th, 2011

    You may have heard of the acronym FTW before, which of course means For The Win, not Fuck The World. Generally this term is used in competition, as in you are going “for the win,” or to say something is the best. Like “BlackBerry Messenger FTW.” The corollary to FTW is FTL (For The Loss). Obviously no one actually goes “for the loss” in competition, so this one is more often associated with things that suck (e.g. “Storm FTL”). Several other versions have been made up, including FTC (For The Chubs).

    FTC Crew: Me, Andrew Belus & Tim Freriks

    I can’t take credit for FTC. First person I heard it from was Michael Cybulski, who has been known to come up with a good line or two. Like many of the figures of speech my Simi Valley friends come up with, I shared FTC with the Flagstaff crew. At first it was fairly funny, as it started to come up after cross country season was over when several of us were putting on a few (9 lb in a week for yours truly). But then something strange happened: some of us began to embrace it — especially Tim Freriks, Andrew Belus and myself.

    Just so we are clear, we aren’t just letting loose and eating cheeseburgers all day. It is really a realization, which I came to accept a while ago, that I’m a little bigger than a lot of my competitors. Look at the very best distance runners in the world and most are pretty thin. Now there are a few exceptions, and they are the ones that give us hope. Leading the charge is Chris Solinsky. The guy broke 27:00 and 13:00 last year, giving hope to white FTC guys like me. When we saw him run 3:54 at University of Washington a couple weeks ago, the three of us couldn’t help but shout “FTC!” every now and again. Chris, if you’re listening, don’t take it the wrong way. It is a sign of respect.

    Our leader, Chris Solinsky

    Tonight and tomorrow the FTC crew will be setting fire to Idaho State’s wooden track at the Big Sky Conference Championships. We will be running 120 laps between the three of us, as we are all doubling in the 5k and 3k. I like to think of the FTC crew as work horses for the team. . . outlasting our competition with our slow-burning fat stores.

    So if you are in attendance, shout “FTC” to us. We won’t be offended, we know exactly what it means.

  • 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.

  • Tears of Joy

    Posted on November 12th, 2010

    Have you ever woken up from such a vivid, powerful dream that you had tears streaming down your face? I can recall several occasions in my life where I have awaken from devastating dreams about losing loved ones, nightmares really, where this has happened. I shake my head for a moment, lay my head back down and happily realize that it was all just a dream.

    IMG_0862Earlier this week, I woke up to something completely different. Yesterday I was telling a couple of teammates about it, and one of them immediately responded, “That is RunPD worthy.” So here I am, writing this blog on my laptop as we make what seems to be a biweekly pilgrimage from our high altitude paradise to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport – this time enroot to  Salt Lake City, UT for the Mountain Region meet, the final step before Nationals.

    Monday night I was startled in the middle of the night by those uncommon, yet familiar, tears coming down my face. I sat up, wiped my tears and gently shook my head. What could I have been dreaming me about that brought me to tears? A national championship.

    I had dreamt that I was part of a national champion cross country team. Simple as that. I don’t think I have to get too in depth as to why this would evoke strong emotions: 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. These were not tears of sadness, like I had felt before, but tears of joy. What a perfect ending to a career that would be. Beautiful.

    Due to some unfortunate adversity, this dream is much more bleak than it could have been. I can say with 100% confidence that we will be racing without Jordan Chipangama, 5th overall at Nationals last year, and Ben Ashkettle, our 3rd man from last year. Heading into the season we looked to be one of the greatest teams in the country, on paper. Now, we are relying on much less accomplished runners – like sophomore Tim Freriks, junior Andrew Belus, and myself – to fill the void. Collectively, this team has made a tremendous effort thus far to do just that.

    This dream – to win a National Championship – is a very distant dream, but as I happily realized just a few nights ago, it is a dream that still exists, and will continue to motivate us until November 22 when we will decide if it is to be a dream come true.

  • Getting to know Eric Lynch & Big Sky

    Posted on November 5th, 2010

    So I have been a little lacking on updates a bit. Since my last post, the team has started our newest of many traditions, “Thankful Thursdays.” Every Thursday, we go out as a team to a different restaurant. We started with sushi, Mexican last week, and Greek last night. These make for great opportunities to do more interviews.

    Last week, at Café Olé, I interviewed Eric Lynch. Lynch, as he is commonly known as, is one of the few people remaining at NAU that started with me in the Fall of 2006. He has always been a great friend and I’m glad he is still around to laugh, run and share “old” times with.

    Big Sky Championships

    The other piece of news is that the mens NAU Cross Country won its 4th straight Big Sky title over the weekend. As a whole, the team ran very well. David McNeill and Diego Estrada continue to impress every time they toe the line. Tim Freriks and Eric Lynch had exceptional days, both earning their first All Conference awards. Congratulations to them.

    I did not have my best day, in fact it was definitely my worst performance of the season. I was our 7th man, finishing in 12th place. I didn’t feel all that bad in the race, which is good. I just didn’t seem to have that extra motivation that is needed to really make you hurt on a cross country course. When I realized this, it was rather alarming. “This was your last Big Sky Cross Country Championship, and you couldn’t get ‘up’ for it?” As I mentioned in my Stanford race report, I have been unusually calm about racing this year. This is my fifth year competing collegiately, could it be catching up with me?

    Sunday, after finishing my long run with Tim and Andrew Belus, I thought about this and I just came to the conclusion that I need to put myself in the right frame of mind just before and during the race. Being relaxed is a good thing, but a little nervousness goes a long way. So during our workouts this week, which were some of our two hardest, signature workouts — mile repeats and “The Lumberjack” — I practiced putting myself in the right mindset. I don’t want every workout to feel like a race, because that will quickly lead to burnout, but when it got tough I told myself, “You want it; you just have to believe.” This will be my mantra over the last 16 days.

  • Yellow Aspens and Green Pines

    Posted on October 23rd, 2010

    Competitive running can be a tough pursuit. As I often highlight on this blog, racing and training can be brutal both physically and mentally. It is necessary to push yourself nearly everyday to reach your potential. However, there is a time and place for easy runs. It is on these days that you often have thoughts like, “wow, I am so lucky I get to do this everyday.” You remember the pure joy you can get from lacing up the shoes, heading out the door, and getting lost with your thoughts (or with great conversation with friends) as you meander through the trails — gently logging your trials of miles, miles of trials. Today was one of those days.

    Andrew Belus, Eric Lynch, John Yatsko, Myles Kloer and I met up near the Nordic Center off Hwy 180 outside Flagstaff to enjoy the last of the fall colors near the mountain. I knew it would be a beautiful run, and here is a video I made of our adventure.

  • 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.