Getting to know The Lumberjacks: Andrew Belus

Last week’s debut “Getting to know The Lumberjacks” was a big hit amongst the team and coaches. Now everyone wants their few minutes of fame. So today I was Johnny On The Spot with my camera in the ice bath after a hard, long progression run. The first person to jump in the tub with me was 4th year Junior Andrew Belus from Tempe, Arizona. Andrew was NAU’s 3rd runner at the recent Stanford Invitational and is now known worldwide for running 7.5 km of that race barefoot (see my post).

Stanford Invitational

The infamous picture from my last visit to the Stanford Cross Country Invitational, back in 2005
The infamous picture from my last trip to the Stanford Cross Country Invitational, back in 2005

On Saturday I returned to the Stanford Cross Country Invitational in Palo Alto, CA for the first time in five years. I had a great race last time I was there, finishing 10th in the 5k Seeded race as an 18-year old senior at Royal High School. Unfortunately, shortly after that race I was plagued by IT band problems and ultimately missed six weeks of running. Thanks to a supportive team and lots of hours in the pool and on the bike, I was able to finish up the season on a positive note.

This time was a bit different — I’m now a 23-year old graduate student finishing my fifth year of eligibility at NAU. The course has changed since then, now much flatter and longer at 8km. But standing on the starting line before the race, I realized not much has changed. Not the important things anyway. I still love this sport and I am still both amazed and inspired by the energy of a competitive cross country race. Hundreds of bodies pushing themselves across an undulating course as fast as possible for not just their own selfish gratification, but more importantly for the benefit of their six teammates that toed the line with them. What a beautiful thing. “I love the energy of the start of a cross country race,” I said under my breath as we did strides.

I was pumped.

The Race

Start of the 2010 Stanford Invitational. Photo courtesy of Track And Field Photo Magazine.

I got out pretty good behind David McNeill and Matt Coloe and luckily I didn’t fall coming off the starting line like in my last two races (George Kyte Classic and Strawberry Fields Triathlon). If you ask me, the course narrows a bit too quickly for a mens collegiate field of this size and as a result, there was a bad pileup less the 800m into the race. Rounding a sharp right hand turn, an LMU runner in front of me got tripped off and I guess I jumped out of the way, getting away unscathed. Matt was just behind me and his leg went right into the bottom of my foot and I thought for sure my spikes must have just shredded his shin. He went right around me after that, so I assumed he was fine (and after the race we confirmed that he didn’t get too banged up). I got back into the race and tried to slowly close the gap that had formed.

Look closely, Andrew is just wearing socks.

A couple hundred meters after the fall, Andrew Belus came by me and said, “PD, step on my left heel.” I looked down and saw that Andrew was running with only one spike, losing the other shoe back in the pile up. I think I said something like, “Dude, I’m not stepping on your heel.” In my mind, there were three possible outcomes: a) I was going to stab him in the achilles with my spikes, b) I will miss all together and we’ll have to try again, or c) I’m going to trip him or both of us. Reluctantly accepting my wishes, Andrew stepped off the course to yank the other shoe off so he was just running with two socks on. If there is anyone on our team that could handle racing 7k without shoes, Andrew is the guy. He is a “minimalist,” logging most of his miles on beat up racing flats and always looking for opportunities to get in some barefoot miles.

While this was going on, Dave had broken away from the field with a sizable lead. Tim Freriks and Matt were also running aggressively near the back of the front pack and I knew that’s where Andrew and I belonged. I worked my way up to my teammates, passing a few runners along the way.

The Stanford course is on a golf course with several loops tracing back over one another. Since we were unable to run the course the day before, the repetitive nature had me and Matt a bit confused on where exactly in the race we were. Heading back toward the finish line for the second time or so, I began to surge thinking the race was almost over. I hadn’t heard any splits or noticed any markers, so in my not-so-alert mental state I was easily confused. Luckily I did have some doubt so I didn’t kick all out; my comrade Matt wasn’t so fortunate as he let out a full on end-of-the-race sprint with about 2 kilometers remaining. Ouch.

Heading to the finish "for real" this time.

I was able to bounce back from my lapse in judgment thanks to my large aerobic base from five consecutive 100 mile weeks. I passed a few more guys the last lap and had my eyes locked on Dylan Knight from UCLA. I ran out of real estate and finished with the same time as him, 24:15 — good enough for an 11 second PR! In my chase for Dylan, I got rushed from behind by an Arkansas runner who ended up 2 seconds ahead of me. In my defense, the guy from Arkansas, Bryan Cantero, is a 1:50 800/3:41 1500 guy from France (10/18 seconds faster than my PRs!). I’ll get him next time.

Dave won the race in a very fast 23:18. I was second for our team in 19th with Andrew just behind me in 23rd at 24:23, a 36 second PR. Tim was next in 45th at 24:47, followed by freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns in 56th at 25:01. Matt faded back to 80th in 25:17 and Joe Withers closed out our top-7 in 85th at 25:23. As a team we finished back in 3rd, way behind Stanford and Arkansas.

Overall I am pleased with my performance. I wish I was more aware of where I was at in the race, but that won’t be an issue at Pre Nationals where I am very familiar with the course. As a team, considering the team we brought, I thought we did pretty well. Andrew had a great race considering the circumstances. He is a tough dude that loves to race — a huge asset to our team. Tim knows he can be up near me and Andrew and I know he has some great races in him this season. This was Matt’s first introduction to NCAA cross country, so I have high hopes for him in the future as well. . . especially if he doesn’t kick 2km out!

We returned to Flagstaff last night and we are ready to get back to work. A few of us had a great 18 mile long run this morning discussing the race and what lies ahead for us. Exciting things I hope.

Our next race is in three weeks at Pre Nationals in Terre Haute, IN — a place I have grown quite fond of. Can’t wait!

Special thanks to my family for coming out and always supporting me! My mom, dad, Farfar (translates to “father’s father” in Danish), brother, sister and her boyfriend came out to see me race. I’m so lucky to have their support.

The Pedersens

Results | Race Recap on

George Kyte Classic

On Saturday NAU held its annual season-opener at the George Kyte Classic at Buffalo Park. Buffalo Park is home to many past, present and future NAU Cross Country workouts and it is fitting that we open up our season there each year. The meet is always very low key for us — we don’t run most of our best runners and the ones that do generally treat the race as a tempo run. Since I had not ran a race since November of last year (excluding the summer triathlons) I wanted to at the very least treat it as a race and maybe push it a little harder the last mile or so.

Unlike years past, with torrential rain, Saturday was very dry and hot. I tried to keep hydrated before the race and even took a Salt Stick to make sure my electrolytes were topped off as well. We started with our usual warm up 1 hour before the race with ~15 minutes of easy jogging and then looked for shade to stretch under. 20 minutes before the race we did a 3 minute LT (about 5:30 pace) to really wake the legs up. A few strides and we were ready to go.

The Race

Almost fell on my face right on the starting line

I got off to a terrible start by nearly landing flat on my face on the gravel. My teammate Andrew Belus lent a quick hand and was there to do what teammates do: pick each other up (couldn’t help myself). I quickly regained my balance and worked my way to the front of the pack, and then settled into a comfortable pace. I checked behind me to make sure Tim Freriks and red shirt freshman Daniel Filipcik were behind me. The goal was to be about 5:15 at the mile and we passed the 1 mile mark right at 5:15.

The course is made up of two roughly two-mile loops and a mile loop. At the end of the first lap, Andrew, Tim and I were still together at 10:37. From there we slowly strung apart. By this point there were only two guys ahead of me. I closed in on 2nd place towards the end of the 2nd lap and came through in 21:18 (10:41). 2nd place opened up a gap on me at this point and I think he was motivated by the gap between him and 1st place narrowing considerably. Unfortunately I fought with myself about whether to really push through the pain and race it, or keep it somewhat under control. Despite my inner conflict I managed to catch 2nd place with about 400 to go. It was clear he was more prepared to do battle than I as he threw in a big surge that I decided not to try to cover. Congrats to him for fighting; shame on me for letting up. Oh well, it is early. (Plus, didn’t Coach say “tempo?”)

Everyone was quite a bit slower than last year, which, collectively as a team, we have blamed on the hot temperatures. I finished in 26:22, 22 seconds slower than last year. But no worries. If workouts compared to last year are any indication, we will all run much faster in the near future.

Next Up

Next up for some of the Lumberjacks is the Aztec Invitational in San Diego, CA on the 18th. For those of you who have been following along for a while, I had a great race there last year and even led the darn thing until finally surrendering the top three spots to my teammates. This year I will not be racing, but will be there to enjoy the 16-hour round trip bus ride and team bonding. One week later we will be in Palo Alto, CA for the Stanford Invitational — a meet I haven’t raced since high school. I’m really excited to return to Northern California to see the #1 ranked team in the country (we are ranked #3 by the way) and to set a big PR in the 8k.

Shout Out

I almost forgot to give a shout out to my parents for coming out to watch me race this weekend! I love it when they come to visit (eating at good restaurants is one of the many perks)! Please take a look at my Dad’s great pictures from the meet below.

Results | Photos (by Erik Pedersen) | Recap by (including quotes from yours truly)

Finals, Snow & Training

flagstaff_snow_treeAt most universities across the nation it is finals week, including at Northern Arizona University. The only difference with NAU is that some finals have been canceled. That’s right, CANCELED, due to snowfall. From about 4am Monday morning till early this morning, the snow never let up over Flagstaff. There is now about 2 feet of accumulation. In fact, last night saw blizzard conditions with wind gusts up to 40 mph, leaving some wicked snow drifts this morning.

Because conditions were/are so poor, NAU decided it would not be safe to require students to come to campus for finals after 12pm yesterday and all day today. Lucky me, I had a final yesterday at 10am (before the school shut down) and none today. My next and last final is tomorrow at 7:30am, and it looks like conditions will be better today so I will be studying like I will be taking the exam.

My balcony. Hopefully we don't need those bikes anytime soon.
My balcony. Hopefully we don't need those bikes anytime soon.

For people that missed their final, they have been given two options: either accept the grade they had before the final or reschedule the final exam for the first week of next semester (in January). If you aren’t happy with your grade, it is a crappy situation. Moral of the story: don’t bank on the final boosting your grade in the future — especially at the end of Fall semester.


Yesterday, Andrew Belus, Will Porter, Eric Lynch and I went running around downtown Flagstaff in the snow. We had a great time throwing snowballs at people and cars. Of course this was fresh powder, so the snowballs were plenty soft enough to not do any damage. That didn’t stop one guy from turning his car around and questioning Will with a wrench in his hand. Dude needed to chill out.

Needless to say, it was a great way to officially start my 2010 track campaign.

My van was completely covered in the morning.
My van was completely covered in the morning.

Today I decided not to be so brave and opted for the treadmill at my apartment’s clubhouse. I put 10 miles in at around 7:00 pace. Probably a little too fast for this time of year, but I quickly realized that the faster I ran the less time I had to spend on the treadmill staring at a wall. I did bring some tunes with me so that helped ease the monotony.

I noticed that my heart rate seemed like it was higher than it should have been, 166 bpm, for that pace and incline (2%). I have done some reading recently about riding on bicycle trainers (basically using your normal bike as a stationary bike indoors) and there seems to be a consensus that your power output while riding a trainer is limited compared to riding outdoors by how well you can cool your self off, among other things. Obviously there is no wind, unless you have a fan in front of you, to increase the convection coefficient (had to throw in some heat transfer terms as that is what my final is on tomorrow) to help cool you off. I wonder if this was the main contributing factor to my unusually high heart rate. If I have to get on the treadmill more this winter, I will be sure to play closer attention to it and see if I can come up with some good conclusions.

NCAA Cross Country Championships

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


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 | Recap on | Highlight Video on | Photos (Album 1 & 2)

Why Not?

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.


Big Sky Championships

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 | Photo Album by Heather Kennedy

George Kyte Classic

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)