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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.

  • Catching up with David McNeill and Bernard Lagat

    Posted on May 5th, 2011

    David McNeill??? Bernard “The F’n G” Lagat??? Yep, right now they are training in the running meca of the world, Flagstaff, Arizona. And I have shared a few meals with them.

    I envy myself.

    EDIT: As I’m sitting here watching some recent “Workout Wednesday’s” that were filmed in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas (Sedona), I thought it would be fitting to share those here. Like I said, “running meca.”

    Watch more video of Flotrack’s Workout Wednesday, Season 5 on flotrack.org

  • Mt. Sac 10000

    Posted on April 17th, 2011

    Let me bring you up to speed on all PD-related running things (or is it running-related PD things?). About a week after the Stanford Invitational 5000, I went to University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to get a steeplechase in since I hadn???t raced the event in over two years. That race was mediocre at best, 9:27.02 converted, but I knew it was going to be rough: first steeple in a couple years AT altitude??? oh, and I did my first steeple workout the week prior. The steeple is one of those races with a learning curve, so I wanted to get a crash course before I really go for it.

    After that meet, it was back to Flag to focus on 10k training. This weekend???s Mt. Sac Invitational was to be my first 10k on the track (speaking of learning curves). During those couple weeks of mental preparation for 25 laps, I was fortunate enough to share several meals with David McNeill & friends. As if sharing a meal of kale and Brussels sprouts with a two-time NCAA 5k champion wasn???t enough, the ???& friends??? made it extra special. On the first occasion ???& friends??? included a few NAU teammates, which was a lot of fun. The second time was with Ryan Fenton of Flotrack and Ben True from the Oregon Track Club, whom we had some great discussion with about the different levels of ???professional??? athletes in the sport.

    But then a week ago, Dave asked if I wanted to join him for dinner with ???Kip and Abdi.??? You know, that???s short for double World Champ-3:26 1500-multiple American Record holder Bernard Lagat and three-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. I thought for about half a second of all the exams I still had to grade and the Smart Materials exam I had to study for, and I said, ???YES! I would love to!??? So on Sunday I helped put furniture together for Co Mo???s and Dave???s apartment (Lagat signed the bottom of one of the chairs), ate dinner, and then watched the 2007 Osaka 5000m Final, all with Bernard Lagat. (For the record, he was only worried about Kipchoge in that race.)

    Since then I have come off cloud 9 and back to the reality of my own mortal efforts that include cruel truths like lactic acid. As I said, this weekend was my first 10k on the track, which should never be confused with a 10k in cross country. I know now that those are two completely different beasts.

    Unfortunately for Coach Heins, NAU had 7 different people competing in the 10k???s on Thursday night, spaced out amongst 6 different heats. The first beginning at 8:10 and the final one concluding at about 11:50. Those of you that pay attention to the details will notice that those 150 laps almost spanned across two days. Coach handled it no problem, and was still spry and full of character by the end of the night ??? no doubt the marathon training for the 2008 Trials paid off that night.

    My race was one of the last ones, scheduled for 10:40 pm. I would have liked to be in Tim Freriks heat, for so many reasons, but mostly because 10:40 is usually after my bed time, 8:50 is not. I was able to have a very low-key day and arrive at the starting line without a yawn. There was a little confusion about hip numbers, so the 40 or so of us athletes were held in purgatory a few more minutes while they cleared it up, awaiting our 25 laps of hell.

    The gun sounded and off we went. As we rounded the first of fifty turns, I found myself in the lead and thought, ???Tim and Coach Mo are going to kill me for taking the lead, again.??? We came through in about 72 and about half a lap later someone else took over and I rode the train hitting 71???s. At about 3k I had a bit of a smirk because I felt great and I thought I could keep hitting those splits all night. I came through halfway in 14:52, which was exactly where I wanted to be. Then a few laps later, it started to get rough. 71???s turned into 73-74 and I was hurting bad. From 8 laps to go until about 2 was really rough. I had come unhitched and couldn???t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was well on my way to running a 30:15 10k or so, but was able to rally the last couple laps. I came to 200m to go in 29:30 and kicked with all I had: 31 seconds. 30:01.31 was my final time. Hurts just to write it.

    30:01 is a solid debut, but it is currently only 50th in the West region and only 48 qualify (if I were in the East region I would be sitting pretty in 30th??? confirming what everyone already knows), which means it won???t get me into the Regional meet. So what now? The only other 10k I might run would be at Conference, and those are usually slow and tactical. So my next chance to qualify is in the steeplechase in a couple more weeks at the Double Duel meet down in Tempe. For at least the next two weeks, I will be a steeplechaser.

    Results

    Watch more video of 2011 Mt. SAC Relays on flotrack.org

  • 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

  • This Is It

    Posted on November 22nd, 2010

    Yesterday was a great day. It started off waking up from a 10+ hour snooze shortly after 9 am in the bed next two two-time national champion, and fellow teammate, David McNeill. We each had some breakfast while enjoying European Vacation on the television (“What does the Queen do Dad?” “Queens, and vacuums.”). Dave had never seen it. How un-American.

    Around 10:30 we left for the course for our pre race routine. Upon arrival we were greeted by my family! My mom and dad have been so supportive of everything I do since I was a little kid. I have no doubts that I wouldn’t be where I am with their encouragement and sacrifices. They were nice enough to bring along my big sister Jaclyn as well! She was the one that got the family into running to begin with, so it is fitting that she is here to see my last cross country race.

    Course run-through was fine. On some of our past races this season I think we have been a little too relaxed and joking too much. These make for great memories and help bring the team together, but on the eve of the national championships, I think there will be plenty of opportunities to make memories just around the corner. The course looks fast, much like prenats. Perhaps a little less brown, dead grass. It was rather windy, especially on the stretch that spans the start, 5k, and finish. We took note of the wind and commented on where we should tuck in the pack and when to make our moves. Temperature was nice in the 50s and looks to be a little warmer tomorrow.

    After getting our traditional Terre Haute lunch at Penn Station, we just laid around at the hotel until dinner time. Coach Mo picked up Olive Garden for us so we good relax in a hotel conference room together. Over dinner we finished reading Bo Reed’s A Magical Season that we had started on our trip down to Phoenix on Friday. The story tells of the 1988 NAU Cross Country team, one of only two NAU teams to finish within the top-2 at a national championship, and the only team to score a perfect 15 points at the Big Sky Championships. After hearing the story, it was truly magical what that scrappy group of runners from a “little school nestled in the pines.” I hope we can continue the NAU tradition and do something magical today.

    We ended the evening with some kind words from Coach Heins and sharing a few words of encouragement from each other, and then a few of us ventured outside for a short walk. We enjoyed some fresh air together and really took it all in. Last race.

    Yesterday was a great day. Today, in the words of a wise man, “is the greatest day to be a Lumberjack.” I can’t wait.

  • 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.

  • 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 Caf?? Ol??, 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.

  • 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.