Over the summer I spent a lot of time immersing myself in triathlon culture. I spent a lot of time reading triathletes’ blogs, including Jordan Rapp’s and one of his “mentors” Simon Whitfield, the first Olympic gold medalist in the sport of triathlon. After speaking with Jordan at a trail race last December, I learned that they had done some training in Flagstaff in past years, so I decided to see if there were any blog posts about their time here. What I found was some videos of the training camp. It was really cool to see them training in the same locations that I train at every day. But the most interesting videos, I thought, were the ones about the people, not the training. Simon Whitfield has several videos on his Youtube channel that are called “20 Questions with…[insert athlete’s name here].” Here is a link to the interview of Jordan.
So I thought it would be fun to start doing something similar with some of my teammates. I ask 20 questions, some running related some not, and post the video. First up is sophomore Tim Freriks from Cottonwood, Arizona. Sorry ladies, he is taken. (small cameo by David McNeill)
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a little late here (about one week), but my teammate David McNeill deserves some massive congratulations for winning his second 5000m NCAA title this year! After running away from NCAA cross country champion Sam Chalenga in the indoor 5000 back in March, McNeill put himself in a familiar position in Saturday’s final with 500m to go. Watch below as the final ~800m unfolds.
A tremendous effort. I was watching the race live on TV at my brother’s house in Davis, CA with my family. We cheered Dave on — clapping and yelling at the TV. Honestly, I think I will remember this moment for a long time. Now that my siblings and I are “all grown up,” opportunities to have the whole family together have become few and far between.?? So a big thanks, as well as congratulations, to my friend and teammate David McNeill for putting on a great performance for me and my family to share.
The second video is a rather long one (9 minutes) of an interview after winning his race. He is always very well spoken and often includes a few gems. A couple minutes in he talks about how much fun competing at that level is. A good reminder to keep things in perspective.
Yesterday I met with Dr. Yuri Lewicky to discuss my knee injury. We went over the MRI, which showed some Plica syndrome. The options are to continue doing physical therapy and hope the pain goes away, get a cortisone shot or arthroscopic surgery.
The PT option is working slowly, as I have been able to run 3-4 miles every other day with little to no pain. The issue with continuing with this route is that, even if the pain completely subsides for a while, there is still a possibility that the pain will return later on. My worst fear with this knee problem is that it will go away for a while, perhaps allowing me to compete this outdoor season, then come back while I am training for cross country.
Dr. Lewicky did not recommend the cortisone shot for a couple of reasons. First, because the Plica is rather small, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly where it is. It is likely that the steroid would not be injected in the appropriate location. The other issue is that the steroid can cause problems with fat tissue atrophy.
The final option, arthroscopic surgery, was the doctors recommendation. From what I have learned about Plica surgery, it is very noninvasive surgery. Recovery time is rather short, with only about 10 days until I could resume running. More importantly, there is basically no possibility of pain related to the Plica returning.
So with that, I have decided to get the surgery. I will be getting the surgery during the week of March 1-5. This would leave me about six weeks before the Mt. Sac Invitational, where I am hoping to open up 2010 with a 5k, if all goes well.
Last night was the NAU Tune Up, the last meet in Flagstaff of the indoor season. There were a couple of huge highlights, starting with the pole vault. In the women’s pole vault, Berlin silver medalist Chelsea Johnson won and another athlete broke the Canadian national record.
The men’s pole vault was absolutely ridiculous. The 2000 Olympic Gold medalist Nick Hyson and 2004 Olympic Gold medalist Tim Mack both cleared 17′ 6.5″. Watching from the sidelines was Arizona State coach, and 1996 decathlon Olympic Gold medalist, Dan O’Brien. Crazy.
Then there was David McNeil. Dave woke up yesterday morning and decided he wanted to qualify for nationals in the 5000. He had to run 14:25 up here in the dome, which would convert to an automatic national qualifier. He ended up running 14:17, which converts to 13:39, a new national leading time. Dave now leads the country in the 3000 and 5000. Impressive. Congratulations Dave!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heading into the weekend, we knew we just had to be in the top-4 to get into Nationals. Since nationals is only 9 days after Regionals, and both races are 10km instead of the usual 8km, it makes sense to run as conservatively as possible. This leaves me with an interesting feeling towards the race. These type of races, where you are 99% sure the team will qualify to the next meet, can be tough to get really excited for. In 8 days, no one will care, or likely remember for that matter, who finished where at Regionals… assuming you qualified for Nationals of course. Yesterday’s Regionals was nothing more than a business trip.
We started off the morning with the usual 10 minute shakeout at 6:45 am. Sky was cloudy, but the roads had dried from Friday’s rain. Unfortunately, we had a casualty in roommate Kam Holbrook. Kam had to take a couple days off this week due to pain in his left mid foot (mid foot sprain?) and decided he couldn’t race on it. Freshman Tim Freriks was then bumped up and took Kam’s spot in the race.
Shortly after arriving at the course it began drizzling.?? I really don’t mind racing in the rain, especially when it is so light, but it can make warming up before the race a pain. By the time we began our warm up, the rain ceased and wouldn’t pick back up till after the race.
After about a 200m straight, the course turns onto some dirt with uneven footing and then makes its way back onto a fairway. This made for a physical start and I was glad I got out well… probably in the 25-30 range. I settled in and continued to run just off the leaders in about 30th place coming through the 1k mark in 2:59 and the mile in somewhere around 4:50.
The course is made up of three loops that wind up and down three fairways, so spectators were everywhere. The crowd was quite loud, which brought me back to my high school cross country days in California where some meets would have thousands of spectators lining most of the course.
I came through 2 miles around 9:50 in about 35th. I remember feeling a side stitch coming on around 3.5k. I took a few deep breaths and it either went away or I just forgot about it because I don’t remember thinking about it the rest of the race. My 5k time was about 15:30 and I still felt pretty good.
At 8k (25:0x), Coach Heins told me I was fine right where I was and to just relax and hold my position. From there I found Nick Atwood, who has turned into a bit of a conference rival for me, and decided to race him the rest of the way. With about a kilometer to go, he opened up a gap. With 400m left, I was able to move by him and another one of his teammates and hold them off till the finish. I finished in 33rd with a time of 31:26.9.
I ran this same course in 2006 and finished 71st in 33:29. Last year I was 50th in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is good to see a steady improvement over the years with a 2+ minute course PR.
David McNeill took home the individual title for the second year in a row and finished with a time of 29:51. Ben Ashkettle has been steadily moving up all season, finishing 8th yesterday. We will need another big effort from him, and the rest of the team for that matter, on Novemeber 23rd. The team finished 4th behind BYU, Colorado and New Mexico. As we thought, it was good enough for an at-large selection.
Looking ahead toward Nationals in 8 days, we have a fairly light week of training. It will be my lowest mileage week since taking time off after my triathlon at the end of June. Leading up to the race I will be posting more frequent updates here on RunPD.com with how the taper is going and more thoughts on the race.