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  • 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

  • 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.

  • Super Bowl, Knee Struggles & Swim PRs

    Posted on February 7th, 2010

    Happy Super Bowl Sunday! What a great, American spectacle. I was rooting for the Colts (Manning is the man), but I am just happy it was a great game. We had some teammates over — Darius Terry, Joe Withers, Simon Gilna and Eric Lynch — and we all made and ate lots of food. My contribution was my Mom’s chili recipe and Trader Joe’s cornbread. Both were delicious.

    Knee

    The knee troubles continue. As of now, I am able to run 10-20 minutes without pain. As I go longer or increase pace it begins hurting. I have been icing, ultrasounding, and strengthening for over a month now with little improvement. It is getting pretty frustrating. And to frustrate me further, I have been trying to get a CD with my MRI images mailed to NAU’s team doctor for over a week now. Patience is a virtue, I guess.

    Once the doctor receives the images, we will have some orthopedics take a look. Depending on their suggestions, I may end up undergoing arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I have read and been told that, as far as surgeries go, arthroscopic knee surgery is about as noninvasive as it gets, with reports of people back running in a couple of weeks. The quick recovery time makes the surgery very appealing. Frankly, I don’t see myself back running full strength in a couple weeks without the surgery anyway. Why not get it fixed?

    But I am getting ahead of myself. For now, I wait to see what the doctors say.

    Swimming

    Today I did a time trial as prescribed by USATriathlon. The protocol for the test is a 200 (yards or meters), 1 minute rest, 800. I did this test a month ago and, converting from yards to meters, 2:45 and 12:45 equivalents. In today’s test I swam a 2:39 and a 12:13, 6 and 32 second improvements, respectively. I plan to continue to do this test once a month to measure my improvement.

    Needless to say, swimming is going in the right direction. Still, I have a lot of work to do. For 2010, I want to be under 2:30 for 200m and 11:06 for 800m (at sea level). I swam over 20,000m for the first time this last week. I am hopeful that many more high volume, high intensity weeks will get me closer to that goal.

    Indoor and Outdoor

    Because of my recent setbacks, running the 2010 indoor season is out of the question. There are but a couple meets left before the conference meet and there is no way I will be ready. Outdoor runs into the middle of May and beyond, so I think if I continue down the road to recovery, I should be able to salvage a decent outdoor season. After the improvements I made in cross country, I think even a mediocre season for me should yield some solid PRs.

  • Finals, Snow & Training

    Posted on December 8th, 2009

    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.

    Training

    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

    Posted on November 27th, 2009

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

    2009 Division 1 NCAA Cross Country Championships

    2009 Division 1 NCAA Cross Country Championships

    Pre-Race

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

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

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

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

    Diego Estrada's name was written on our hands

    Diego Estrada's name was written on our hands

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

    Senior Simon Gilna gives a final speech

    Senior Simon Gilna gives a final speech

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

    The Race

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

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

    Me and Ahmed Osman approaching 5k

    Me and Ahmed Osman approaching 5k

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

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

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

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

    Kicking with everything I have left

    Kicking with everything I have left

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

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

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

    2009 Northern Arizona Cross Country, Fourth Place

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

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

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

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

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

  • Aztec Invitational

    Posted on September 27th, 2009
    Leading the 2009 Aztec Invitational

    Leading the 2009 Aztec Invitational

    I have been looking forward to posting my race report of the Aztec Invitational all week. School was quite busy last week, with three tests on top of the usual load, and I couldn’t justify spending time updating this blog when there was other work to be done.

    Last weekend’s Aztec Invitational was the first time I led a cross country race alone since the Woodbridge Invitational in 2002, my freshman year of high school. I ended up winning and it still stands as the last cross country race I have won.

    The race started out exactly as Coach Heins wanted it to, fairly conservative with NAU packing it up in the 10-20 spots. University of San Francisco had seven or eight runners leading the charge through one mile, with Junior Eric Lynch, freshman Tim Freriks and myself following close behind. The course is rather hilly, and shortly after the mile marker, an extremely steep hill kicks up towards the heavens. Lynch swore “that hill is definitely over 45°.” As I predicted the day before as we jogged the course, several runners found it necessary to make a move up the hill. Maybe us Lumberjacks are a little conservative when it comes to hills because we are used to reaching a point of no return level of oxygen debt when making moves up hills in Flagstaff at 7,000 feet… Nevertheless, the USF runners quickly paid for their efforts.

    At the top of the hill, we meandered our way through a dog park, of all things, and a few more inclines before reaching the 2 mile mark. Around this point, NAU took over in a dominating fashion with Tim, sophomore Diego Estrada, and juniors Ahmed Osman and Jordan Chipangama taking over the lead pack. After a fast downhill half mile, the course kicked up again with a short, steep uphill with Jordan moving to the lead. I followed his move and closed the gap. Jordan seemed content to let someone else lead, and just like that, there I was in the lead.

    Pretty quickly I realized that this was the first time in a long time that I had led a cross country race. Might as well roll with it, right? So I continued on, passing a large group of spectators (where I specifically heard my Mom with a very excited voice), back through the dog park and down that very steep hill. Shortly after reaching the bottom, Jordan came by with some words of encouragement, but I was unable to keep up. Ahmed and Diego came by me within the next mile, and I ended up finishing the 8km course in 25:41 in fourth.

    I was really amazed that I was actually slower than a year ago on this course — 9 seconds slower. There was no doubt better competition last year. Add that to a very conservative first two miles and I guess that leaves me with a slower time than last year.

    Nonetheless, I still finished really excited about the race, especially since we scored an almost-perfect-16. Leading the race, even for just a short kilometer or so, re-lit a little flame inside of me. Why not stick my nose in it and go for it?

    Shout outs need to go out to the middle distance guys (“MD Crew”) for really stepping it up. Sophomore Darius Terry finished 6th overall and 5th on the team. Just a few seconds behind him were sophomore Joe Withers and junior (and roommate) Kam Holbrook. They suffer through the beatdowns in long runs and workouts all fall from the longer distance guys. I know they were happy to be putting the hurt on the other guys for a change.

    In a week NAU will be competing at the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Ok. Last year we finished 2nd to a very strong Oklahoma State team. This year they are even stronger, with rankings of 1st and 2nd from Letsrun.com and the national poll. This will be our team’s first test of the season, even though team leader David McNeill may opt to miss the meet for a couple more weeks of solid training.

    Results | Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Photos