Have you ever woken up from such a vivid, powerful dream that you had tears streaming down your face? I can recall several occasions in my life where I have awaken from devastating dreams about losing loved ones, nightmares really, where this has happened. I shake my head for a moment, lay my head back down and happily realize that it was all just a dream.
Earlier this week, I woke up to something completely different. Yesterday I was telling a couple of teammates about it, and one of them immediately responded, ???That is RunPD worthy.??? So here I am, writing this blog on my laptop as we make what seems to be a biweekly pilgrimage from our high altitude paradise to Phoenix???s Sky Harbor Airport ??? this time enroot to?? Salt Lake City, UT for the Mountain Region meet, the final step before Nationals.
Monday night I was startled in the middle of the night by those uncommon, yet familiar, tears coming down my face. I sat up, wiped my tears and gently shook my head. What could I have been dreaming me about that brought me to tears? A national championship.
I had dreamt that I was part of a national champion cross country team. Simple as that. I don???t think I have to get too in depth as to why this would evoke strong emotions: it will be my final race wearing an NAU cross country singlet, racing alongside six of my closest comrades whom I have shared victory and defeat with, racing in quite possibly my last cross country race, ever. These were not tears of sadness, like I had felt before, but tears of joy. What a perfect ending to a career that would be. Beautiful.
Due to some unfortunate adversity, this dream is much more bleak than it could have been. I can say with 100% confidence that we will be racing without Jordan Chipangama, 5th overall at Nationals last year, and Ben Ashkettle, our 3rd man from last year. Heading into the season we looked to be one of the greatest teams in the country, on paper. Now, we are relying on much less accomplished runners ??? like sophomore Tim Freriks, junior Andrew Belus, and myself ??? to fill the void. Collectively, this team has made a tremendous effort thus far to do just that.
This dream ??? to win a National Championship ??? is a very distant dream, but as I happily realized just a few nights ago, it is a dream that still exists, and will continue to motivate us until November 22 when we will decide if it is to be a dream come true.
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.
Just over a week ago, Northern Arizona was back in action at the Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, In. Every year, most of the top ranked teams in the nation flock to the location of the national championships for a chance to see the course and see where they stack up among the nation’s best.
The field is split up into more-or-less equal fields in the “White” and “Blue” race. This year, NAU competed in the Blue race with defending national champions Oregon and third ranked Alabama.
Our race was scheduled for 11AM, so we made plans to meet as a team at 7 for a 10 minute shakeout run. This was 4 AM PST, but luckily we did our travel on Thursday so we had a day of adjusting under our belt.
Breakfast followed with the usual oatmeal, banana and bagel after the shakeout. After a little stretching and relaxing, we headed off to the course at 9:30… with most of the team. Unfortunately, Jordan Chipangama (winner of the Aztec Invitational and Cowboy Jamboree) and Ahmed Osman (our expected 5th man) thought we would be returning to the hotel after the course to shower, so they did not have their bags packed. Coach Heins made a quick decision to take the rest of us to the course to begin warming up, and Coach Watkins would bring Jordan and Ahmed to the course when they were ready (we later found out that it didn’t go as planned… Jordan and Ahmed hopped into a taxi, but got to the course just as we started to warm up).
Our instructions were to get out like we want to at nationals and to race from there. After winning the Cowboy Jamboree two weeks earlier, we didn’t need to have a great race to ensure our place at the national championships.
Temperature was around 45F with a little wind and the course was a little soggy from rain the previous few days. It felt cold standing on the line, but once the gun went off, I never thought about the temperature which is a good thing. I was focused on the task at hand, racing.
I got out well in the first 800m somewhere around 50th place and came through the 1 kilometer in 2:48. Seems really fast, but there is quite a bit of downhill in that first kilometer. I was so focused on seeing my split that I hardly realized that I was right on teammate Ben Ashkettle’s shoulder.
From there I could see 7 yellow Oregon jerseys packing it up front. Some of them should come back to me. I continued with the pack, passing 2k in 5:56. As the field winded through the course, I could see the front pack and saw Dave McNeill, Jordan Chipangama and Diego Estrada up there. I specifically remember thinking, “Dave looks like he is jogging.”
Moving to the 5k, I was passing a few runners that had clearly gone out way too hard, but was being passed at an equal rate. Shortly after crossing the 5k in 15:25, Coach Watkins told me I was in about 60th. I was 65th last year, and I know I am a lot better than that. I kept pushing and passed a few more runners. Things were looking good until about 7k.
Just ahead I saw Dave fading bad. Coach Heins was there to point out the unfortunate truth, “PD, you are our 5th man today!” It is never a good day when a team’s 6th man is passing its 1st. But who says it has to be a bad day? We won the Cowboy Jamboree without Dave running, surely we are still a great team without him.
As I passed Dave, he was clearly hurting bad. I did not know it at the time, but he said after the race that he came down with the worse side stitch of all time. (ALL TIME! Stupid Kanye…) With about 600m to go, Dave made one last effort to salvage some points and came flying by me. It wasn’t to be and he faded to 61st.
Knowing I was a scoring man gave me that little bit of extra drive and I was able to pass a few runners in the final stretch to finish 53rd in 24:43. As a team we finished 3rd, behind first place Oregon and one point behind Alabama. Jordan and Diego had great days once again, finishing 3rd and 4th, and Ben moved way up from Cowboy Jamboree finishing in 16th.
After the race, Coach Heins reminded us that a loss is not always such a bad thing. 5 weeks out from Nationals, there is still plenty of work to be done. With Dave’s off day and the less-than-ideal morning that Ahmed and Jordan had, we definitely have a lot of upside. Had Dave finished with our Ben, we would have beat Oregon.
My individual race was good, but not great. The course was definitely slower than last year, which accounts for running 5 seconds slower and placing 12 spots better. I am dissapointed that I finished one place behind Oregon’s 7th man. At Nationals, I want to make a difference for my team, and if I’m not a scorer, that means placing on every other team’s top-5. I know I can run with those guys and I just have to believe during the race. I have seven 100 mile weeks under my belt this season and a bump up to 10k at Nationals will play in my favor.
Yesterday Northern Arizona’s cross country teams competed in the 73rd Cowboy Jamboree hosted by Oklahoma State in Stillwater. This meet would be the first challenging race of the season for as the mens field was very competitive with nationally ranked #2 Oklahoma State, #13 William and Marry and #1 in Division II Adams State.
Heading to Oklahoma, I wanted to improve on my 25:14 with hopes of being around graduate Mark Fruin’s mark of 24:49 from last year’s race. An hour or so before the race, Coach Heins told me Ahmed Osman, Jordan Chipangama and Diego Estrada would be taking it out hard from the gun. Ben Ashkettle would be going out a little more conservative as it was his first race back. I had envisioned getting out like I normally do and moving up through the race with Ben once he passed me.
As we got together as a team just before the start, Coach Heins told us he wanted all of us to get out hard and really get after it. So I threw out my plans of a conservative start and we did exactly what Coach Heins asked. I came through the 800m mark in 2:22 and I crossed the mile in about 4:42 a couple of seconds behind teammates Diego and Ben who were leading the race. Jordan and Ahmed were somewhere in the pack between me and the leaders.
After about 2.5km, the course goes into a woodsy area with a number of steep inclines and descents on a wood chip path. It is a pretty cool course, weaving through trees and spectators running through the woods. I crossed the 2 mile in 9:35 and around that point about 5 orange Oklahoma State jerseys passed me. Knowing I would be a scoring member of the team, I followed along and tried to stay on OSU’s 5th man.
I came through the 5km in 15:12, only 2 seconds slower than last years leaders and just 22 seconds off my track PR. I knew I would be setting a PR today, hopefully under 25 minutes. I continued following the bright orange jersey and suddenly, one of those orange jerseys came back to me! I would later find out that was David Chirchir (15th at NCAA’s two years ago). Coach Seth Watkins found me in the woods and reminded me that I was the 5th man, and if we wanted to win this meet, I could make it happen.
A few more runners came back to me in the final 800m, and with about 400m to go, I finally passed that OSU runner that I had been following for the last few miles (Jonathon Stublaski). With about 200m to go, the course kicks up one more time before a flat sprint to the finish. As I crested the final incline, I saw one more orange jersey and I knew this one was Girma Mecheso (18th place last year at NCAA’s). I was able to kick by him, but unfortunately Stublaski had a better kick and finished a second ahead of me.
Just before crossing the line, I saw the clock read 24:32. Knowing that I was the 5th NAU runner, I was fairly certain we had won the meet and felt the urge for a little celebration across the line. I am glad I restrained myself as I had no idea what place I had finished and would later find out the score was much closer than I thought.
Jordan won the race, apparently with a big move with 1km to go, in 23:44. Diego finished 5th in 23:55, Ben and Ahmed were 13th and 14th in 24:22, I was 19th, Tim Freriks was 40th in 25:07 and Simon Gilna was 65th in 25:30.
Hours after the race was over, we finally got a phone call (we were already on our way to the airport in Oklahoma City) that we had won. William and Mary finished just 7 points behind us and Adams State finished 3rd ahead of 4th place Oklahoma State. I was really surprised that 1) William and Mary was so close (I mostly focused on the orange jerseys in the race and nearly forgot about W&M. Scanning through the results I was happy to see that I beat their 5th man, even if it was by just a half a second.) and 2) Oklahoma State finished 4th at their own invitational (even if they sat out German Fernandez and Ryan Vail).
I was 42 seconds off my time from last year. 24:32 would have made me our second best runner. I can think of many great performances in my 16 cross country season, and a few stick out as breakthroughs; this one definitely ranks high on that list. Looking forward this season, I know I still have room to improve as I ran 90+ miles last week. Once we throw World Championships competitor David McNeill into the mix, the team looks even better. It will be tough for me to be a scorer on the team, but I am super motivated to putting myself ahead of every other team’s 5th man. If I can make every team in the country’s top-5, except NAU’s, we are gonna be tough to beat at Nationals.
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.