Running as fast as I can since '93
RSS icon Email icon Home icon
  • 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)

  • Mountain Regionals

    Posted on November 15th, 2009

    Yesterday the Northern Arizona Cross Country teams competed at the Mountain Regionals in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you are at all unfamiliar with collegiate cross country, Regionals is the qualifying meet for the NCAA Championships. The top-2 teams from each region (there are 9 regions total) as well as 13 at-large selections will qualify for Nationals. This system promises to have the very best teams at the championship competing against eachother. As Letsrun.com says, “XC Nats are like the All-Star game, the entire playoffs and the Super Bowl all in one cold, remote town (Terre Haute, Indiana and the LaVerne Gibson XC course). And it happens on a Monday afternoon and takes all of 30 minutes.

    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.

    Start of the Mens Mountain Regionals

    Start of the Mens Mountain Regionals

    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.

    Results | Race Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Photos (coming soon)

  • Big Sky Championships

    Posted on November 4th, 2009

    The Big Sky Cross Country Championships were on Saturday, Halloween, in Greeley, Colorado. As I said the night before the race, the conditions were wet and muddy. The weather did warm up a bit for the race, partially thanks to the races being postponed one hour, as it was over 50 degrees when we left Greeley around 2pm.

    It was a quick trip, leaving Flagstaff at 5:50am Friday (with 20+ Track & Field athletes sending us off. I was really impressed. Awesome to have their support.) and arriving back in Flagstaff by 9pm on Saturday. It was a business trip: we did work and then hopped on a plane home.

    The course started with an uphill on a fairway before turning onto the muddy section. I got out real well and hit the first turn in about 2nd place. It was nice to be able to pick my footing and not be dictated by the pack. After about a quarter mile, David McNeill came flying by and never looked back. Looks like he solved his side stitch issue from Pre-Nationals.

    mudI was amazed to hear that my mile time was 4:56, but I quickly realized that the first mile was a net downhill. At that point, I was just in the top-10 with Ben Ashkettle and Ahmed Osman. A pack of about five formed ahead of us. Ben took off after them and within another couple of miles, left them behind.

    As the course meandered through fairways, cart paths and mud, I worked my way up the field. With about one mile to go, I found myself just off of 5th place’s shoulder. I worked hard for at least half a mile to catch Montana State’s Nick Atwood in 4th, but was unable to make contact. In the end, I settled for a 6th place finish in 25:51.

    After finishing, I turned around expecting to greet Andrew Belus at the finish line. Instead, Kam Holbrook came flying into the shoot just 3 seconds behind me. HUGE day for him. I think it is safe to assume that he was the only one in the field that set a new PR over 8km.

    2009 Big Sky Cross Country Champions

    2009 Big Sky Cross Country Champions

    I entered the race with just two goals: win as a team and earn an All-Conference award which is top-10. It was a successful day with the team scoring just 19 points to win the third Big Sky Cross Country title in three years, even without running #2-3 man Diego Estrada.

    I have to give a shoutout to Nell Rojas and her dad, the legendary Ric Rojas, for hooking me up with a Ric Rojas Running shirt. Huge fan! (Check out page 217 of Again to Carthage by John L. Parker, Jr. Note: his name is spelled wrong)

    Results | Recap on NAUAthletics.com | Photo Album by Heather Kennedy

  • 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

  • Doing Work at 7,000 Feet

    Posted on August 22nd, 2009

    Summer is always over too soon. I leave behind a summer of great opportunity (internship at ITT Aerospace Controls), my first Olympic distance triathlon, training with friends and great memories from my brother’s wedding.

    I have made my way back up to Flagstaff, Arizona for another year of school and running. Tina and I made the ~7 hour drive on Tuesday. Let the acclimating begin.

    Upon arriving Tuesday, I got an easy 5 mile run in with Kam, Darius, Joe and even a few minutes with Tina. I averaged slower than 7:30 pace so natuarally I felt great. That evening, my new roommate Myles Kloer cooked a delicious dinner for his Mom, sisters and his roommates. He’ll be a great fit.

    Wednesday I got an 11 mile run in on Soldier’s Loop then headed over to my physical at NAU’s Skydome. Later in the evening I got to meet most of my teammates for the year at our compliance meeting.

    Thursday I helped move freshmen into Reilly Hall from 8-noon. I was exhausted all day (part of the acclimation process I think), but my legs perked up in the afternoon for a 12 mile run with some strides.

    Yesterday we had our first workout as a team at Buffalo Park: 4x2  mile repeats. We were supposed to be going 80%, but I admit I definitely was running harder than that. I was happy to see that I was 15 seconds faster on the same workout a year ago. I am feeling fit and I think I still have lots of room for improvement in the near future. A few short months will confirm or deny this.

    In the evening Tina and I drove down to Munds Park to meet some UCLA cross country runners for dinner. They are staying in a cabin there for a few weeks of altitude training. Tina and I were amazed to see so many large, beautiful homes down there as we have passed through Munds Park many times on our way to and from Phoenix. From the highway, all you can see is a mobile home park, a couple gas stations and a church. Nevertheless, we had great food and enjoyed a game of the Royal favorite Go Home. Of course, my team won. (Thanks for the clutch rolling Tina. Sorry Kelcie… you really have Alex to blame.)

    Today was a recovery run. 11.5 miles to the base of Fisher Point with Andrew Belus, Ben Ashkettle and Simon Gilna. We stopped briefly on the run just to look at the beautiful setting. If I ever get a mountain bike out there I will take pictures.

    Tomorrow we will be doing a long run, hopefully ~18 miles for me to put me at 100 miles for the third consecutive week. My miles of trials is only just beginning.

  • Summer

    Posted on May 11th, 2009

    Summer is finally here! I made it through finals and I am back home in Simi Valley breathing the the thick air and enjoying the good life.

    Wednesday I had a break from finals and did a “triathlon day.” My roommate Kam Holbrook and I went for a 28 mile bike ride down to the Sedona overlook off of highway 89A. Awesome views. After the bike ride and a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich, I headed to the pool to get in 1800m. I swam a ladder of 50, 100, 150, 200, 150, 100, 5o. Pretty tough. Ate some more food then went for my last run with the team until next season, an easy 7 miler. I was beat.

    89A going into Sedona

    89A going into Sedona

    View from Sedona overlook

    View from Sedona overlook

    Me and Kam

    Me and Kam

    Thursday I went for an easy 5 mile run in the morning wtih teammate Joe Withers (he had his last race of the season on Saturday so he was tapering) and then 1300m in the pool before my final. I made it to my final with about 5 minutes to spare. I think I still got an A?

    Friday, my girlfriend Tina and I headed out to summit My Humphrey’s (12,633 ft). There was still a lot of snow on the trail and we got lost several times on the way up. Tina unfortunately got light headed and seemed to suffer some altitude sickness at around 11,600 feet. She told me I should go on, so I made it to about 12,100 feet before realizing that I had just left my girlfriend all alone on a poorly marked trail over 11,500 feet above sea level. I still got a great view. Next time we will make it all the way up together.

    Tina and I before the hike

    Tina and I before the hike

    Butterfly

    Butterfly

    So close to the summit

    So close to the summit

    Agassiz peak

    Agassiz peak

    Looking West

    Looking West

    Saturday I finally made my way back home to Simi Valley. It is always nice to be back home. My parents and I enjoyed some great food at Limon’s Latin Grill (Flagstaff, Az isn’t known for its sea food) then we watched some old home videos.

    Yesterday my sister and I made my mom breakfast before she had to leave at 9AM to catch a plane for business. Then I biked up to Challenger Park and ran through Bus Canyon. Everytime I am come back to Simi, it seems like this is my first run. The runs here are just as hilly as I remembered. I biked back home after the run, dropped off my running stuff, and biked for another 13 miles or so (probably ~22 for the day).  Yesterday was the first day I tried using the aerobars… I actually felt pretty comfortable in them, although I think I still need to make a few adjustments to make me more aero. It can be a little sketchy when cars are zooming by a couple feet away and I’m trying to tuck into a good aero position. I’ll have to practice more.

    I finished off the weekend with a Mother’s Day barbeque with family. I ate a lot of food and enjoyed some good beer. Life is good right now.