While I was competing as a Lumberjack for the NAU Cross Country team I worked hard. I had big goals coming into college, and after a few years, it became clear that some of those goals were just too lofty for me. I kept my head down and plugged away, putting my heart and soul into every race, workout, and run out on the trails. Each year I got stronger, faster and ended up with what I consider a pretty successful career. With the help of Coach Heins, I felt like I did everything I could to reach my potential. And that was enough for me. I was always a team player, but deep down inside I did all this for me. I put in all the hard work so my future self could look back at it all with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. In the words of Quenton Cassidy’s, “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.” It really is a great way to live.
LJ: From an athlete???s standpoint, there have been a lot of teammates, mentors and coaches that have influenced you as a player. Out of all of them in the past or present, who has influenced you the most in your career, or as a person?
TF: There are two big ones. One of which was my high school coach. He really influenced the mentality that I have now, working hard and grinding through it. And also Jason Pedersen; he???s a graduate assistant coach for us now. His mentality and work ethic is like second to none. He was running 110 miles a week, he ate right, slept well, [and was a] straight-A student in mechanical engineering, so it was a template I wanted to follow. He did it right and it paid off, so I want to do the same thing.
Suddenly I feel a new feeling. After reading those words from Tim, I no longer just feel satisfied of my running career at NAU. My efforts, my daily sacrifices, my commitment to myself meant something to someone else. And more than that, it has left an impression. If I had more accolades to my name I would call it a legacy, but my victories weren’t the kind that you could hang on the mantel. It means so much to me that someone else recognizes that.
30:01 is a solid debut, but it is currently only 50th in the West region and only 48 qualify (if I were in the East region I would be sitting pretty in 30th??? confirming what everyone already knows), which means it won???t get me into the Regional meet.
It doesn’t happen very often, and it can be difficult to admit, but sometimes I am wrong. This is one of the few times that I am genuinely over-the-moon to be wrong. 30:01 got me in and now I am sitting in a beautiful Days Inn in Eugene, Oregon next door to Track Town Pizza and across the street from the University of Oregon. I wonder if any sub-13 5k guys have ever slept in this bed?
We arrived in Portland Tuesday and made the trip down to Eugene with a stop at the always-delicious Applebee’s. Mmm mmmm. Wednesday we woke up to some rainy conditions and just took it easy. Tim and I went over to Track Town Pizza, which was delicious. We sat next to Suzy — she wouldn’t stop bitching about Regina Jacobs.
The track was open at 4pm so we headed over to Historic Hayward Field to do a little jog and strides. The Achilles is feeling pretty good, so I am confident that it shouldn’t bother me too much in the race. It was pretty surreal to finally be at the track. So many of the nation’s best athletes have raced there. What an honor for me to share that experience with them.
Today Tim and I have been laying low in the hotel. As each hour passes, we get a little quieter as those old familiar nerves creep in. I suspect I don’t have too many more days of nervously waiting for an evening race ahead. Maybe I should be enjoying this?
Of course I enjoy this. And I am going to miss it. This is likely my last collegiate race and I’m going to live in the moment all 25 laps.
Now I was a little banged up over winter break, but I would be foolish to think my last collegiate season would come without some adversity. Every time I go out on the track PRs aren???t going to happen just because I???m convinced I???m a better runner now than I was a few years ago. The work needs to be put in and I need to be ready for battle every race. If I do that I know I will be competing at Hayward Field at the end of May, satisfied.
Here???s to making the next four months count.
“Adversity” — what an understatement.
In all honesty, I haven’t seen all that much of it in my 24 years. I have lived a fortunate life with little worry, surrounded by the best family and friends. Perhaps this is why my life is so involved in athletics — I have had the opportunity. I never had to work late nights to pay for my college education and could always afford to travel to the very best competitions. But from my sheltered perspective, the last 14 months have been quite trying.
In March of last year I had knee surgery, forcing me to forfeit an indoor and outdoor track season. In May, I split with my girlfriend of 4.5 years, who was my biggest supporter and best friend. Running helped me get through it, focusing on the outstanding cross country season NAU was sure to have. A couple injuries to key members of the team and an unfortunate day for our captain David McNeill at NCAAs turned our national championship dream into just another top-10 team. I, however, had a pretty successful season, improving on my NCAA finish from the year before. But it was no All-American performance.
Shortly after beginning training for my final track campaign, I started battling IT band pain in my knee. While cross-training in December, I crashed on my bike and broke my wrist, limiting my cross-training options. I got through the indoor season and made a — now considered a very successful — debut in the 10k on the track. Then, with less than three weeks until the Big Sky Conference Championships I developed an Achilles injury. Still, I knew I had to give it my all in the 10k and 5k as it could have been my last track meet, my last time wearing a Lumberjack jersey. Then I got that infamous blister…
This post is not meant to be me complaining about how unfortunate I am or how “rough of a year I have had.” Weeks, months and years from now I am going to read this post, and I want to capture exactly what I was thinking and feeling the day I found out I had one more, and this was all a part of it. Yes, that painful 5k at Sacramento State last weekend was not my last track race in NAU blue and yellow.
At practice this morning, I nervously checked my iPhone to see if the declarations for the NCAA West Prelim were posted. Once they were, I slowly scrolled through the results. When I got to the men’s 10k, I went one name at a time.
13th. Ahmed Osman.
31st. Tim Freriks. “I moved up 10 spots. PD, you got a shot.”
I paused at number 47. This is my track season. The next name determined whether or not I am a collegiate athlete anymore. This is my 18 year long running career we are talking about!
48th. The final qualifier to race the 10,000m at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field is. . . JASON PEDERSEN.
I lit up. I was sure I had no chance of qualifying. Someone pinch me. Surely I was dreaming. Nope, this is for real. I have one more race. One more time to pull that NAU singlet over my shoulders. One more time to line up against the nation’s best college athletes. One more time to say thanks to all my supporters over the years by simply doing what I love, running hard.
Saturday marked my final Big Sky Conference Championship, and depending on factors now out of my control, possibly my last track meet ever. I have known this moment was coming for a while now, but writing those words really makes it sink in. I may never wear an NAU Lumberjack singlet again.
But before I get too sappy, let me fill you in on the lead up to Big Sky and the races. About two and half weeks earlier, while doing a relatively easy steeplechase workout, I felt some soreness in my Achilles. I didn’t think much of it as it didn’t bother me too much during the workout. The next day it was worse, and by two days after the workout I wasn’t running. I decided to forgo my final tune up meet before Big Sky, the Double Dual Meet down in Tempe, so that I could get healthy. The pain persisted and I took to the pool and, whenever possible, the bike. I told Coach Heins that I felt my Achilles would hold up better in a 10k then the steeplechase, so the decision was made to effectively never race a steeplechase again — at least not for NAU anyway.
The Achilles pain continued throughout the final build up to Big Sky, limiting my running to just workouts, some of which I was unable to finish. In the two weeks prior to this weekend, I probably logged less than 30 miles. There were two possiblities: I would feel fresh or completely flat.
While warming up for the 10k on Friday evening my Achilles felt pretty good — probably the best it had felt in a week. The conditions were much better than the last time I raced at Sacramento State in 2008 when temperatures were over 100 degrees. There was just a calm breeze and the sun setting. With just 13 entries in the race, it felt like a very low-key affair. Orders from Coach were to take the race out at a respectable pace of around 74 seconds and picking it up in the 2nd 5k. My initial plan heading into the race was to go for a Regional qualifying mark, which I thought would take about 29:50. Once Coach told me his plan, I realized that if I went for the PR I could blow up after 5k and fade badly in the later stages of the race. Considering the lack of work I had done leading up to the race, this was a good possibility. Conference Championships are about team titles, not individual glory. The decision was easy.
Sophomore Tim Freriks took the lead the first mile and put the pace right where it needed to be. I took the pacing duties for a couple laps, followed by junior Ahmed Osman and freshman Bahlbi Gebreyohanns (aka “BB”). At around two miles, the group dwindled down to a pack of five: the four Lumberjacks and Nick Atwood from Montana State. I was clearly having a tough time hanging with them, and when Coach yelled to Ahmed to not press too hard as to not drop me, Atwood took that as a hint to surge. Great move tactically for him. That was the end of me and I would run all but the final 400m of the race alone.
About halfway through the race I began to feel a blister starting to form on the ball of my left foot. Since I have done so little running in the last few weeks, it was no surprise that I would suffer from a little blister or two. As the race continued, the pain increased with each step, and by the final mile it was affecting my stride. I was told by a few different teammates watching the race that they could tell I was limping the final 800m, but they assumed it was due to my Achilles.
While the blister on my foot was growing, my lead over 6th place was shrinking. I was dieing a slow and painful death. With one lap remaining, Bowe Ebding of Eastern Washington came by me with Ben Ashkettle. I tried to respond with a sprint. The pain in my foot suddenly increased tenfold and I limped home to finish 7th place, scoring just two points, in 31:03.98. I threw myself to the ground, looked at my foot, and saw blood on my shoe. “Blood has run through my compression socks and my shoe? This must be bad.” I ripped off my shoe and saw the damage. Somehow I managed to tear off the thick calloused skin on the ball of my foot, hardened from thousands and thousands of miles, right off. Below are a couple of pictures of the carnage. Sorry if you have a weak stomach.
After treating the foot and getting a tough night of sleep (Tim and I were suffering from cases of “gut rot.” Something about 25 laps…), I started to think about Saturday’s race. It was quite painful to walk, and I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to run. I talked to coach just before warming up and he said, “I don’t think you should run it.” I asked if it would make a difference and he replied, “Yeah, if you win it it will make a difference.” Well that wasn’t going to happen, but he said if we were within 30 points with just the 5k and 4×400 relay remaining, the team had a chance at winning the conference title.
At first I thought, “what if I don’t run and we lose by a couple of points. How would I feel if I hadn’t at least tried?” After beginning my warm ups, I turned that negative thought into, “what if I score a point or two and that is the difference?” Once again, from there it was an easy decision for me. I had six other teammates lining up for the 5k, maybe just by standing next to them on the starting line I could inspire one of them to be tough. Then it would be worth it.
In the end, I didn’t score any points in that 5k. I was almost last, finishing 18th in 15:10.03. This race could have been my last. I was injured and might as well have not raced. What a rough way to finish up my college career.
Or maybe not. I didn’t contribute to the team score, but there were my teammates. My teammates shined, scoring 29 points and setting three PR’s. What if I did have an impact on one of them? Maybe one of them dug a little deeper because they knew I was somewhere on that track limping behind them, hoping they could to it because I couldn’t.
On Sunday, Tim wrote this on my Facebook wall to wish me a “Happy Birthday:”
On the last day that you were closer to 18 than 30, I saw the runner that summed up Jason Pedersen for me. Determined to make a run at a point or two for his team with half his foot torn off??? More than talent, training regimes, or determination, that selfless attitude is what has allowed the Lumberjacks to be a top-10 NCAA team the last four years in a row. You???ve shown me the ropes, and as you move on to bigger and better things I feel like I have some size 17+ shoes to fill. As Coach (italicized) Mo would say, be proud of your legacy here on this team because you have left a burning impression on the minds of all those that come after you. Happy birthday big guy, 24 years isn???t all that many when you know the best is yet to come. To many more inspiring years, it???s almost time to show the triathlon world what J. PD is all about!
I am forever indebted to Tim for writing this and making me feel like my futile effort in that 5k was anything but. After reading this message Tim wrote, my Dad said to me over the phone, “It seems like a rough way to finish up, but it is clear that you made an impression on at least a few people by running that race. I wouldn’t have raced if I were you, but I’m proud of you for doing it.”
Before I continue on this path of I-will-never-race-on-the-track-again, I will wait to see if I have one more race. I am currently ranked 65th in the West Region for the 10k, and 48 people qualify. So 17 people need to decide they have better things to do in a week and a half than to run 25 laps at Hayward Field. Yes, it is a stretch. I will know for sure on Thursday.
Let me bring you up to speed on all PD-related running things (or is it running-related PD things?). About a week after the Stanford Invitational 5000, I went to University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to get a steeplechase in since I hadn???t raced the event in over two years. That race was mediocre at best, 9:27.02 converted, but I knew it was going to be rough: first steeple in a couple years AT altitude??? oh, and I did my first steeple workout the week prior. The steeple is one of those races with a learning curve, so I wanted to get a crash course before I really go for it.
After that meet, it was back to Flag to focus on 10k training. This weekend???s Mt. Sac Invitational was to be my first 10k on the track (speaking of learning curves). During those couple weeks of mental preparation for 25 laps, I was fortunate enough to share several meals with David McNeill & friends. As if sharing a meal of kale and Brussels sprouts with a two-time NCAA 5k champion wasn???t enough, the ???& friends??? made it extra special. On the first occasion ???& friends??? included a few NAU teammates, which was a lot of fun. The second time was with Ryan Fenton of Flotrack and Ben True from the Oregon Track Club, whom we had some great discussion with about the different levels of ???professional??? athletes in the sport.
But then a week ago, Dave asked if I wanted to join him for dinner with ???Kip and Abdi.??? You know, that???s short for double World Champ-3:26 1500-multiple American Record holder Bernard Lagat and three-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. I thought for about half a second of all the exams I still had to grade and the Smart Materials exam I had to study for, and I said, ???YES! I would love to!??? So on Sunday I helped put furniture together for Co Mo???s and Dave???s apartment (Lagat signed the bottom of one of the chairs), ate dinner, and then watched the 2007 Osaka 5000m Final, all with Bernard Lagat. (For the record, he was only worried about Kipchoge in that race.)
Since then I have come off cloud 9 and back to the reality of my own mortal efforts that include cruel truths like lactic acid. As I said, this weekend was my first 10k on the track, which should never be confused with a 10k in cross country. I know now that those are two completely different beasts.
Unfortunately for Coach Heins, NAU had 7 different people competing in the 10k???s on Thursday night, spaced out amongst 6 different heats. The first beginning at 8:10 and the final one concluding at about 11:50. Those of you that pay attention to the details will notice that those 150 laps almost spanned across two days. Coach handled it no problem, and was still spry and full of character by the end of the night ??? no doubt the marathon training for the 2008 Trials paid off that night.
My race was one of the last ones, scheduled for 10:40 pm. I would have liked to be in Tim Freriks heat, for so many reasons, but mostly because 10:40 is usually after my bed time, 8:50 is not. I was able to have a very low-key day and arrive at the starting line without a yawn. There was a little confusion about hip numbers, so the 40 or so of us athletes were held in purgatory a few more minutes while they cleared it up, awaiting our 25 laps of hell.
The gun sounded and off we went. As we rounded the first of fifty turns, I found myself in the lead and thought, ???Tim and Coach Mo are going to kill me for taking the lead, again.??? We came through in about 72 and about half a lap later someone else took over and I rode the train hitting 71???s. At about 3k I had a bit of a smirk because I felt great and I thought I could keep hitting those splits all night. I came through halfway in 14:52, which was exactly where I wanted to be. Then a few laps later, it started to get rough. 71???s turned into 73-74 and I was hurting bad. From 8 laps to go until about 2 was really rough. I had come unhitched and couldn???t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was well on my way to running a 30:15 10k or so, but was able to rally the last couple laps. I came to 200m to go in 29:30 and kicked with all I had: 31 seconds. 30:01.31 was my final time. Hurts just to write it.
30:01 is a solid debut, but it is currently only 50th in the West region and only 48 qualify (if I were in the East region I would be sitting pretty in 30th??? confirming what everyone already knows), which means it won???t get me into the Regional meet. So what now? The only other 10k I might run would be at Conference, and those are usually slow and tactical. So my next chance to qualify is in the steeplechase in a couple more weeks at the Double Duel meet down in Tempe. For at least the next two weeks, I will be a steeplechaser.
Last weekend Coach Heins took a small group of five from the distance team out to Palo Alto, CA to run some fast times and enjoy the good weather. However, whether either of those was actually accomplished is debatable. We were welcomed to California with rainy skies that wouldn’t let up but for maybe three times: when we got on the track to do our strides on Friday, about 10 minutes prior and 30 minutes after our race on Saturday morning, and during the faster heats on Saturday night. Otherwise, it was raining.
My trusty sidekick Tim Freriks and I raced, as I just mentioned, on Saturday morning in the slowest heat of the 5k. Like most distance runners, Timmy is a pretty consistent guy — he has thought through most things and rarely flip flops. So when we heard that we were in the slower morning section, just like our 3k last month at Husky Invitational, Tim was a little upset that we wouldn’t be racing in the evening with the more intense atmosphere. Since I haven’t really raced outdoor track since 2008 (2 races in 2009 as a redshirt), I could care less. (Sorry to throw you under the bus, Tim)
The race had a fairly large field, with two alleys and 27 total athletes. The first mile or so was pretty bumpy, but I was more than comfortable holding my own in the pack. In these “slower” heats, there tends to be a lot of freshmen and sophomores who are not as experienced. They probably haven’t done battle in the middle of the main pack at NCAA Cross before. (where you learn to fight or die)
The pace started off quick enough, running 69s for the first 800. The pace lagged a bit from there, and Tim took it over. Once he started pushing the pace, the race strung out a lot. I felt fairly comfortable through about halfway, but began to slow considerably the last mile. My last few laps had some 72s in there, which really killed my time. I ended up closing in just a 68 and running 14:37.66 for 13th place. After the race, Coach Heins told me I looked really tired the last mile, which is probably the result of three consecutive 100-mile weeks and a 20 miler six days before the race. All that considered, I’m content with a 13 second PR to start off the season.
Next up is a STEEPLECHASE in Albuquerque this Saturday. This will be my first steeple since 2009. The goal is just to get one in for experience points, but of course I’m always looking to run a PR (9:09 in 2008).
A couple weeks ago now, the NAU track team traveled to Pocatello, ID for the Big Sky Indoor Championships at Idaho State’s Holt Arena. I, along with a few other lucky teammates, was signed up for the 5k-3k double. 40 laps is a lot of laps on a banked wooden track. 41 is even more.
Yes, you read that right. Five thousand and two hundred meters. They made us run an extra lap. So what, right? Everyone had to do it. What’s an extra lap. Well here is how it happened.
As we gathered on the starting line before the race, I noticed the lap counter was on the ground. An older fellow dressed in obnoxiously orange attire (Go Tigers!) was fiddling with the lap counter. From what I could discern, the first digit of the lap counter was stuck and he couldn’t get it to go to “2.” About this time I noticed the gun went up and got ready to start the race. I came by the first lap in a good position near the front. Still no lap counter. Finally, as we rounded our fourth bend, there was the lap counter, showing 24 laps remaining. This is a joke, right? Do they really think we just ran a 200m in 70 seconds? As each lap went by, I hoped they would correct their error, but to no avail. Eventually, I canned it and realized they had no clue. But then I started to wonder about the other competitors. Did they realize the mistake? When will they kick? Are they going to run the full 5.2k or will they stop when we are supposed to. As you might guess, this is a terrible state of mind to be in when racing.
In the end we ended up running that extra 200m, and no one else in the field seemed to really notice. Of course I voiced my frustrations to one of the officials after I finished to which she replied, “Oh, it was off.” I guess I should give them some credit for thinking something might be off. Good work, gang. After the race, there was some talk about protesting the finish, because at 5000m NAU’s finishing places were 1-3-5-6-8 (24 points) as opposed to 2-3-5-6-7 (23 points). We decided that wasn’t fair and let it be.
By this point in the meet it had come down to a two-way dog fight between NAU and Sacramento State. Sac State had no one competing in the 3k, so it was up to the distance crew to close the gap on them. Before the race, a few of us made some very sarcastic comments to the officials about counting the laps correctly. I was happy I wasn’t the only one that was annoyed.
Diego took the race out at a solid pace, just like he had promised. Andrew Belus followed close behind and then I tucked in after him. Around we went, hitting the mile just under 4:30. I knew exactly where my race was, and that was right on Andrew’s heels, but I just couldn’t hang. A few runners slowly passed me, and Andrew continued to do battle up ahead. In the end, Diego won, Andrew was 4th was a huge PR of 8:25 (converts to ~8:15!), I was 6th in 8:35.53 and Tim Freriks was 7th.
Our 4×4 team somehow managed to win even though they were in the slower heat. We thought everything was working out perfectly. Then they read the scores: we lost the meet by HALF A POINT! Brutal. Now that mistake in the 5k hurts even more, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m proud of the team as a whole, and especially John Yatsko, for rallying behind each other. This was definitely NOT the most talented team NAU has taken to a Big Sky Track Championship, but, since I have been here, it was the best team effort.
A little side note: in 2008 the Indoor Championships were also hosted by Idaho State. On that occasion, Sacramento State won both men’s and women’s titles, like this year. In 2008, NAU went to Sacramento for the Outdoor Championship and took the men’s title home. By chance, the Outdoor Championships are in Sacramento once again. Will history repeat itself? You know what I think.
You may have heard of the acronym FTW before, which of course means For The Win, not Fuck The World. Generally this term is used in competition, as in you are going “for the win,” or to say something is the best. Like “BlackBerry Messenger FTW.” The corollary to FTW is FTL (For The Loss). Obviously no one actually goes “for the loss” in competition, so this one is more often associated with things that suck (e.g. “Storm FTL”). Several other versions have been made up, including FTC (For The Chubs).
I can’t take credit for FTC. First person I heard it from was Michael Cybulski, who has been known to come up with a good line or two. Like many of the figures of speech my Simi Valley friends come up with, I shared FTC with the Flagstaff crew. At first it was fairly funny, as it started to come up after cross country season was over when several of us were putting on a few (9 lb in a week for yours truly). But then something strange happened: some of us began to embrace it — especially Tim Freriks, Andrew Belus and myself.
Just so we are clear, we aren’t just letting loose and eating cheeseburgers all day. It is really a realization, which I came to accept a while ago, that I’m a little bigger than a lot of my competitors. Look at the very best distance runners in the world and most are pretty thin. Now there are a few exceptions, and they are the ones that give us hope. Leading the charge is Chris Solinsky. The guy broke 27:00 and 13:00 last year, giving hope to white FTC guys like me. When we saw him run 3:54 at University of Washington a couple weeks ago, the three of us couldn’t help but shout “FTC!” every now and again. Chris, if you’re listening, don’t take it the wrong way. It is a sign of respect.
Tonight and tomorrow the FTC crew will be setting fire to Idaho State’s wooden track at the Big Sky Conference Championships. We will be running 120 laps between the three of us, as we are all doubling in the 5k and 3k. I like to think of the FTC crew as work horses for the team. . . outlasting our competition with our slow-burning fat stores.
So if you are in attendance, shout “FTC” to us. We won’t be offended, we know exactly what it means.