Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Quiet Christmas with the Fulkrods

We told you last week not to look for any new DtB posts until January 7th, but then we noticed THIS nice Christmas Day feature about University of Minnesota - Duluth coach John Fulkrod and his wife Linda in the Duluth News-Tribune.

It's a touching holiday story about the challenges and blessing the couple has seen in recent years.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays and Thank You from DtB!

Are you ready for the Holidays and the new year?

We at Down the Backstretch are. It's been an exciting first year for us covering running and track and field in Minnesota on a daily basis. We've been impressed and heartened at every turn by the following our little web-site has gained. On behalf of everyone here who has helped bring the latest running and track news to you, THANK YOU for joining us!

I'd like to offer my own sincerest thanks to everyone who has contributed or commented to DtB. Special thanks go to Pete Miller, who has been involved in the web-site from the beginning and always has something wise to say about it. Also worthy of specific acknowledgement are our most regular contributors Chris Marshall, Chad Austin, and photographers Gene Niemi and Sean Hartnett. I appreciate every ounce of effort they've offered to DtB this year!

We're going to take the next two weeks off for the holiday -- mostly. (If important news breaks between now and early January -- and we're not deep in the woods on our skis -- we'll break into the holiday and let you know.) Mainly, though, we'll try to appreciate the joy and peace of the season and let the slumbering track world take care of itself for a spell.

When we're back again for real in 2008, you can expect some exciting changes to Down the Backstretch ... as well as all the things we hope you've come to appreciate from us.

Happy Holidays and Thank You!

Gopher Women's Track Ranked #15

When the University of Minnesota's women's track team opens the season on January 12, they'll do so as the #15 team in the nation.

The U.S. Cross Country and Track and Field Coaches Association pre-season poll ranks the defending Big 10 indoor champions as the third-best team in the conference, behind #4 Michigan and #12 Penn State.

LSU tops the poll followed by Arizona State and Tennessee.

Florida State tops the men's poll followed by Washington and Tennessee. Defending Big 10 indoor and outdoor champs Wisconsin is the only ranked conference men's team -- at #15.

Full rankings are HERE.

The Gopher teams open the 2008 season at home with the Northwest Open at the University Fieldhouse.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The 2:19 Standard and USATF-Mn's Concerns

One of the most significant pieces of news coming out of the recent USA Track and Field convention in Hawaii was the tightening of the 2012 Men's Olympic Marathon Trails standard from 2:22:00 to 2:19:00. The change in the standard came as a surprise to most in the long distance running community and would likely reduce the event's field to around 70 runners.

DtB noticed in the minutes of the December USATF-Minnesota monthly meeting that treasurer Chris Kartschoke, the former Men's Long Distance Running chairman for the state, was eager to work toward rolling back the new standard.

We traded e-mail with Kartschoke recently to get his take on the situation ...

DtB: Did you know a change to the Men's Olympic Marathon Trials standard was coming?

Kartschoke: I had no idea that a change was even being proposed. From my perspective, it was disappointing that the change was made when the annual convention was in Hawaii, being that many delegates who typically go to the convention did not go because of the prohibitively high cost of travel.

DtB: What was your initial reaction to the changed Trials standard?

Kartschoke: When I found out about the change, I was pretty disappointed. My philosophy is that the association is in place for two purposes: 1. To develop Olympic level athletes 2. To develop the sport. I do not think that this change will have any impact on the association's ability to develop Olympic level athletes, good or bad. I do believe that it will be detrimental to the development of track and field in this country. Two years ago, I spoke with Craig Masback, and I actually suggested lowering the standard to possibly 2:30.

DtB: How did you see a 2:30 standard helping the situation?

Kartschoke: My thought was that a slightly slower standard would encourage more people to actively try to qualify. It would also promote the sport. For example, a guy from Thief River Falls who runs a 2:28 could be portrayed by his local media as being their local "Olympic Hopeful". This would only provide the sport with more positive publicity. Finally, the actual trials race could be more of an event with more participants. Glenn Latimer [USATF National Men's LDR Chairman] wants only ~65 athletes participating in the trials. My thinking is similar to the women's position on the trials which is to encourage participation. The more people that are actually in the race, the more it is an event. I am not advocating that USATF pay for any of these individuals, so the incremental cost would be non-material for the association. On balance, I firmly believe that more participants is better for the event and the sport.

DtB: How do you think the new standard will affect men's distance running in Minnesota?

Kartschoke: I think that the new standard could have a detrimental effect on distance running in MN. It is not a foregone conclusion that it will be negatively impactful, but I would guess that we have a number of individuals who were right on the cusp of qualifying with the standard being 2:22. For those guys, qualifying for the Trials would be a lifelong achievement; it would be their Olympics. That was probably a significant motivator for them to do more in pursuit of that dream. The gap between 2:22 and 2:19 is a large one. I have spoken with a couple of people already who thought that 2:22 was achievable with great preparations followed by a great race, but those same people do not think that they could hit the 2:19 standard under any circumstances.

DtB: Is there anything you and USATF - Minnesota might be able to do change the standards back to what they've been previously?

Kartschoke: USATF MN is beginning the process of exploring how to change the standard. Our entire board believes that the wrong decision was made, in this case. We are lucky to have an attorney (Dave Coyne) on the board who is respected and active at the national level. He should be able to help us weed through the red tape. We also have committed members of the LDR committee, who can help effect a change. I would encourage other associations and individuals who would like to see the standard changed to contact our association. The more support we have for a change, the more effective our efforts can be

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nicole Cueno: " ... I have never felt so competitive at the end of a marathon."

Nicole Cueno of Minneapolis, it's safe to say, had a great day at the Cal International Marathon recently. The Minneapolis resident knocked 10 minutes off her marathon PR with an Olympic Trials qualifying 2:42:03 runner-up finish that, by the way, earned her $5000.

DtB contributor Chad Austin -- check out his own web-sites HERE and HERE -- interviewed Cueno about her big run ...

DtB: First off, congrats on your Olympic Trials qualifier at the California International Marathon (CIM). How were the conditions and the course?

Cueno: The temperature was perfect (cool at the start and stayed cool throughout the race) but there was a fair bit of wind. I tried to be strategic about staying with a group because I knew there was often a headwind on this course. I was part of a great pack for over the first half of the race and we traded leads a bit so none of us fatigued too much with the wind. I, and two other women, led the pack the majority of the time but I got a few of the guys to step up a couple times (Did they really think they could stay tucked in with a group of women trying to qualify and not pull their own weight? :) Pack running also helped even me out a bit on the hills which were not huge but more substantial than what most of my training was on.

DtB: Did you have any other goals besides qualifying for the Trials?

Cueno: Qualifying for the Trials was the main goal. I felt that, with good conditions, my training might allow me to drop lower than the qualifying standard but I did not want to focus on that. With poor conditions in a marathon, one just never knows. I wanted to go in to the marathon with that one clear goal and have training that could get me there even if the conditions were not ideal.

DtB: You were able to run negative splits. Was that your race plan going in or did you just feel great during the second half?

Cueno: That was not the race plan but it could not have felt better. The race plan was to be as even as possible. I went through the half in 1:22:20 with another woman, Sara Donahue. She and I were running together really well and we decided we’d try to maintain 6:15s, 6:18s through mile 18. We went slightly faster than that. At mile 17, a spectator told us that we were in 6th and 7th. That made me so excited but I knew I should still hold back. Sara and I stayed together through 20 and then I started calculating; I knew the women I could see were over a minute ahead of me. I knew that meant that I couldn’t wait any longer and yes, I was feeling great. Mile 22 was sub-6 which freaked me out a bit so I stopped looking at my splits. I kept taking them though and when I looked at them after the race, I realized my last four miles were the fastest of the race. I really have no explanation for it other than I have never felt so competitive at the end of a marathon. It was an incredible feeling that I’m quite sure I will never forget.

DtB: At what point did you know you had 2:47 wrapped up?

Cueno: I said it before, but you just never know what’s going to happen. I think somewhere between mile 17 and mile 20, I felt so confident in making the standard that I stopped thinking about it and started focusing on competing.

DtB: Given that the Minnesota racing season basically ended two months ago, how were you able to tune up for CIM?

Cueno: The City of Lakes 25k was a good jumping off point for my training. It reassured me that I hadn’t lost too much fitness in my recovery from Grandma’s and it motivated me to get back in to tough training (and the weather was beautiful this year). I did a half marathon in Kansas City, MO in mid-October and then a 5k two weeks out. Other than that, I just focused on my own workouts and training progression.

DtB: Granted, conditions were less than ideal at Grandma’s this year, however, you still PR’d with a 2:52. Now, just six months later you sliced another 10 minutes from your PR. What changes have you made to your training that have led to such a large jump in fitness?

Cueno: I can’t give away all my secrets can I? I can say that I trained harder than I’ve ever trained before but I was also very deliberate about getting the most out of the miles I was logging (i.e. eliminating junk miles). I never even hit 80mpw because I was having some backside/hamstring issues that seemed irritated by too much running. When I was topping out in the 75mpw range, however, I was doing three, intense workouts/week and getting in 3-4 hours of additional cross-training.

After Grandma’s I was not entirely certain where my training might go. I knew I would be working full-time at the YWCA of Minneapolis and also trying to complete my master’s internship and thesis. I was able to do all of that (my successful thesis defense was five days before the marathon! – maybe it was the relief that carried me through -- : ) ) and train hard in part because of the supportive environment and people at the YWCA. Throughout this most recent last training period, there has been a great group of people, led by Paul Johnson, working to develop the YWCA Endurance Sports (YES!) program. I feel very strongly that the underlying excitement about having the opportunity to be involved in program development that combines my personal and career passions (health and fitness as empowerment; the YW’s mission is to “empower women and eliminate racism” ) added to my motivation for training. I was also, in a very explicit way, encompassed by people who truly understood what I was working toward. I don’t think many runners get that kind of understanding from their jobs, co-workers, or often even friends and family. I felt supported in so many ways that I know that had a hugely positive impact on my training.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rains Soaring into 2008 Indoor Season

Did anyone else miss the start of the 2008 track and field season?

We’ll admit that we did.

On December 8, 2007, inside the facility that will host the 2008 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships -- Minnesota State – Mankato’s Myer's Field House – the young season got off to a soaring start.

There, defending Division II women’s pole vault champ Katelin Rains (pictured) of Mankato broke her own D2 all-time best in the event by vaulting 14-0 1/2. Finishing second was Division II outdoor champion Jennifer Hensel of Moorhead State who cleared 12-3 1/2.

You can find full results HERE.

Another national champ in action was Bemidji State’s Sheena Devine. The defending D2 indoor and outdoor champ in the shot put opened her season with a 47-8 1/2 toss. Devine also won the weight throw at 51-1 3/4.

Look for Rains will be back in action on January 4 at the Reno Pole Vault Summit.

We’ll try not to miss that meet!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Marie Sample: "Go 36. You're going to qualify!"

It's Marie Sample week on the Internet in Minnesota!

Below, we've posted a short interview DtB did with the recent Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier after her 2:45:58 PR at the Cal International Marathon. Over on Running Minnesota, Chad Austin's fine site, there's another interview with the Marshall resident -- and photo to boot!

Here's Sample's story of her PR run in Sacramento and the long road that got her there ...

DtB: How did the race play out for you? Were you on pace and feeling strong throughout?

Sample: I had planned to run a very consistent and conservative 6:18 to 6:20 pace per mile with hopes of feeling well enough at mile 20 or so to pick it up a bit and make a little room to spare. Turns out there was a pretty decent headwind though a large part of the race - middle mostly. There were about 25 women there trying to qualify and I knew some of them were going to go out harder than I wanted to. We basically formed 2 packs from the start. I was in the second pack until all of them dropped off. I could always see the lead pack of women but by mile 10 I found myself alone and bucking a headwind. They were too far in front to try to catch so I decided just to go it on my own with the same game plan.

At mile 15, I was feeling kind of tough and little tired. We had just come out of a pretty hilly first 15 miles. I slammed 2 power gels and drank as much Ultima as I could keep down without shooting it back out and kept moving forward. At mile 18 I was a new person. I felt awesome and ready to start picking up the pace. I could still see the lead pack and even better, I could see them coming back to me. Some of them were walking along the road and some were just stopping in front of me calling it quits. I knew I was still right on pace. At mile 20 I was starting to catch and blow by people. I had a nice rhythm and a whole lot of confidence at that point.

With a 5K to go, there was a guy that yelled to me, "You have to run a 20 minute 5K to qualify". I knew I could do that so I just kept running. People were yelling, "Go 36. You're going to qualify. You look so strong." At 2 miles to go I knew I had the qualifier. I felt so good and I was reeling people in. My sister, her husband, her 2 girls, my 3 daughters, and my mother in law were all on the route with about 6 blocks to run. I could hear them above the crowds of people. It was so nice to hear them. My husband and Father-in-Law were following the course on bikes after about mile 10 - where the chickens and roosters were on the course. The finish was a 3 block horse shoe with 2 left turns. The first turn took me to the final turn where I expected to see 2:45 something. Sure enough, that is what I saw. When I saw it, the tears were already flowing. It was a dream that I had had for 4 years.

DtB: If I remember correctly, you had a bunch of close-misses in attempting to qualify for the Trails in 2004. What has changed since then?

Sample: I had missed qualifying 2 times in 2003. I ran a 2:48.14 in Minneapolis and then 8 weeks later I ran the same time in Tuscon Arizona. The difference is, I had only logged 66 miles as my highest weekly mileage before running those marathons. I had logged many more miles for this race. I had 5 X 100 mile weeks, more track workouts (mostly mile repeats at 5:20 to 5:30 pace), 10 to 15 mile hill runs at Camden State Park located about 12 miles from here, days where I run 10 miles at 4am before going to work and then another 10 miles at 11:30am after getting home from work, and occasional naps. I am the lightest and fittest I have ever been in my life.

DtB: You live in Marshall, I see. Are there special challenges to training there. I'm guessing training partners, competition, calm weather are harder to come by there than, say, in the Twin Cities.

Sample: I have nobody to train with here. The next fastest person in town is my husband Dave and when I am running, he has child watch duty at our house. We have a lot of wind here but no hills. I have to leave town to get hills. The wind can be helpful because it adds and extra challenge to my workouts. I learn to try to hold pace even when I am bucking a headwind. I don't have an indoor track to do speed work on this winter to train for the trials and the outdoor track is already covered with snow. I will have to get creative and also use the treadmill some for speed training.

DtB: What's your goal for the Olympic Trials?

Sample: I have never run this many miles in my entire life. I am the lightest and most fit I have ever been in my life. I am the strongest and most determined to improve that I have ever been. I have another 3 months that I can run high miles and continue to work on physical strength and speed. I have a lot of faith that I can continue to improve before the trials and also afterwards. I would realistically like to run a lower 2:40 to a 2:42 at the trials. I think I could have run faster than a 2:45:58 in Sacramento but that wasn't my goal. We'll see what training brings and how well I will be able to get in speed workouts over the winter. It is going to be a lot of fun just seeing what I can do. The sky is the limit when you dare to dream and work harder than you ever thought you could.

Meet Amy Drifka, TCM's New President

Twin Cities Marathon Inc., the organization responsible for organizing the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and its ancillary events, recently named Amy Drifka its new president. Drifka, who served for two years at the TCM treasurer and who is Vice President/Corporate Controller at Capella University, was named to a four-year term. Drifka succeeds Joanne Jirik Mullen in the position.

Drifka (pictured), a varsity runner at Stevens Point Pacelli High School and UW - Eau Claire, was recognized in 2007 as one of the top forty business professionals under forty ("40 under Forty") in Minnesota in the Twin Cities Business Journal for her work at Capella University and with Twin Cities Marathon, Inc.

Down the Backstretch talked to Drifka recently about her event and her new position ...

DtB: What got you involved with Twin Cities Marathon in the first place?

Drifka: I have been a runner for almost twenty five years and it has done so much for me throughout my life. I wanted to find a way to give back to the running community and found that the marathon's mission was aligned with what I found important. I am thrilled to be part of this organization and am very proud of how many runner's lives we have been able to touch over the years.

DtB: What do you see as the major challenges for the event in the coming years?

Drifka: I think it is to continue to put on the same caliber event that we have but to also look for opportunities to continue to give more to the runners.

DtB: Are there specific changes or improvements to the event that you'd like to see made?

Drifka: I think the marathon is a great event but there are always improvements that can be made. I'd like to continue to look for more opportunities for the kids to run and be active throughout the year. In addition, we have a high demand for the ten mile race, so I"d like to see what other opportunities for additional individuals to run our races.

DtB: What do you think makes the event special?

Drifka: I think the volunteers and the spectators make this event so special. We have so many volunteers that work all year round and they do an amazing job of making each person's experience very special.

DtB: There was discussion recently on Down the Backstretch about whether the event should move its date later into the fall to make better weather more likely. Is such a thing likely to be considered?

Drifka: When we selected the timing of the marathon, the marathon did a lot of research on the appropriate timing for the Twin Cities based on the timing of other marathons in the area and the average weather temperatures. We still believe that the timing is the right time of year for the marathon and we intend on continuing the tradition of the first Sunday of October.

DtB: Is there anything you especially want people to know about you, your event, and its future?

Drifka: I would just add that I think this is an amazing set of events and I am very proud to be part of this organization and am excited to give back to the running community.

Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Marathon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bill Andberg, Anoka's Gray Ghost, Dead at 96

Bill Andberg, the Gray Ghost of Anoka's Halloween 5K of the same name, died Tuesday at age 96.

Andberg was a member of the Minnesota Track and Field Hall of Fame as well as the USA Track and Field Masters Hall of Fame. Among his exploits after taking up running at age 55 was a world age-best 18:33 5K as a 65-year-old.

The Star-Tribune has a nice story about Andberg HERE.

A memorial service for Andberg will be held Sunday at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, 900 Mount Curve Avenue, Minneapolis.

At Loose Ends: A Friday Wrap-Up

Here, at the end of the week, are all the sundry items still piled up on the DtB news desk ...

Marks Earns Grant ... USA triple jump champion Shani Marks was awarded an Elite Athlete Development Grant by the USA Track & Field Foundation. The Elite Athlete Grant Program contributes to the pursuit of world-class performances by American post-collegiate track and field athletes.

Marks, a University of Minnesota alum, is the two-time defending USA Outdoor champion in the triple jump. She also won USA Indoor titles in 2005 and 2007.

Gophers Honor Their Stars ... The Gopher men's and women's cross country teams each named co-MVPs to honor their teams' top runners. Hassan Mead and Chris Rombough shared men's MVP honors in winning the Fred Watson Award. Jamie Cheever and Ladia Albertson-Junkans shared the MVP award for the Gopher women.

USATF-Minnesota Names Athletes of the Month ... USA Track and Field Minnesota named the Wayzata Boys Cross Country Team and the University of Wisconsin's Hanna Grinaker its Atheltes of the Month for December.

Wayzata was recognized for winning the MSHSL Class AA State title, the Nike Team Nationals Heartland Regional crown, and for finishing 20th at the Nike Team National meet. Grinaker, a Detroit Lakes native, was honored for being the top-finishing Minnesotan at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships where she finished 25th.

Des Moines to Host 2010 USAs ... There's yet another track and field reason to make a road-trip to Iowa. Drake University, annually the home of the Drake Relays and the host of the 2008 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships, was awarded the 2010 USA Outdoor Championships.

It was a consolation prize of sorts as the University of Oregon won the rights to the 2009 and 2011 USAs (World Championships qualifying years) as well as the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Trials. Eugene, of course, will also host the 2008 Trials.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Team USA Adds Mandi Zemba to Roster

Team USA Minnesota has added eight-time NCAA Division II Champion Mandi Zemba to its roster, the post-collegiate long distance development group announced today. Zemba (pictured), a native of Menominee, Michigan, is a graduate of Grand Valley State University. She won national titles for the Lakers at distances ranging from 1500 to 5000 meters as well as in cross country. Zemba finished 8th in the 5000m at the USA Championships last June and was a member of the USA's Pan Am Games team. Her 5000m personal best is 15:38.

DtB spoke with Zemba recently to get to know Minnesota's newest star.

DtB: Tell us a bit about how you got involved in running and where your career has taken you so far. I understand you were a swimmer for many years?

Zemba: I did start out swimming at the age of six and swam for the YMCA team all the way through my junior year of high school. I really didn't get "serious" about running until my sophomore year of high school after I had some success in track my freshman year. I was lucky enough to receive a running scholarship to Grand Valley State University and really start training. I ended up winning a national championship my freshman year in track, then had some injuries and set backs, and continued to progress my training to end up with eight national titles.

DtB: You're a graduate of Grand Valley State in Michigan, a Division II school. What worked well for you there, do you think, that led to all of your success?

Zemba: In high school, I really didn't know what training was so college was a big step up for me and I don't think I could have picked a better place to go. It allowed me to slowly progress my training and increase my miles throughout the six years I was there. We focused a lot on strength, like hills, tempos, and good long run, as well as making sure we were recovered after hard workouts. Jerry Baltes is a great coach who always produces good results. He has taught me a lot about running and stuck with me through the bad years. I don't think I would be where I am at if I hadn't gone to Grand Valley and I thank God everyday that I went there.

DtB: Your compeitive career seemed to really take off after the birth of your son Zac. How do you account for that?

Zemba: Before I had Zac I was going through some struggles with injuries and other personal things and having Zac was God's blessing in disguise. I was able to focus more on what was most important in my life and not take anything for granted. I felt like Grand Valley and Jerry gave me a second chance and I wanted to make the most out of it. I never thought it would take me this far, but very happy it did and I love being a mom.

DtB: What events do you intend to focus on in 2008? How about longer term?

Zemba: I will probably focus on the 5k, but I want to try to get a qualifier in the 10k this spring as well. I have never done a 10k on the track before so it will be interesting to see what I can do and we all think the 10k will be my main focus in the years to come as well as longer road races. The marathon is still just a thought.

DtB: Is there anything else you'd like folks in your new home to know about you as a runner or a person?

Zemba: My family and I are excited to be here, and are looking forward to spring :) We have loved being here so far and would like to thank Pat, the team, and the Minnesotans for welcoming us so well. I look forward to many years of good training in Minnesota!

Photo by Victor Sailer, courtesy of Team USA Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ponies' Christensen to Coach World Cross Team

Stillwater High School boys cross country and track coach Scott Christensen has been chosen to lead the USA Senior Men's Team for the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland next March.

Christensen (pictured) learned of the appointment at the USA Track and Field Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii recently.

"As expected I was elated," he told DtB. "I have traveled about 50 some times for USATF over the years: schools, summits, national championships, camps, the national conventions. I have been very fortunate for a high school coach to have been able to do as much as I have. However, this is a trip that I have really been looking forward to.”

Christensen coached the Junior Men's team at the 2003 World Cross Country Championships held near Lausanne, Switzerland.

"Protocol says that one must be a Junior Coach before a Senior Coach," Christensen explained, "so I have been hoping! In 2003 when we went to Switzerland, the war in Iraq was only about 3 weeks old so security was a nightmare. Fortunately, it was Switzerland. I am hoping for a less hectic trip this time.”

At Edinburgh, four separate USA teams will compete. Christensen's senior men's team of nine runners will race over 12K; a senior women's squad of six runners will compete over 8K. Junior men's and women's squads of six runners each will compete over 8K and 6K distances, respectively.

Last year, the USA's senior men's team that included Minnesotans Matt Gabrielson and Marty Rosendahl finished 11th at the meet, held in sticky Mombasa, Kenya..

"The IAAF has eliminated the short course [as of last year] and will only have the 4 total races," Christensen said. "Each year there are around 40-50 countries that send runners to the World CC Championships. 50% of the time the meet is in Europe, the rest of the time it is spread throughout the world.”

In 2009 the event will be held in Amman, Jordan.

Athletes will select themselves for World Cross at the USA Cross Country Championships in San Diego on February 16.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Letter from Club Cross: RNF 23rd at USATF XC

DtB asked Run N Fun's Jeff Metzdorff to tell us about his team's race at the USATF Club Cross Country Championships in Wilmingon, Ohio over the weekend. The 2007 USATF- Minnesota Cross Country Circuit champions finished 23rd of 50 men's teams at the event held on the site of last year's NCAA Division III Championships.

The former Hamline University star offers the full scoop below ...

"I traveled to watch the National Meet in Ohio last year so, I knew the layout of Voice of America Park and the high possibility for awful conditions. The week leading up to the race found me checking the weather in Cincinnati daily and seeing only rain and snow in the forecast. Saturday didn't disappoint; the snow and rain that had landed in the previous week was turning the course into a wheel spinning quagmire, and being the 5th race of the day, I knew we'd be in for a real treat.

"I won't pretend to compare outrageous conditions of the 2006 NCAA Division III national meet to what we were running in, but it was still pretty ugly. To quote Eric Pierce - "I think I ran 20k as result of darting back and forth trying to find the firmest ground.

"The Fun was coming in lacking a little of our firepower, a number of our guns were either recovering from marathons, taking finals, or attending weddings. We would've loved to have had Ed Whetham, Mike Stoick, Malcolm Richards, Sam Renneberg, or Jake Januszewski, to help us out, but we still stood at the starting line with an able-bodied and proud crew of 7.

"Personally I was disappointed in my race, I got out very conservative (I found myself in the back 10 of a 420 person race for the first quarter mile) a tactic that had been serving me well in races building up to Club Nationals. However, in a 400+ person race in the conditions we were facing, I probably should've taken the advice of my former Hamline teammates and Coach Paul Schmaedeke and got out of the gates a little bit harder. I found it extremely hard to move in the muck and mire, and was only able to move into the top 100 in the last 400m.

"Eric Hartmark led our team with a strong 54th place finish (and would've been the 7th man on a strong ex-Hanson's-Brooks squad.) Former Carleton College runner Matt Hooley bounced back from a disappointing Olympic Trials Marathon and told me he was very happy with his 28th place finish.

"All told, we were disappointed by our team placing, needless to say we were hoping for a much higher finish. We didn't let this get us down however as we celebrated at both the local Chuck E. Cheese and the great after-party held by the Columbus Running Company.”

You can find full men's results HERE.

Women's results are HERE.

Run N Fun team photo by Thom Weddle: (LR) Eric Pierce, Kelly Mortenson, Jeffrey Metzdorff, Jason Finch, Christopher Grossinger, Eric Hartmark, Michael Little.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Finnerty 9th at Foot Locker Nationals ...
... and Bound for Wisconsin Next Year

He sure ran well in maroon and gold. Too bad it was for just one day.

Burnsville distance running star Rob Finnerty finished 9th at the Foot Locker Nationals in Balboa Park in San Diego. The 2007 MSHSL Class AA State cross country champion clocked 15:21 over the 5k course.

Michael Fout of Indiana won the race in 14:50.

The Midwest team of Fout, Christopher Derrick of Illinois, Kevin Havel of Illinois, Finnerty, and Maverick Darling of Michigan easily won the team title with 29 points.

Full boys results are HERE.

Girls results are HERE.

Bound to be a Badger ... The Star-Tribune reported on Saturday that Finnerty has committed to the University of Wisconsin for college next year. Finnerty chose Wisconsin over Oregon and the Univeristy of Minnesota, noting that he felt he "clicked" with Badger coach Jerry Schumacher.

Photo by Victor Sailer

Friday, December 07, 2007

Four Locals to Officiate at Olympic Trials

Four Minnesotans will serve as officials at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trails in Eugene, Oregon next summer.

Donna Zirgibel will serve as a pole vault official, Mike Karlson will officiate the high jump, Jamaro Rainey will work the long jump, and Larry Zirgibel will serve as a starter.

The meet commences on Friday, June 27 and runs, jumps, and throws through Sunday, July 6.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Goodwin Named USATF Contributor of the Year

Team USA Minnesota founder and president Pat Goodwin was named USA Track and Field's Women's Long Distance Running "Contributor of the Year" at the organization's annual convention in Honolulu, Hawaii last week.

Goodwin (pictured) became the 31st recipient of the Marja Bakker Award whose honorees have included such well-known names in women's distance running as Nina Kuscik, Doris Brown Heritage, Dr. Joan Ullyot, and Francie Larrieu Smith.

Goodwin is the second Minnesotan to win the award; LeeAnn Meyer was the 1993 recipient.

Mickey Piscitelli, USATF's Women's LDR awards coordinator and the person who nominated Goodwin for the award, said the following at the awards' ceremony:

“The ongoing successes realized by the members of Team USA Minnesota can be attributed in part to a person who volunteers her time as a marketing and promotion specialist. Pat Goodwin’s labor of love is to bring local resources together to dramatically improve post-collegiate American distance running and develop future Olympians. I attended the Long Distance Running “Meet Team USA ” session yesterday in which Team USA Minnesota athlete and Olympic Trails qualifier Matt Gabrielson spoke about his experiences with the group. He emphasized Pat Goodwin’s role in the establishment and success of their training center."

The award is presented for outstanding contributions and service to Women's Long Distance Running. It is named in memory of Marja Bakker, former President of the Boston Athletic Association, former President of the USATF-New England, and a member of the BAA Board of Governors. She was the first woman to serve the BAA in either of those capacities, and was a member of USATF's Women's LDR executive committee.

Goodwin and a group of similarly minded people formed Team USA Minnesota in January 2001.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Schuck: Behind the Mavs 5th Place at NCAAs

We caught up with Minnesota State - Mankato coach Mark Schuck (pictured) recently to get the inside story on his team's fine 5th place finish at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships in Joplin, Missouri. Denise Mokaya, James Krajsa, and Jeff Stuckenbroker earned all-American distinction for the Mavericks.

DtB: How did the Nationals race play out? Did you guys get your position early on? Could you see how you were doing relative to Grand Valley and Chico State?

Schuck: Our race plan was to be a little conservative at the start and work our way up. We wanted Denise in the top 15 at 5k and he was and the rest around 25 to 40th. I didn’t look so much to Grand Valley or Chico but rather was more concerned with our position in the meet. My job is to let the athlete know where they are and to remind them of their goals and race plan. I try to keep it simple when the heat is on. I thought we could be in the top eight for sure with a shot at top four Dan Ristau, our number 3 man all year did not have a good race and ended up 7th man for us. As you know, that can happen sometimes. He was trying so hard.

DtB: The 5th place finish at NCAAs is the best for your team since 1999 when they were third. Did you have a lot of confidence in this year's group all season?

Schuck: I have had a lot of confidence in this team. They kept improving every week. It was fun to watch that improvement.

DtB: You had three all-Americans. If you would, tell us a bit about what made each of them successful?

Schuck: The three all-Americans of Denise, James and Jeff are all hard working guys as are the rest of the four. I felt that all 7 of our team could have been all-American. Denise has a lot of talent and works hard. He was not our number one man early in the season, because he was out of shape in the early part. James is very tough mentally as is Jeff. Jeff has had a history of injuries, so he marches to his own drummer to stay healthy. It seems to be working. James always wants more and will do what it takes to be good. He never ran high school cross country. Not bad for a soccer player.

DtB: Looking ahead, you return six runners next year. Other than Grand Valley, though, your immediate competition doesn't graduate many either. What will it take get yourselves into a top-4, trophy-earning position in 2008?

Schuck: Luck is the answer. But my definition of luck is “when preparation meets opportunity”. I hope we have the opportunity and get to the National Meet and then I hope we will be better prepared to meet the challenge. The competition is not going away. To be in the top four, we must rise above the challenge. And the National meet is in Pennsylvania next year and I hope it snows.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota State - Mankato.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Snow Doesn't Hamper Hall of Fame Ceremony

Minnesota Track and Field Hall of Fame committee chairman Tim Zbikowski sent DtB the photo above and told us last Saturday's Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony was a success, despite the bad weather and the absence of one of this year's inductees.

"The ceremony went very well," Zbikowski wrote us. "Dick Mulkern's acceptance speech was the highlight of the evening. It's always fun to hear stories from way, way back. For example, Dick's first introduction to throwing events was watching Fortune Gordien on the practice field at the U of M in 1947."

There was no small amount of humor involved, too, it appeared.

"In my introduction to Dick," Zbikowski added, "I mentioned someone penned on the ballot next to Dick's name, 'Over 55 years coaching, this guy must be a saint!' Gary Wilson followed Dick, and one of the first things he said was: 'I've known Dick Mulkern for a long time, and he's no saint!' Then he proceeded to tell us stories about Dick."

Inducted into the Hall were (pictured from left in the photo above): Dick Mulkern, Gary Wilson, Donovan Bergstrom, Jerry McNeal, and Carson Hoeft. Sarah Renk Thorsett was also named to the Hall but was unable to attend the ceremony.

(There's more info on each of the inductees HERE.)

"Unfortunately, Sarah Renk Thorsett was not able to attend to receive her award," Zbikowski said. "She had planned to, then just this week she experienced an elevated heart rate. They have a heart rate monitor on her and advised against long distance travel."

"I talked to her for quite a while and she seemed quite upbeat about her condition, but was really disappointed she couldn't attend the ceremony," he added. "I shared with her a couple of stories about my heart attack and a successful return to competitive running. We have some great medical technology available now and I'm sure it will only get better."

Sixty-seven athletes, coaches, and contributors to the sport are now enshried in the Hall.

Wayzata's Bill Miles: "No Mulligans in XC"

Down the Backstretch traded e-mails last night with Wayzata boys coach Bill Miles. The Trojans finished 20th at Nike Team Nationals, suffering their only defeat of the season. We asked Miles about his State and NTN Regional champion squad, post-season racing, and Wayzata teams of the past.

DtB: How did you feel the team ran at NTN?

Miles: Every team at NTN is talented and I'm sure that every team there has a sense that they could have run better if...but there are no mulligans in XC. It is one of the things that we like about our sport. Our club coach, Kraig Lungstrom, said he was proud of the kids' races and I know that as a fan I was proud to be wearing a Wayzata sweatshirt.

DtB: Did you get a sense afterward of what they might have been able to do there on a "perfect" day?

Miles: I figured that with a "normal gap" for us we finish about 15th, but I'm sure that every team in the meet figures that they could have finished 15th... or better.

DtB: What do you think about post-season meets like NTN and Foot Locker?

Miles: In some ways it was a long season for our kids. They only ran about six races for their high school team and two for their club team, but they were trying to hold their edge for six or seven weeks and that is a long time. So even if they were not over-raced, they were probably ready for the season to be over. However, the Wayzata students that ran in Portland had a great time talking with elite athletes like the Gouchers and Lauren Fleshman and motivated high school athletes from other regions. I have not spoken to all of them since they got back from Portland, but those I have spoken to were positive about the experience. Over the years many Wayzata students have opted to run at Footlocker Regionals year after year. I would bet that our seniors are thankful that they got to go to a NTN meet and that the underclassmen would love to get a second shot at the kids from Illinois, New Mexico, and Washington! Personally, I wish that I had been talented enough to be a runner on an NTN qualifier and fortunate enough to be on a team gifted enough to run in the NTN.

DtB: Are they generally a good thing for the sport?

Miles: I think that they are a great thing for the sport. We're still talking about Cross Country in December in Wayzata. High school kids got to eat dinner with Olympians who told them to chase their dreams and believe in themselves. In my opinion these are good things.

DtB: How does the Wayzata 2007 team stack up, do you think, against the other four state-title-winning teams you've had?

Miles: This team is very different from the 2000, 1993, & 1992 Wayzata state champions and the 1975 Cretin state championship team that I coached. All of the other teams had at least one low scorer who was capable of finishing in the top three at the state meet or running 9:20ish in track. This squad won with strength, balance, and a tight pack. Perhaps this spring, I'll look foolish as Jeremy Drenckhan and Danny Ducharme run 9:20ish, but today they are 9:39 two milers.

I think in talent the 1975 team was the most gifted. It averaged under 9:25 for five runners for two miles (not 3200) and had a 9:39/1:56 runner as its eighth man. It finished the season ranked #2 in the country behind York of Illinois. All three of the previous Wayzata championship teams were ranked nationally by the Harrier, but none of them (with the possible exception of 1992) had the depth through seven runners of this year's squad. The beautiful thing about sports is that there is always next year. Maybe we can get the front running and the depth together to have Wayzata in 2008 be the most talented group I have ever coached.

DtB: When you look back on the 2007 season, say in 10 years, what do you think will stand out in your memory?

Miles: The leadership of our seniors.The transformation of Anders Bowman and Andrew Wasz from middle of the pack JV runners to sub-ten minute 3200 runners. The camaraderie of the tempo runs on Saturdays and the 1k (or mile) repeat workouts on Tuesdays.The surprise of winning Griak after getting trapped behind the masses.The composure of our athletes in pressure races. And most importantly beating our girls' team in the Great Cake Bake Off. We have now won six of the seven titles.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cueno, Sample Qualify at Cal International

Minnesota marathoners Nicole Cueno and Marie Sample qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials at the Cal International Marathon in Sacramento yesterday.

Cueno finished second in the women's race in 2:42:03.

Sample ran 2:46:00.

The results page at the CIM site (HERE) wasn't working as of Monday morning, but the Sacramento Bee had a story about the event's nine Trials qualifiers HERE.

The women's marathon trials are set for April 20 in Boston.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Wayzata Boys 20th at Nike Team Nationals

The MSHSL Class AA State Champion Wayzata boys cross country team finished 20th at Nike Team Nationals on Saturday in Portland, Oregon.

Danny Ducharme lead the Trojans with a 47th place finish in 17:06.9 over the 5k course.

Naperville, Illinois won the boys' meet with 125 points, edging Los Alamos, New Mexico which tallied 127.

In girls competition, Manlius of New York won with 83 points. Newhall of California was second with 171.

Boys results can be found HERE.

Girls results are HERE.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Minnesota Hall of Fame: Meet the Class of 2007

Tomorrow night, the Minnesota Track & Field Hall of Fame will induct six new members into its honored circle. The Hall of Fame, which was initiated in 1996, will now honor 67 greats from Minnesota's rich track and field heritage.

Below are photos and biographical information on the Class of 2007 as supplied by the USATF - Minnesota's Hall of Fame committee:

Sarah Renk Thorsett
-- NCAA Champion 4 X 800m, 1992 and 1993 (University of Wisconsin)
-- NCAA 5th Outdoor 1500m, 1992; NCAA 5th Indoor Mile, 1993
-- NCAA 6th Outdoor 1500m and 800m, 1993
-- USATF 5th 800m 1993; USATF 4th 1500m 1994; USATF 3rd 1500m 1995
-- Pan Am Games 1500m Champion 1995; on World Championship team 1995 and 1997
-- Minnesota State Champion (Winona High School) 1600m 1987 & 1988, 800m 1988, 2nd 1600m 1987

Carson Hoeft
-- NCAA 7th place 1500 meter
-- 1990 Big 10 2nd place Outdoor 1500m and 2nd Indoor Mile
-- 1988 Big 10 2nd place Outdoor 1500m and 2nd Indoor 1500m
-- 1985 USA Junior Olympic Champion 800m in 1:52.07
-- 1986 3rd US Junior National Meet 800m and 1st in Pan Am Junior Meet
-- Minnesota State High School 1985 2nd in 800m and 2nd in 1600m, 1984 2nd in 1600m
-- Best 1500m time of 3:41.99 is equivalent to sub-4:00 mile

Donovan Bergstrom
-- NCAA Steeplechase Champion in 1993 (8:29)
-- Big 10 Steeplechase Champion 1992 and 1993
-- Big 10 Cross Country Champion 1991
-- Minnesota Class A State Champion 1600 meters 1986, 1987, 1988
-- Minnesota Class A State Champion 3200 meters 1986, 1987, 1988
-- Set Class A State Record 3200 meters of 9:06.21 in 1988

Jerry McNeal
-- Minnesota State High School One Mile 3rd 1953, 2nd 1954 (4:32.0)
-- Minnesota State High School Cross Country 2nd place 1954
-- University of Kansas Big 7 Cross Country Conference Champion
-- Big 7 Indoor 2-Mile Champion
-- Anchored 4 X Mile Relay to American College Record 1958
-- 5th NCAA 10K, 3rd NCAA 2-Mile, 7th NCAA Cross Country
-- Won Masters Division in City of Lakes, Grandma’s and Twin Cities Marathons

Gary Wilson
-- University of Minnesota Women’s Cross Country Coach 1985 - Present, Head Track Coach 1985 – 2006, Assistant Track Coach 2007
-- Big 10 Outdoor Track Championship 2006, Big 10 Indoor Championship 2007, Big 10 CC 2007
-- U of M Women CC Team placed 9th in 2005 and 11th in 2006 in NCAA Championships
-- Nine NCAA Cross Country team appearances, ranked in top 25 nationally 16 of last 20 years
-- U of M Track Women scored in NCAA Championship in 14 of 21 seasons
-- President of the National Women’s Intercollegiate Cross Country Coaches Association, 1994 - 1995
-- Coached 1993 US Junior National CC Team and 1996 US Junior National Track Team
-- National Endurance Curriculum Coordinator for USATF Coaching Education Program 1984 - 1993

Dick Mulken
-- Minnesota High School Coach, Detroit Lakes 1949 – 1951, White Bear Lake 1952 – 1962
-- Hamline University Head Track Coach 1962 – 1965, throwing coach 1962 – 1992
-- Punahou High School, Hawaii, assistant throwing coach 1992 – 1999
-- Currently coaching masters throwers in Florida (Total of 55 years coaching.)
-- At Hamline, coached 12 NCAA Div III Champions in shot or discuss, 2 NAIA Champions
-- Coached 31 NCAA Div III All-Conference throwers and 9 NAIA All-Conference throwers
-- Coached 21 MIAC throwing Champions and 108 MIAC All-Conference throwers

Induction ceremonies will take place at a banquet at the Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota.

Photos courtesy of the Hall of Fame Committee.

Team USA Minnesotans to Grace Reindeer Run

Have you always wanted to get Olympian Carrie Tollefson's autograph?

Do you think Andrew Carlson is kinda cute and hope to meet him someday?

Might you harbor ideas that you can actually beat 2:12 marathoner Jason Lehmkuhle in a race?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above, heading over to Saturday's Lifetime Fitness Reindeer Run 5k might be how you'll want to spend tomorrow morning. Ten members of Team USA Minnesota (pictured above with coach Dennis Barker) will participate in the event which begins at 9:30 a.m.

Team members expected to grace the shores of Lake Harriet include Tollefson, Carlson, and Lehnmkuhle as well as four-time USA champion Katie McGregor, marathoners Chris Lundstrom and Michelle Lilienthal, TC 10 Mile winner Kristen Nicolini Lehmkuhle, TC 5k winners Emily Brown and Antonio Vega, and miler Brad Lowery.

(Matt Gabrielson will not participate as he is shouldering the onerous duty of attending the USA Track & Field annual convention in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a delegate to the USATF Athletes Advisory Committee.)

Also ... Jason Lehmkuhle finished second and Katie McGregor tied for third in the final 2007 USA Running Circuit standings. The USARC is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USA Road Championships from the 5k to the marathon.

The 2007 circuit, which was the 13th edition for men and the 12th for the women, featured nine events for men and seven events for women. The first 10 U.S. finishers at championship events earn points to qualify for prize money awarded to the top three finishers -- $6000, $4000 and $2500. Points for the marathon championships are doubled.

Lehmkuhle was fifth at the USA Half Marathon Championship, fifth at the USA 15k Championship, fourth at the USA 10k Championship, third at the USA 20k Championship, second at the USA 10 Mile Championship, and fifth at the USA Marathon Championship held in conjunction with the U.S. Olympic Men's Marathon Team Trials.

McGregor earned points by placing fourth at the USA 15k Championship, first at the USA 25k Championship, and second at the USA 10k Championship.

Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor won the 2007 USARC crowns. Full standings are HERE.

Photo by Scott Schneider, courtesy of Team USA Minnesota.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

LDR Chair Explains Team Circuit Changes

USA Track and Field Minnesota officials recently announced the details for the 2008 Team Circuit. Next year's race schedule and some rule changes came after a meeting of Team Circuit "stakeholders" last week. DtB talked to USATF-Minnesota Long Distance Running Chair Ed Whetham about the meeting and the 2008 Circuit.

DtB: What kind of turn-out did the Team Circuit meeting have?

Whetham: 24 people attended the meeting last week. Mostly USATF registered team representatives, USATF MN chairholders and a few race directors.

DtB: Can you tell us what prompted the change in the scoring system for the Team Circuit? What are the implications of the new method?

Whetham: The scoring system change occurred because of lack of team participation at a few of the races. Under the old scoring system the points were awarded based on the number of complete teams that showed up at each race. The one example that was used at the meeting, was that of the Rice Street Mile, where only one open women's team fielded a complete team. The new system will give a guaranteed number of points per race based on the number of teams that are registered for long distance running through USATF Minnesota.

The best example is to use Rice Street Mile again. Instead of awarding the only complete women's team 2 points this year, we will award the team 10 points, because 10 teams have registered teams with USATF. This change in the scoring is to encourage teams to compete and participate in each team race. The scoring system is still being worked out, but will model points given based on teams registered with USATF.

DtB: What prompted the removal of the marathon distance from the Circuit?

Whetham: There have been arguments both ways on whether to keep or remove the marathon from the team circuit. We decided to open the floor for discussion and then have a vote on whether we keep the marathon for 2008. It was the closest vote of the night, with the vote going 12-10 in favor of removing the marathon for 2008. There will be a vote at next year's meeting regarding the marathon for 2009.

DtB: Were there any other major issues discussed?

Whetham: The major issue of the night was the fate of the marathon on the Team Circuit for 2008. The other issue that was addressed during the meeting was to keep the cross-country circuit separate from the road racing circuit. The other close votes included which half-marathon was accepted at the USATF MN Championship Race and whether to include the 5000 meter track race.

DtB: How will the track 5000 meter race work? Will there need to be sections based on seed time to accommodate all the Team Circuit participants?

Whetham: We will discuss how the track 5000 is going to work at future USATF MN monthly meetings. We will more than likely have at least two sections, men's and women's, and depending on the number of entries it may be split into different sections. I would be in favor of seeing an open and masters section. The scoring will be the same for the track 5000 as it would be for a road 5k.

What do you think of the new Team Circuit rules and schedule? Feel free to comment below and vote in our new poll.

Also, USATF-Minnesota LDR Chair Ed Whetham is interested in your thoughts as well. E-mail him at edwhetham [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Plasencia: Behind the Gophers' Top-10 Finish

On the heels of the Gopher men's cross country team's 8th place finish at the NCAA Division I Championships, DtB talked to head coach Steve Plasencia (pictured) to have him offer his insights on what was arguably the best Gopher harrier squad in nearly 40 years. The Gopher men were Big Ten runners-up and Midwest Regional runners-up before cracking the NCAA top-10 for the first time since 1969.

DtB: How surprised were you by the team's finish at NCAAs. Did you know that kind of performance was in them and just waiting to come out?

Plasencia: As the season progressed I suspected that we were being somewhat overlooked in the national rankings. When my assistant, Brad Wick, and I sat down to go over race results, there was evidence to suggest that if we ran as we had been to that point in the season we had a real possibility to be a top ten team. I do not think we did anything at the national meet that had not been shown before that day.

DtB: This year's success comes after last year's end-of-the-year disappointment. Were there things learned last year that made this year's success more possible?

Plasencia: Good question. Not making the national meet for the first time in ten years in 2006, caused a lot of soul searching by both the athletes and the coaches. Preparation went well this year. I think it also should be noted that three of our top five at the, Regional and National meet this year were not running for our varsity last year. The new guys, Hassan, Forrest and Mike McFarland were very instrumental in anything we accomplished.

DtB: It looks like the team was very patient at NCAAs this year, coming through the field during the course of the race. Was that a new strategy or just one that was particularly well executed this year?

Plasencia: It was not a particular new strategy. The strategy that we had was different for different groups within the top seven that raced. They had to have a little faith that the position they were in at 3k was not necessarily where they would finish. The course was in hard condition and made making up places easier than if it was muddy. The question is whether, will you have the strength to move up when you want to. Last Monday those that went out conservatively did have the strength to move up as the race progressed.

DtB: Despite the fine finish, is there any sense of "what might have been," if Mike Torchia had remained healthy?

Plasencia: Mike and Matt Barrett (22nd at Griak) both had injuries that they could not comeback from in a meaningful way during the short cross country season. We look forward to having them back healthy this spring and then again next fall. I fell that it is pointless to deal in “could of, should of, would have” type speculation. Our team is as good as it is, or is not, at any point in time.

DtB: Do you think the NCAA finish this year will change the "yardstick" for the guys on the team -- that is, having them thinking more confidently about finishing even higher in the future?

Plasencia: I would hope, and expect that the guys on the squad will want to continue to have strong teams. How our finish this year changes what future groups expect or how they will perform, I can’t tell.

DtB: Is there anything I haven't asked about that you think is important for readers to know about the 2007 Gophers?

When we had injuries our plans to red-shirt Justin Grunewald changed. It was hard because I knew he really wanted to red-shirt and come back next year when he would have a lighter academic year. When I reluctantly approached him to change plans, he stepped forward to help the team without hesitation. I felt like that was representative of how these guys approached things this year.

Photo courtesy of the U of M.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2008 Team Circuit Races Announced

USA Track & Field Minnesota recently announced the races that will compose the 2008 Team Circuit. The nine race series will kick-off in traditional fashion with the St. Patrick's Day Human Race on March 16th and conclude with the City of Lakes 25k on September 7th.

Changes to the Circuit for 2008 include a revised scoring system not based on the number of teams participating in a given race, the addition of a track 5000 meters to the schedule, and the removal of the marathon distance from the race mix.

The Complete schedule is:

Sunday, March 16th: St. Patrick’s Day Human Race 8k –St. Paul
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Saturday, April 19th: Earth Day Half Marathon – St. Cloud
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Saturday, April 26th: Get in Gear 10k – Minneapolis
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Thursday, May 8th: TC 1 Mile – Minneapolis
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Monday, May 26th: Brian Kraft 5k – Minneapolis
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Sunday, June 8th: USATF Minnesota Open & Masters Track & Field Championships -- Hamline University St. Paul – 5000 meters

Sunday, August 3rd: Hennepin Lake Classic 5k/10k DoubleHeader – Minneapolis
USATF Minnesota Championship Racs

Sunday, August 10th: MDRA 15k – Edina
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Sunday, September 7th: City of Lakes 25k – Minneapolis
USATF Minnesota Championship Race

Results from the 2007 Team Circuit can be found HERE.

DtB's coverage of the 2007 Team Series is gathered HERE.

Later this week ... we'll talk to USATF-Minnesota's Team Circuit point-man Ed Whetham about some of the changes to and issues surrounding the popular distance running circuit.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Finnerty 4th at Foot Locker Midwest Regional

For most high school runners in Minnesota, the cross country season ended three weeks ago at the State meet, if not before.

For Burnsville's Rob Finnerty, this is far from true. Finnerty took fourth (15:11) this morning at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional in Kenosha, Wisconsin in a loaded field consisting of the best high school runners from Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

His top-10 finish qualifies him for the National Championships on December 8th at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. Finnerty finished 11th in the Midwest race as a freshman, missing nationals by one spot, and made the top 10 for the first time in his career today.

Michael Fout of Indiana won the race in 14:54, followed by Illinois' Chris Derrick (15:01).

Full boys results are HERE.

Last year, Minneapolis South's now-Gopher-All-American Hassan Mead won the race with Winona's Elliot Heath (now of Stanford) taking third. Mead went on to finish 4th at Nationals, the best Minnesota finish in the meet's history.

In the girls race, Ohio's Claire Durkin set a course record with her 17:01 performance, but no Minnesotans finished in the top 10. Laura Hughes of Mankato West was the top Minnesota girls finisher, in 45th clocking 19:06.

Full girls results are HERE.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving From DtB!

Gobble gobble, track and cross country fans!

We're going to take the long holiday weekend off, here at the Down the Backstretch office complex. Like you -- and Kara Goucher recently -- we're looking forward to spending time with family and putting our feet up for a spell.

In keeping with the holiday, here's a THANK YOU! to all of you -- loyal DtB readers that you are. The cross country season and the entire first year of this endeavor has been especially rewarding thanks to your regular, growing readership.

Thanks for joining us!

We'll be back to work on Monday with the latest cross country, track, and distance running news from Minnesota.

NCAA Wrap-Up: Notes, Quotes, Results

Before we close up the Down the Backstretch office for the Thanksgiving holiday, we thought we'd wrap-up a few loose items we noticed after the NCAA meet.

This wrap-up is dedicated to Chris Marshall, who covered the D1 meet for DtB yesterday and Gene Niemi, whose photos from the D3 championship grace our slide-show -- Thanks guys!

Third-best Gopher Finish Ever ... The men's team's 8th place finish at the NCAA Championships is the best finish at the meet by the program since 1969. It's the third-best finish in team history. The 1968 team finished 4th at NCAAs; the 1969 team was 7th.

All-Americans .... We should also note that the Gopher men's Chris Rombough, Hassan Mead, and Jamie Cheever of the women's team all earned all-America honors at the meet. The top-30 runners in the meet as well as the top-30 U.S. citizens earn the distinction.

Golden Gopher Quotes ... You can get the full scoop on the Gophers at NCAAs in our stories below. We also offer these additional quotes from the head coaches thanks to the Minnesota sports information folks ...

From men's coach Steve Plasencia: “We had guys making big moves as the race went on. We wanted to go out with our heads in the first half of the race and run with hearts to the finish. We got solid efforts from all our guys today.”

From women's coach Gary Wilson: “We ran okay, but we didn’t run great. You could line up these teams and run this race over and over and there would be a different result every time. We fought hard, but we were a touch off and that is magnified in a race with as much talent as this one had. We are a bit disappointed because we really thought we had a chance to be a trophy team (top four) and we had set our goals pretty high. Still, it was a great season.”

Minnesotans at NCAAs ... Here's our list of Minnesota finishers the NCAA Division I Championships. Let us know if we missed anyone.

29 Chris Rombough, Minnesota
43 Hassan Mead, Minnesota
58 Forrest Tahdooahnippah, Minnesota
70 Michael Krisch, Georgetown
76 Jake Watson, Notre Dame
120 Justin Grunwald, Minnesota
161 Mike McFarland, Minnesota
162 Garrett Heath, Stanford
175 Rick Furseth, Minnesota
208 Ben Puhl, Minnesota
237 Elliott Heath, Stanford

25 Hanna Grinaker, Wisconsin
33 Jamie Cheever, Minnesota
53 Alex Gits, Stanford
76 Bria Wetsch, Oregon
105 Elizabeth Yetzer, Minnesota
109 Ladia Albertson-Junkans, Minnesota
111 Sarah Price, Michigan State
125 Megan Brandeland, Princeton
139 Gabriele Anderson, Minnesota
141 Sally Paulson, Minnesota
147 Megan Duwell, Minnesota
186 Heather Dorniden, Minnesota
216 Molly Lehman, Duke

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gopher Men Surprise with 8th Place Finish

The Gopher men surprised the cross country community with an 8th place team finish, scoring 322 points. Minnesota finished just two points ahead of Louisville and nine in front of UTEP.

Junior Chris Rombough led the way, crossing the line 29th overall in 30:25 for the 10-kilometer course. Hassan Mead capped off an outstanding true freshman season with a 43rd-place finish at the National Championships. Forrest Tahdooahnippah was 58th, Justin Grunewald finished 120th and Mike McFarland came in 161st overall to round out the scoring five for Minnesota.

“When we really sat down and started looking at it over the last few days we thought we might be able to do top-10,” said head coach Steve Plasencia. “The guys came through."

“I felt good until about 8k,” said Rombough, “and that’s when I knew I had to start passing guys.” After a 14th-place effort a year ago, Rombough said he knew the race would go out hard, and he was plenty happy to wait for the later stages to make a move. “I wanted to relax until I got to the top of the hill after 6k because that’s where I figured people would start falling off if they went out too fast,” he said.

The Gophers ran conservatively in the early going, and were 19th in the team competition at the 5000-meter mark. Over the first mile the pack stayed intact, and there were no Minnesota singlets to be seen in the front half. “We told them over the first half of the race run with your heads and run with your hearts over the last half of the race,” said Plasencia. According to Plasencia, Rombough passed 12 runners between six and seven kilometers. And he was not the only Gopher moving up. “Most of our guys were picking people off,” said Plasencia. “That was a strategy that worked out pretty well for us today."

In the first half of the race, it was not Mead or Rombough but Tahdooahnippah who lead the way for Minnesota.

“I usually have been the guy that goes out the hardest,” he said. “It was a little easier to move up then I thought it was going to be."

Tahdooahnippah’s experience with Stanford has taught him that anything can happen at the national meet.

“Even when I was a little farther back then I wanted to be with a mile to go I knew if I was able to dig down people would come back still,” he said.

Running in his first national meet as a true freshman, Mead was surprised by how fast the field went out. He said he ran 2:50 for the second kilometer, but “everyone else was going so much faster it seemed like I was in the back."

Mead was hoping to be in the top-50 early and move up over the last few kilometers. However, “it didn’t work out that way.” The depth of the race left Mead out of his comfort zone.

“You got 100 guys ahead of you and their all almost the same speed or better…you can’t wait and expect the last 2k to catch up.” He called his breathing “comfortable” even in the latter stages, but said his “legs just couldn’t get moving” like he wanted.

A slew of Minnesota faithful made the nearly 10-hour trip to Terre Haute, and their presence did not go unnoticed by the team.

“It felt great to have Minnesota across my chest and to have everyone in the crowd wearing Minnesota cheering for me,” said Tahdooahnippah.

Gopher Women Finish a Disappointed 12th

Gopher women’s head coach Gary Wilson said he looked at the numbers and could see his team finishing anywhere from fourth to twelfth going into Nationals. Unfortunately, they ended up on the latter end of that spectrum with a 12th-place finish.

“We were a little off today,” said Wilson.

The day was not without bright spots for the Gophers, as sophomore Jamie Cheever finished 33rd overall, sneaking under the 21-minute barrier in 20:59. “I tried to stay around the top 50 and feel good through the first 2k and move up from there,” she said.

Cheever wanted to use the hill just after the three kilometer mark to begin to move up.

“Yesterday in our pre-meet we really made a goal for everyone to move along there,” she said.

In winning the Big 10 Championships, the Gophers ran with a 21-second top five spread. Today, 52 seconds separated the scorers, and as a team they struggled to get going.

“I really was never able to get into my rhythm,” said Ladia Albertson-Junkans, an All-American last two years. “I felt I couldn’t get my body moving the way I usually can.”

“I really thought we could put five kids, six kids in the top hundred,” said Wilson. “It was just one of those days, where you’re ten or fifteen seconds off, and all of a sudden you’re not in the top eight."

Despite an underwhelming performance, Wilson was happy with his team’s effort and attitude.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, but at the same time it’s been a great year with wonderful kids,” he said. His team “gave it everything they had today,” but just didn’t run as well as they have.

“We just didn’t click today and that’s part of the game.”

“The sun will come up tomorrow, and we’ll be home,” said Wilson.

They’ll also still Big Ten champions.