Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays and Thanks from DtB!

Happy Holidays everyone!

On behalf of our little operation, let me wish all of you a happy, healthy, and relaxing holiday season from Down the Backstretch. As much as we all love cross country, track & field, and road racing, it's now time to turn our focus to family and friends rather than results and performances.

As we've done in the past, DtB is going to enjoy a little holiday vacation. We'll return to action after the New Year, of course, getting you back on top of the sport and the budding indoor season.

Before we go, let me take a moment to thank some of the folks who made 2012 another fine year for DtB. First off, special, heart-felt thanks go to Adam Lindahl of TC Running Company and the Board of Directors at USA Track and Field Minnesota for their support of DtB as its presenting sponsors. Without their generous investments in our site, DtB would likely not still exist.

We'd also like to thank everyone who has advertised with us during the year -- folks like Twin Cities In Motion, Grandma's Marathon, the Minnesota Distance Running Association, the University of Minnesota Track and Field Camps, C Tolle Run, the Autism 5K, and Life Time Fitness. Your business is truly appreciated!

Special thanks goes to Jim Ferstle who has served as DtB's day in, day out reporter and editor since August.  Jim brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and care to his work, something we know readers trust and value.

I'd also like to thank anyone and everyone who has contributed to DtB. Special thanks go to co-founder Pete Miller, fantasy contests director Doug Cowles, photographer Gene Niemi, ultra-running maven Alex Kurt, and high school lists' statisticians Kevin Moorhead, Bill Miles, and Tim Miles. Without the generous contributions of those folks and others, DtB wouldn't have been all that it was this year.

Finally, allow me to thank you, our readers, for making DtB an important part of your enjoyment of the greatest sport on earth. Your continued loyalty to DtB makes the job of covering all the track, road, and cross country action fun and rewarding.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ladia Albertson-Junkans Does It All

Ladia Albertson-Junkans leads a full life.  She's been a high school state XC champion, nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, took a two month trip to Ethiopia in 2008 working with the Tesfa Foundation, which provides early childhood education to disadvantaged children. And she's currently juggling a career in Child Development research with her professional running career.  Below she talks about how she fits it all in, the USATF XC Club champs, her "vacation" from running after finishing her undergrad degree, and representing the US in Scotland.

Down the Backstretch:  You have an interesting history in that you don’t fit the stereotype of the top rung athlete who focuses primarily on the sport.  In a way you are a dual career person with your work in child development research and a pro runner.  How do you handle juggling dual careers?

Ladia Albertson-Junkans: I am definitely still learning how to manage it all. Some days and weeks I do better than others. That said, my success in both careers can be largely attributed to the support I receive from family, friends, colleagues, and especially Team USA MN and my employer. 

My boss and co-workers have been supportive of my running from day one; following my racing schedule and even coming out to see me race occasionally. When the opportunity arose for me to join Team USA MN—on the condition that I could meet for team workouts and have an active presence in the community—my officemates were more than willing to let me flex my schedule so that I could accommodate bi-weekly team workouts and still maintain full-time status. 

Their enthusiastic interest in my athletic pursuits is as invaluable as the support provided by Team USA MN and the community—especially on those days and weeks when I feel on the brink of being stretched too thin.  

DtB:  What is the allure of running for you?  What brought you back to top level competition after taking “time off” to get your masters in public health?

LAJ: As it is for many folks, running is my stress-release, my get-away, my reset button. It is a way for me to see and learn about the world, to meet new people, and make life-long friends, to explore nature and be active. It also offers an opportunity to challenge myself daily and feel a tangible sense of accomplishment. 

Racing offers yet another way for me to challenge myself, and I think this is ultimately what brought me back to high-level competition. Each time I run a personal best in a road race, I want to try again and see how much better I can do in my next attempt. At the same time, there are always new distances to try, new places to race, new people to meet, new goals to set, new things to learn. 

Running is new and exciting, while also familiar and comforting; both deeply personal and refreshingly social; a means and an ends. It is so many things to me that I just can’t imagine life without it!

DtB:  What are your goals for this year?  Do you have a particular event that you are either fond of or you consider your best event or are you searching to find one that may suit your talents?

 LAJ: I am enjoying exploring the many distances that road racing has to offer. I have had some success at the 10K on the roads, but I plan to continue challenging myself in other distances as well.

DtB:  You seem to do well in cross country. State champion as a sophomore at Stillwater high school.  Helping the Gophers win three Big Ten titles, 19th at NCAA Division I Nationals.  Now fifth in the USATF Club Championships.  Does something about cross country suit you better than on the track or roads?

LAJ: In some ways, metronomic running does not come easily to me; it is more my nature to run as hard as I can, for as long as I can, and just hope I can still kick at the end. In essence, I run by feel, and I think this “style” of running lends itself well to cross-country and road racing. Moreover, my athleticism and agility can really come in handy on technically challenging courses.

DtB: Is your “day job” flexible enough so that you can train, rest, race when it suits you or  do you fit in running when you can around the job?

LAJ: A little bit of both. Prior to joining Team USA MN, I did all of my weekday running before and/or after work (i.e., 6 AM and 6 PM). Now that I am on the Team—and thanks to the support of my co-workers—I flex my work schedule such that on workout days I arrive at the office very early, leave mid-morning for the workout, and then stay late if needed to get in my 8 hours. 

I use my vacation days to travel to competitions. It’s possible that I don’t rest as much, or in the same way, as other pro runners. However, I am a fairly restless person so I’d probably stay pretty active during the day even if I wasn’t at work. 

In some respects, my job forces me to sit down (sometimes, although I usually stand when I’m at my desk) and maintain a schedule. It also limits the amount of time I have to run, thereby limiting my mileage to some extent. I actually view this as protecting me from over-training and risking injury.

DtB:  I assume you kept up your running when you were doing your schoolwork for your masters, correct?  You’ve made a gradual return to competitive running, was that something of a test to see if you could handle both your non-running and running careers?

LAJ: Throughout graduate school, my days were a series of moving parts, and running was not a high priority, although I did continue to run casually. Once I started working full time, my schedule became more predictable. 

It certainly took at least eight months for me to adjust to the demands of full-time work before I was able to consistently run 60-70 miles a week. In the past couple of months, I have been able to gradually add one or two workouts per week to my regimen without feeling completely spent by Friday. 

Moreover, I relish the challenge of pursuing growth and excellence in both professions, as well as personally. This desire to be the best that I can be and to always keep learning and growing really underlies it all.

DtB:  Did the outcome of the USATF Club Championships race surprise you or was what you anticipated you could do?

LAJ: The outcome of XC Club Nationals pleasantly surprised me mostly because I had been sick with a lower respiratory tract infection for much of October and November that significantly interrupted my training for at least three weeks. Thankfully, I had a strong base of summer and fall mileage under me—and a fierce desire to make the team competing in Scotland—so I still managed to have a solid race.

DtB:  Are you looking forward to the trip to Scotland and stepping up to international competition?  Do you view it as more of a new challenge, a bit nervous about taking it to the “next level,” or a little bit of both?

LAJ: I am beyond thrilled for the opportunity to travel and compete internationally, to meet new people and see a different part of the world. This to me is the ultimate vacation. On top of it all, to don a US uniform will be an extraordinary privilege. The generosity of the many folks who work hard every day to make these opportunities possible for folks like me is incredibly humbling. I am much too excited to be nervous. 

McKenzie Melander on a Dual Track, Juggling Academics and Athletics

Photo courtesy of University of
Like many of her teammates Apple Valley, MN native McKenzie Melander continues on a dual track as both a professional runner and working on an advanced degree in order to pursue a career in Speech Pathology.  Team USA Minnesota founder Pat Goodwin takes pride in the fact that so many of the team members are not only preparing themselves to excel as runners, but also to go on to careers outside of the sport once their elite athletic careers are over.  Below, Melander talks about USATF Club Cross, her goals, and life with a "full calendar."

Down the Backstretch:  I’m told this is finals week for you at the U(niversity of Minnesota) where you’re doing a Masters program in Speech Pathology.  So, you just got done with one big race and you’re tossed into the next one.  But you did get some uplifting news in that you’ll join your Team USA Minnesota teammates on the women’s team at the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Team Challenge.  How does it feel to make your first US team?

McKenzie Melander: I’m thrilled to have started off my career with Team USA Minnesota on such a positive note.  I’m very happy to have momentum going into the spring

DtB:  The US women’s team in Edinburgh is almost totally Team Minnesota.  How does everybody feel about that accomplishment?

MM: Obviously it’s exciting to have the opportunity to travel to Scotland, but it’s even more exciting to be sharing the experience with my own teammates.  You have to know that you are doing things right when you see success from others that do the same training as you do.  It should be a very fun race and trip!   

DtB:  What were your thoughts going into the USATF XC Club championships.  You were told that it would be important to start strong because of the muddy course conditions, but was there any other talk about team strategy or a “road map” of what to do, what to be aware of during the race?  How did the race unfold for you?

MM: Going to this race I had no idea what to expect, especially having not raced cross since last fall.  We had been given some advice prior to the race about really getting out since the back of the course was so muddy.  We had an idea of some teams to watch for, but my goal was really to just stay close to my teammates.  The last ¾ of a mile was tough for me, but I just tried to maintain and finish the best that I could. Seeing Meghan, Jamie and Ladia in front of me while I was racing was very motivating for me.  I knew that they were putting it all out there so I felt the need to do the same. 

DtB:  Why did you choose Team USA Minnesota to continue your running career?  What do you hope to accomplish yet with your running?

MM: After I graduated, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do in regards to running.  I had already planned on moving back to Minnesota having accepted a spot in a graduate program at the U of M.  Pat Goodwin had approached me over the summer about the possibility of becoming a member of the team. I knew that if I were try my hand at professional running this would be the team to do it on.  Team USA Minnesota has produced so many phenomenal runners that I could not pass up such an opportunity.

When I graduated, I had felt like there was just so much more left out of my running career.  As a runner I would like to become versatile with my training and be able to be competitive across a number of distances.  I’ve already learned a lot about training from Dennis (Barker, Augsburg and Team USA Minnesota coach), and I think his approach to training will help me with that. Overall, I would like to see my times continue to progress and reach my full potential as a professional runner.  It is such a great opportunity to travel and compete against some of the best runners in the world.   

DtB:  What do you hope to get out of the meet in Scotland aside from another good team performance?  Have you been offered a spot, and if so are you also considering running the NACAC meet in Jamaica?

MM: At this point in my career I think a lot of my races are going to be about getting experience competing at this level.  Every race is always another great training opportunity both mentally and physically.   Just as with the Club Cross, I would like to be able to stick with my teammates through the race and run as a pack.

I chose not to run at the NACAC race since it is right before Cross Nationals.  Also at that point I would have started up school again, which would make it more difficult for me to travel for that amount of time. 

DtB: What were your feelings about the ‘team processing” experience.  I’m told the top 25 finishers in each race went through the process of filling out the paperwork for team selection, then for most of them the waiting begins, what was that like?

MM: At first when I finished my race, I figured that I too far out to have made the team but I received papers that indicated that I would be a candidate for the team. It wasn’t until I had filled out the paperwork that it hit me that it was a real possibility that I could be a part of the team.  Luckily I was distracted enough the next week to keep my mind off of it, but when I finally got the news I was ecstatic. 

DtB:  What are your goals for 2013?  Will you be mixing up road and track?  Singling out one distance to focus your energies upon or experimenting with different distances, trying new ones?

MM: I’ve always loved being on the track, but I have also really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done.  I like the 5K, but I’m very open to trying new distances. When I started my career at Iowa, I thought I would never run a 10K and then I was tossed into the 10K at Big Tens.  I only got to run the 10K once so I would also like to try that race again. As for specific goals, I would like to get my 10K time around 33:00 and my 5K under 15:40.   

DtB:  It is in some ways the nature of the profession of being a pro runner that one doesn’t put one’s “eggs in one basket.”  You’re pursuing a career outside of running as well as the sport.  You’ve been outstanding in academics as well as athletics throughout your college career, so it’s not a new experience for you, but how will you approach the dual career model outside of school?

MM: Having done this for four years, it wasn’t a huge change to assume another dual role.  This first few weeks of a new schedule always takes some adjusting, but once I got in a rhythm everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.  I know that life will continue to get busier, especially when I start getting practicum placements for school.  

I am a person that really relies on routines and planning so that will continue to be key to managing my schedule.  At the beginning of the year, I had wondered what I had gotten myself into.  But in I’m actually very glad to have something to focus energy on outside of running because helps me enjoy running more.  It allows me to view practice and seeing my teammates it as an escape.   

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Joe Moore Talks about Trailers, USATF Club XC Championships, and Coping with Cold and Ice

Joe Moore winning the Worthington Turkey Day 10K
Photo courtesy of TCTC
Airstream-drivin', shoe slingin' Joe Moore has begun to make his mark on the roads and in cross country in the US.  You can get a flavor of his pedigree from his Twin Cities Track Club interview prior to this year's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon HERE. For his exploits since then, read below.

Down the Backstretch:  You had an interesting “training prep” for the USATF XC Club Nationals by doing a "trailer tour" as a promotion for Karhu, the shoe company.  

Joe Moore: Yes, I was one of the American drivers on the "Karhu Originals Tour."  I drove around the Eastern half of the country pulling a 1975 Airstream trailer and stopping at races and running stores.  I was somehow able to still get in solid training, I just had to be very creative, since a lot of times we didn't know where we'd be the next day. 

I definitely learned to be more flexible in training and everything else because of that.  Things got a little dicey in the last month when it started to get cold. The Airstream was remodeled as a touring shoe museum and not so much as a living quarters.

DtB:  You were the last qualifier for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.  Talk a bit about that journey.  What you were thinking as it came down to the last day and literally the last yards/meters of the race as you dipped under the qualifying time by three seconds.

JM: I screwed around and missed the 1:05 standard several times by less than twenty seconds, including a 1:05:18 at Las Vegas.  The next week I saw a half in Lower Alabama near where my brother-in-law lives, so I hopped a flight and went down there.  

The weather was perfect and the course was flat as a pancake.  I was really going to pieces in the last mile or so, but turned the last corner, and knew I'd made it.  It was a surprise actually, because I'd stopped looking at my watch with 5K to go and just put my head down and ran.

DtB:  In your training log that you have posted up on the internet HERE, you have been commenting on the mental and physical challenges of training for racing in a Minnesota winter, which has been made even more difficult by the roller coaster temperatures and the icy spots that leaves on roads and paths.  Talk a bit about how you deal with those challenges.

JM: I grew up in Kansas, which isn't a lot different than Minnesota.  The cold hangs around much longer here, and the ice seems harder to avoid.   I really shouldn't complain because the lakes and river paths are cleaned up quickly. 

I've been feeling the cold a lot the last few days especially.  Sometimes it just really gets to you, freezes you up and makes it hard to even want to run fast. I'll get used to it again though. I love Minnesota - it's a great place to train, but you still have to be tough.

DtB:  You’re pretty active on the internet with your blog HERE and the training log.  Is that a way to manifest your journalism training, an outlet for your thoughts and ideas, and/or just a way to communicate with others what’s going on in your life.

JM: The blog is an ongoing struggle.  I would really like to make it more interesting than a normal running blog, which usually only includes some training updates, race reports and the occasional "what am I doing in this sport?" kind of self-reflection.  

Of course, my blog has all of that stuff too, but I want to try to be more creative with it when I can, even if it does just wind up as an indecipherable stream of consciousness mess. I'd like to offer a look into the runner's life, which is oftentimes quite boring.  That doesn't make it easier.

DtB:  Talk a bit about the Club Cross experience.  What was the goal going into the race?  How did the race develop? 

JM: I wasn't sure what I was doing in the Clubs race.  I looked at it is as a chance to beat people that I wouldn't be expected to beat, and a chance to place well in another US championship.  I have to admit I didn't realize the race was the selection race for Edinburgh or NACAC(North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletic  Association)  this year, which is why I was acting like a total spaz at the meeting to fill out paperwork. 

Mike and I were wondering if we would have tried even harder if we'd realized that ahead of time.  I'm pretty sure I raced as hard as I could that day though, and it paid off.

DtB:  You’ve got the Scotland race and NACACs in Jamaica, quite a contrast in climates, if nothing else.  Aside from being your first trips on US teams, any thoughts on those two races?

JM: I'm really excited to go to Scotland to race.  It will be extra cool because my good friend Bobby Mack will be racing too. He's been to this race the last two years, so he can show me the ropes.  I want to really race well in both races.  I feel a kind of responsibility to run fast when I'm representing the USA in another part of the world.  I usually do well under that kind of pressure.

DtB:  What are your goals for 2013? 

JM: My plan is to hit the track a little more and try to get a few shorter distance PRs while I still can.  My 10K is probably my weakest PR, and it's usually hard to get into a fast race, but I'll keep trying.  

My big goals will be the half marathon championships in Duluth again, and then the marathon championships at the TC Marathon.  I won't have to leave the state for my big goal races, so that will make up for all the traveling I've been doing lately.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Short Prep Time, But Good Results for Stephanie Price

Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Track Club

After a short hiatus, Stephanie Price returned to the sport in style at the USATF XC Club Nationals in Lexington, KY.  She talks about her return on the Twin Cities Track Club's site HERE, and below.

Down the Backstretch: The US women's team for Scotland is almost "team Minnesota."  When did you find out that you were going to go?

Stephanie Price: Last week on Thursday I received an email from Aron McGuire(of USATF) informing me that I made both the Scotland and Jamaica(NACAC) teams. I was beyond ecstatic to be selected as this is such a great opportunity for me to represent the USA, to get a solid race in, and to travel to Scotland.

DtB:  You’re running with the Twin Cities Track Club(TCTC).  How did you get hooked up with them?

SP: It was sort of a random event that led to me getting hooked up with TCTC. I met someone who knew Mike Reneau, the driving force for getting the TCTC restarted in the Minneapolis-St Paul area. After meeting with Mike and learning more about the TCTC, I decided that this club was something I would be honored to be involved in and represent in races. 

The Twin Cities Track Club has a great community focus and philosophy of promoting the enjoyment and positive benefits of running for all levels of runners in the Greater Twin Cities Area. This ideal aligns with what I feel running should represent and it is important for me to support values that I believe strongly in.

DtB:  What prompted you to run the Club championships? 

SP: Running Club Championships was somewhat of a last minute decision. I had heard of the race opportunity and it was in the back of my mind. However, when I first started working with Chris Lundstrom, we had talked about just getting in some good training while focusing on finishing my nursing degree. 

However, I started to get the itch to run again and have always loved XC. So, ultimately I could not pass up this opportunity to race in a competitive XC race, especially when my TCTC teammates Joe Moore(who has also been selected to run on the US team in Scotland and Jamaica) and Mike Reneau(who is running the Houston Marathon on January 13, but might run the NACAC meet if selected based on his 14th place finish at USATF XC Club Nationals) were making the trip to compete. 

So without much planning in advance, I ended up in Kentucky and had a blast getting back out there to compete on a muddy cross country course!

DtB:  Mike (Reneau) said that you had only six weeks of training going into the USATF meet.  Pretty impressive results.  He said you weren’t even sure you had spikes, but that you pulled a spike bag out of your closet when you left for the meet and when you opened it up the shoes still had the grass and mud on them from the 2011 NCAA Championships.
SP: This is true. Prior to starting to work with Chris, which was about six weeks before Club cross, I hadn't been doing any specific training. And, yes, a bit embarrassing but true about the muddy spikes. I had to dig up my old XC spikes, which I had assumed I would never wear again. They still had the spikes and caked-on mud from the 2011 NCAA Championships, so we all had a good laugh about that.
DtB: You have sort of been on a hiatus from competitive running at the top level until the USATF meet, what were you doing in the interim?

SP:  I finished my career as a Golden Gopher last spring and have been fairly busy since. This past summer, I moved to Sioux Falls for 12 weeks for a full-time nursing internship in the neonatal intensive care unit of Sanford Health. I then traveled to the Philippines at the end of the summer for three weeks to do some healthcare volunteer work in Leyte. I returned to Minneapolis in September to finish my last semester of school, and just graduated this December 2012 with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. 

I am now studying for my nursing boards to get my license as a registered nurse. I will potentially take my boards in February. In the meantime, I am in the process of doing job applications and interviews for potential positions in the nursing field. In addition to studying for my boards, I am working part-time at Gear Running Store and training. My nursing career is a priority to me, but I am also very passionate about running and competing at a very high level
My short-term goals are to get stronger with some specific training, get back into racing fitness and confidence, and to just go out and be very competitive at a variety of longer distances. My long term goals include eventually the marathon, and balancing a nursing career with a professional running career.

I am training fairly intensely right now with specific, focused volume and intensity under Coach Chris Lundstrom. I run with a variety of people, and on my own, as I do enjoy the freedom of my independence with training. I do a majority of my training and runs with other athletes coached by Chris such as Michelle Frey, Katie McGregor, Jenna Boren, Mike Reneau and Joe Moore.

I also try to get out on my own for runs, and to run with other friends I have in the running community such as old teammates or people who come to community runs we hold at Gear Running Store. It makes my training much more enjoyable to spend it with a variety of people, especially good friends that I can have great conversations and laughs with that make the miles pass quickly.

DtB:  Sounds like you had to sort out all the requirements of doing what amounts to a dual career of nursing and elite running.  Both are pretty demanding professions, both physically and mentally. What went into making the decision to pursue both?  What do you see as the challenges?

SP: For me, it is very important to have balance and maintain perspective in life. I know that personally I would not be happy with a running career being my main focus and priority in life. But I also would not be satisfied giving up my love for competing to solely pursue a career in nursing. 

I am passionate about both a career in nursing and pursuing running at an elite level. So for me it was an easy decision. I think many people will question the ability to manage both professions, but I strongly believe it is not only feasible for me to manage, but feasible for me to excel at both. I know that most importantly I have my priorities straight, have taken the time to really evaluate what I want in my future careers, and I have maintained my passion, determination, and dedication to both. 

There will definitely be times when it will be a struggle or requires me to be flexible with what life brings. I learned this firsthand while managing nursing school with Division I athletics, and also during my internship completing 12-hour shifts while training. Some of the challenges will involve managing the limited time I will have for training, adapting my body to nursing shifts while getting in quality runs, managing a work schedule with racing plans, and prioritizing life/family and friend/running/work balance. 

But if I never forget that running is a gift in my life, and not the definition of my life, and I take what work and training gives me one day at a time, and really listen to my body and learn to be flexible, I have no doubt that I can have both a nursing and running career. 

Jamie Cheever is Going Back to Scotland

Photo by Becky Miller
Team USA Minnesota's Jamie Cheever booked her second trip to Scotland with her seventh place finish at the USATF Club XC Championships in Lexington, KY.  She'd qualified last year in the same event, but without a full team.  This year, she and her teammates took the team title and Minnesotans will make up most of the US women's team that goes to the the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Team Challenge on January 5. Here she talks about her 2012 season, the Club Championships, and her goals for 2013.

Down the Backstretch:  You’re making a return trip to Scotland.  Does that make you the team leader as you already know the “ropes” on this adventure?

 Jamie Cheever: I hope to provide some leadership with running the race last year, especially for my teammates Ladia, McKenzie, and Jon who are on their first US team.  As well as my former Gopher teammate, Stephanie Price, who is on her first US team.  I had a great experience last year, and I am so glad to be sharing it with so many friends.

DtB:  You have had a strong 2012--finals of the OT, PRs, now the Club team championships.  How did the results match up with your goals, expectations going into the year? What were the highlights and low points of the season?

JC: I had a great experience running track last spring.  I am coming into this racing year with many high goals, one of which was to make the Scotland team by placing well at the Club Cross Country race.  I was disappointed I wasn't able to break into the top eight at the Olympic Trials, but I raced my heart out, and had to PR in the prelims just to make it to finals.  I think with another year of training, I'll be able to handle the back-to-back steeple races better.

DtB:  Heather (Kampf) says that the “plot” for going for the team championship was hatched over dinner at her place.  Where all the other team members there?  Had you worked out a strategy to convince Heather to run if she would have said no initially to being on the team?

JC: Meghan and I had already decided we wanted to run Club Cross in order to qualify for Scotland.  We knew Ladia and Mckenzie would be up for the race.  I remember talking to Heather about the race in her kitchen and being surprised she was so excited about racing cross country again.  We all had a lot of fun, and we're planning on running in Bend, OR at the race next year.

DtB: You went out faster than your teammates at the USATF Club Championships.  Any reason for this strategy?

JC: One of our board members ran in the masters race, and he warned us before our race that we needed to get out quick in the beginning because the course was a difficult one to catch people on.  I went out with my Team USA Minnesota teammates in the top pack for the first mile.  I felt great, so when Maddie (Suver), Breanne (Nelson), and Katie (Mackey)  started to break away, I went with them.  I lost some steam the last 1200 meters, but I'm glad I took a risk and went for it.

DtB:  What were your thoughts as the race unfolded?  When did you realize you weren’t going to be able to break away from or hang onto the lead pack?

JC: I was nervous since it was our first race, and I didn't know where my fitness was at.  I started to lose the top three during the second half of the third mile, and I knew I would have to be tough to finish in the top group.  Three people passed me in the last 1200 meters, but I was proud of my effort.

DtB: What went through your mind for the last portion of the race when Meghan and Ladia came by you?

JC: I was happy it was them, and not anyone else.  I've trained a lot with Meghan in the past couple years, and a lot with Ladia during college, so I know what it's like to get my butt kicked by them.  I tried to key off of their energy.  Meghan was enouraging me to keep up, but I just couldn't!

DtB:  Aside from the race in Scotland, what are your goals for 2013?  Are you sticking with the steeple or going to try other events?

JC: I hope to place in the top ten at the US Cross Country Championships.  On the track, I hope to continue breaking PR's in the steeple, 1500 meters, and 5K. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jon Peterson: A Californian Learning to Like the Snow

Jon Peterson has made the journey from his native California to Minnesota this year to join Team USA Minnesota.  He's already had an impact, both in his running and helping out coaching with the Edina boy's high school team.  Here he talks about his adventure and plans for the future.
Down the Backstretch:  What were your objectives going into the USATF Club Championships?  How does it feel to be on the US team for Scotland?

Jonathan Peterson: My main objective was to get onto the team.  Ideally I wanted a win, but making the team was the main objective so I made sure to race accordingly, and raced in a more tactical way.  Making the team was exciting, especially since it's my first time making a US team.

DtB:  Has the adjustment from being a Californian to a Minnesotan a tough one?  Are you running a lot on the treadmill now or braving the ice and snow?
JP: It hasn't been anything too out of the ordinary yet.  I've had to adjust a bit by becoming more acquainted with the treadmill for longer, threshold type of workouts, but other than that I've been enjoying recovery days in the snow and have actually come to enjoy the cold a bit.
DtB: Has the shift from being a Californian to a Minnesotan been a mental and/or physical challenge or is it too early to tell as winter is just beginning?

JP: In terms of training, the toughest part is getting out the door when it's completely miserable out, mostly because I still dread doing anything on a treadmill.  But when the workout (i.e., short interval work) allows us to be outside then it's much more enjoyable than the treadmill, no matter what the weather is like, including doing hill sprints in the sleeting rain, which was only miserable during the cool down.

DtB:  Why did you choose Team USA Minnesota?  What attracted you to the program?
JP: In discussing training with the coach (Dennis Barker) prior to my decision, it seemed relatively similar to what I had experienced at UCD with a bit more emphasis on longer distance and building overall threshold while also maintaining a bit of my speed element.  And, of all the groups I was looking at, Team USA Minnesota had the best track record in terms of individual performances on the national level. 
DtB:  You could be classified as something of a “late bloomer,” though 4:13 and 9:11 bests in high school certainly indicated early that you have talent, and you were the first All American for UC Davis(UCD), so you have had success, but it has been more of a roller coaster than a straight shot to the top.  Can you give sort of a brief sketch of your career, the highs and lows?

JP: I had high hopes for my college career, but I wasn't exactly sure how to get there.  The culture of UCD at the time when I was recruited was a much different one than it is now since we had just transitioned out of Division II.  Thus we had to adjust our definition of success and change the overall structure of our training regimen to fit that of a Division I program.  Small injuries and illness also kept me from having a solid block of training that was necessary to compete at the national level.  

In discussing my goals with Coach Wartenburg, we knew we had to focus on getting through the season healthy while finding ways to approach each race hungry to compete.  Once I had discovered the crucial aspect of maintaining health throughout the season by changing the small necessities within my daily routine, both on and off the track/course, I saw huge improvements in my racing as well as my overall fitness.

DtB: How has coaching at Edina factored into your development.  The team had a good year with second in the State Meet, then third in the NXN Heartland Regional Meet.  What was the experience like for you being a coach?  What did you learn from it?  Any things you could apply to your own running?

JP: It was great having the opportunity to discuss my own experience and training with a young group of men with a similar passion.  Since I was completely new to the team, most of what I did was take in the training and atmosphere of the team itself to get a feel for how the team, as well as each individual, functioned and adapted within the multiple factors that comprises the overall training and culture at that level.  

One thing that is much easier to see at that level is the amount of fun that everyone has in the sport, and I think it's essential that I continue to seek the fun within the training while keeping my sights on my goals.  

DtB:  What are your plans for 2013?  Will you try US XC Nationals?  Go straight to track?  What event/events will you be focusing on for 2013?  Long term goals?

JP: My main goal for the season is to make the US team for XC so I will be competing at XC Nationals along with a few indoor meets for tuneup work.  Outside of that, I look to improve on the track, and possibly road, in the 5K and 10K, with a bit more emphasis on 10K.  

Much further down the road, once I've exhausted my 5K and 10K abilities, I believe I have a lot of potential in the marathon and look to compete anywhere from the 5K to the marathon in 2016 for a spot on the US Olympic team, depending on where I'm at in my development.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Heather Kampf Talks About 2012, Plans for 2013-2016

Photo courtesy of ASICS
Heather Kampf's 2012 running season was "bookended" by US Championships.  In May she won the USATF Road Mile title in Minneapolis and in December she was part of the Team USA Minnesota team that won the USATF Club Championship title in Lexington, KY.  Here she talks about  her road mile success, the Olympic Trials, the Club Champs, and her goals for 2013 and 2016.

Down the Backstretch: You were the Road Mile “Queen” this year.  Was that something that just evolved as you continued to win or was the plan going into the year to focus on those events?

Heather Kampf:  Oh gosh, that term is certainly not one I made up for myself, but I guess it's nice to be called the "Queen" of anything! It's funny, my coach even was answering my calls this fall by saying, "Your Highness..." 

But to answer your question, no, this wasn't necessarily the plan going into the year. The primary focus was obviously the Olympic Trials, and when I didn't make the team, I initially thought I'd try to go out for another European racing tour, but with the Games taking place mid-summer, there didn't seem to be enough races to get in either prior or immediately after the Olympics. Instead, I just started expressing interest in every road mile I could find in the US. 

Obviously I felt I had something to prove/defend after winning the US Road Mile Champs this spring, but really I think that each success built more momentum and confidence for me for the next. It was a fun way to spend the late summer fall, and was really excited to end it all with a new personal best road mile time of 4:27 in New York.

DtB:  You jumped into a cross country race—the Club Champs.  That’s a departure from your post collegiate routine.  Did something change that resulted in racing cross country, one it just a “one-off” for the team, or will it be part of your yearly cycle in the future?

HK: Honestly, I think I was just hosting some teammates at my house for dinner awhile back, and they mentioned they wanted to run Club Cross, but needed one more for a team. Of course I said I would do it! In the fall, most of our training is more like cross country training anyway, so it fits right into the basic plan to race a 6K at this time of year. I would be happy to make this part of my annual schedule, though I have to say, in hindsight, it was tougher than I remember it feeling!! 

DtB:  You achieved a lot of recognition for your fall and recovery during the indoor season when you were a Gopher.  Now you had another fall that ended with a team title.  Seems like a hard road to success. What happened that led to the fall at the USATF Club Champs?  Where in the race was it?  What caused the fall?  What went through your mind when it happened?  How did your teammates react? Or didn’t they see you until the end of the race with a mud coating?

HK: Well, I think I probably got out a little bit too fast in this race, so even before the first mile (in 5:14), I was battling some side-aches on both sides. The fall itself took place just before the 2-mile mark, about halfway through the race. 

As far as I can remember, I hit something on the ground while I was taking a muddy corner, and just slid rather than catching myself. I'm sure I was hunched over due to the side-aches so my center of gravity was probably off a little bit. Honestly, I kind of just thought, 'oh great...', got up pretty quick, and kept running. I already felt as if I were way behind where I wanted to be in the race, so it was just one more thing. 

The mud was pretty soft, so it wasn't a painful fall by any means, but to add insult to injury, I caught a bug in the eye immediately after the fall, but had too much mud caked on my hands to do anything about it.  Not long after I fell, I heard someone yell to me, "Your team has four in the top ten! Keep it up!" I was really worried I was ruining our chances for the team title, but obviously knew I needed to keep running in order for us to have any chance of scoring as a team of 5. 

My teammates were well ahead, but they all responded kindly to my less than stellar race. I kept apologizing, but they kept telling me it was fine, and that they wouldn't have had a team at all if I didn't come. They're some pretty awesome teammates!

DtB:  Did the team think the team championship was a realistic goal going into the event?  Was there a pre-race strategy/plan?

HK: Yes, we went in with that goal in mind. We thought it was realistic, and were aware of who our biggest competition was. There wasn't a specific plan, but since the course was slick, we were told just get out well because people weren't changing positions in the race much after the first mile. I was the exception to that rule, unfortunately!

DtB:  When did you find out the team won the championship? How did everyone react?

HK: We looked at the individual results during our cool-down and as far as we could calculate, we believed we had pulled it off. We didn't want to say it for sure until we saw it on paper though! When results came through we were all by the team van changing after our cool downs, I think I exuberantly called out: "YES! I didn't suck enough to ruin it for everyone!" 

It was quite the relief. I know that my race wasn't absolutely horrible, but it certainly wasn't up to what I was hoping to do, nor was it near the caliber of my teammates that deserve this win. I kind of feel as though I was just lucky enough to associate myself with these women. Everybody hugged and were happy, and I think we were especially pumped for the girls who will be competing in Scotland in January---Meghan, Ladia, and Jamie.

DtB:  What are the plans for track season?  Will you run indoors, if so any specific plans for races or goals?

HK: So far, I'm planning to start my 2013 track season with, drum roll please, a road mile! There's one in Bermuda on the 18th that would be great to try. I want to try to do at least one good competitive indoor track mile, hopefully at the New Balance Indoor Games which always brings a good field of women. My goal is get more experience in this event so I will be better equipped/aware of what I should do in the outdoor season.

DtB:  You broke through to being a contender for the Olympic team at the Trials this year.  Was the result what you expected?  Disappointing or encouraging?

HK: It certainly was a great experience to race in an Olympic Trials Final, and think that I really had a shot for the team. It wasn't necessarily what I expected, but it felt like it was exactly what I needed. I found it necessary for me to make a final in order to justify what I am doing as a professional runner. 

It was both encouraging to be moving forward and higher in the US Ranks, and disappointing that I couldn't put together a stronger/faster race for that final. The next necessity it to break 2:00, I feel like I am just knocking at the door for that one.

DtB:  Are you thinking of moving up to 1,500, doubling, or experimenting over the next four years to see if you should stay focused on 800 or expand your horizon’s beyond the 800?

HK: I think we will continue to experiment more with the 1,500, but the nice thing is that these two events compliment each other so well, so competing in both over the next four years is not a matter of being uncertain about what I should do, but rather keeping all my tools sharp. By the Trials for Rio, it would be nice to be focusing on one event, but I can't tell you which event that may be right now!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Perham XC Coach Jeff Morris is NHSCA Coach of the Year

Perham's NHSCA top ranked boys' Division II HS team.
Photo courtesy of
A bit late getting to this, but better late than never.  An East Otter Tail Focus story on Perham High School "seventh man," Ben Sullivan, is HERE. A documentary video was made of the 2012 season of the Perham team, link is HERE(subscription required). Perham coach Jeff Morris honored as National High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year, reprint of the article is HERE(article is third one on the page).  Internet radio chat with Morris(starts at 17:54 minutes and goes to 32:20  for Morris's interview) is HERE.

Rankings for the Top 25 Division II HS teams is HERE.  St. Cloud Cathedral is ranked fourth among the boys' teams.  For the girls, Esko is at #7 and Annandale is #23.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Minnesota Updates

A few updates on some Minnesota runners.  As noted in Meghan Peyton's interview, her teammate Jamie Cheever was "on the bubble" for being on the US team going to Scotland in January for the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Team Challenge.  Team USA Minnesota's Pat Goodwin confirmed that they were notified that Cheever does have a spot on the team in addition to McKenzie Melander.  Also that Augsburg and Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker will be part of the US coaching staff for that event.  Twin Cities Track Club runners Stephanie Price and Joe Moore also were selected to represent the US in Scotland.

Another Team USA Minnesota member, Andrew Carlson, who was supposed to run the ING New York City Marathon, which was cancelled after Superstorm Sandy hit,  will make a return trip to Houston in January, where he ran his debut marathon at the US Olympic Trials in 2012, to compete in the Chevron Houston Marathon on 1-13-13.  So will TCTC's Mike Reneau.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meghan Peyton Talks About 2012, the USATF XC Club Championships, and 2013

Photo by Gene Niemi
Team USA Minnesota's Meghan Peyton finished off 2012 with a bang.  She led the team to the USATF Club XC team Championship, earned a trip to Scotland, and took a step toward her first goal of 2013.

Down the Backstretch: Winning a National Championships is always nice.  Did you go into USATF Club Nationals confident, hopeful, with or without expectations in regards to the team championship? 

Meghan Peyton: We went into the Championships confident that we could win. We knew that there would be some other strong teams like the Boulder team, but thought that as long as we all had solid races that we could achieve our goal of winning the national title.  

DtB:  Once you got to Lexington and saw the mud, aside from thinking: “This is real cross country,” did the conditions change any of the plans, expectations going into the race?

MP: Personally, the mud didn't change any of my own expectations. The mud was a factor for every runner out there. It being a championship race, I knew that it would take a strong race to place in the top six(she finished fourth), which is what it took to qualify for the USA team going to Scotland.

DtB:  Seems like the team members had different approaches to the race: Jamie took off with the leaders, you and Ladia sort of worked together, McKenzie was trailing behind you two(could she see where you two were or was the course too hilly and twisty for her to see runners ahead of her), and Heather took a tumble.  When did Heather go down and did any of you see or know that Heather fell during the race?  Give us something of a summary of how things unfolded.

MP: The race got out fast, the first mile being the most flat section on the course -- we went through the mile at 5:11 pace. I felt that it was a good pace, putting me near the front but I still felt in control. For the next mile and a half it was just grinding away at the hills and mud. 

There was a little pack of us behind the lead pack pushing each other. We could see the leaders the entire time. At about 2.5 miles the pack started coming back to us, Jamie (Cheever) with them. I knew we would catch up. So on the last downhill before the long climb to the finish I pushed hard so that I would catch up with Jamie. I knew she needed some support because she was in no-woman's land, which is a hard place to be when you are hurting. 

As I caught her I cheered for her telling her "You can do it, come on Jamie". We all needed to finish strong, and I think it was pretty admirable how she had put it out there on the line and, even once her early fast pace caught up to her, Jamie still finished really strong. None of us knew that Heather had fallen until we had all crossed the finish line.  

DtB:  When did you know you won the team title?  Was there a big celebration or a more retrained one?

MP: When we all finished the race we didn't know if we had won or not for about half an hour or so. We knew that Boulder would be our biggest competition, and they had taken first and second place. We didn't know where their other runners had finished, but we did know that Heather had taken an unfortunate spill in the mud, but had the strength to get up and keep running for the team. 

So we waited anxiously for about 30 minutes until they finally posted the results. When the results went up, Lance Elliott (one of our team's board members who was traveling with us and also raced) came running back to our van with the results and said: "We Won!". We were all excited, but Heather was excited most of all...jumping up and down with relief.

DtB:  Are the three of you that qualified planning on taking the trip to Scotland in January?  Did Jamie or McKenzie get spots on the US team because others in front of them aren’t going?

MP: Yes, Ladia, Jon (Peterson, fifth in the men's race), and I are going to Scotland for sure. We think that Jamie(who was seventh) will also likely make the team based on other competitors who said that they will not go, and because she also did well at this year's USA Open Cross Country Championships which took place in February.

DtB:  You’ve had a busy life this Fall with school, helping out with the Augsburg team, and your own running.  How do you juggle all those “balls in the air?”

MP: Very carefully! I don't need any of them falling to the ground. I think the only reason that I am able to juggle all of them is because I have good support groups in each area of my life, and because I'm a planner. I always try and stay ahead of the curve. I did have to start using a paper planner again this year (which I have not done since I graduated college) because my life is going in a lot of different directions.  No day is the same as the day before. A busy life keeps things interesting. 

DtB:  Was 2012 a productive year?  Did you achieve any or all of the goals you set—if you set any—at the beginning of the year?

MP: 2012 for me was a learning year. Anyone who looks at my results from the past year could probably safely assume that I unfortunately didn't achieve the goals that I had set at the beginning of it. From 2008-2011 I had steadily improved -- moving from consistently placing in the teens in races and working my way up to finishing in the top seven at most National Championships.

As with most people in this sport, I had big aspirations for 2012. However, some inexperience with the marathon, and also finding out that I had low B12 and low Iron (both essential for energy production) put those goals out of reach this year. But, I haven't given up. I still have the same big goals -- I've just had to push them out a year or two. 

DtB:  What are the plans, goals of 2013?

MP: My goals for 2013 are to, first of all, continue to improve as an athlete and person. Secondly, I want to represent our country at the World Cross Country Championships, and also want to compete at the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships. In the Fall I plan on competing in a marathon -- maybe one that is near and dear to us all--Twin Cities in Motion's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.  

Brief Report on Gopher Women Intrasquad Meet

The University of Minnesota women’s track and field team closed out fall practice with an intrasquad meet last Friday at the Minnesota Fieldhouse.

Director of track and field and cross country Matt Bingle said that he was pleased with several Golden Gophers’ improvement from this point in the season last year. Alena Brooks (1:30.99 in the 600 meters), Christina DeLakis (48 feet, 10 inches in the shot put), Todea-Kay Willis(19-3 1/4 in the long jump) and Jess Herauf (3,703 points in the pentathlon) highlighted the afternoon.

“We have seen a lot of improvement, but we still need to be in work mode,” Bingle said. “We have lots of things to do before the heart of the season. I’m pleased with everybody’s efforts, and they’re all excited to compete.”

The Gophers will have a short rest period to regroup for the start of the season. Minnesota opens its indoor season on Jan. 12. Some of the team will travel to the North Dakota State Invite in Fargo, and the Gophers will host the Northwest Open at the fieldhouse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gopher Men and Women Earn Academic All Big Ten Honors

Nineteen members of the University of Minnesota women’s country team and four of the Gopher  men were awarded Academic All-Big Ten status for the fall season.  To qualify for Academic All-Big Ten honors student-athletes must be letter winners in at least their second academic year at their institution and carry a career grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or better.

Women’s Cross Country Academic All-Big Ten Selections
Liz Berkholtz - So., Undeclared, Sun Prairie, Wis.
Maggie Bollig - Sr., Psychology, Cross Plains, Wis.
Heather Brunn - Sr., Mathematics, Rogers, Minn.
Kate Bucknam - So., Undeclared, Fayetteville, Ark.
Kelli Budd - Sr., Accounting, Omaha, Neb.
Ashlie Decker - Jr., Sport Management, Des Moines, Iowa
Laura Docherty - Sr., Inter-College Program, St. Paul, Minn.
Lauren Domski - So., Pre-Major, Woodbury, Minn.
Rachel Drake - Sr., Spanish Studies, White Bear Lake, Minn.
Becca Dyson - So., Journalism, Roseville, Minn.
Becca Gusmer - Sr., Kinesiology, Green Bay, Wis.
Molly Kayfes - Jr., Business and Marketing Education, Maple Grove, Minn.
Katie Moraczewski - Sr., Graphic Design, White Bear Lake, Minn.
Cassy Opitz - Sr., Inter-College Program, Eden Prairie, Minn.
Kathryn Ritter - Sr., Genetics/Cell Biology, Mukwonago, Wis.
Jessica Schmidt - Sr., Accounting, DePere, Wis.
Annie Talajkowski - Jr., English, Whitefish Bay, Wis.
Hannah Trasser - So., Psychology, Brookfield, Wis.
Bre Valle - Sr., Family Social Science, Minnetonka, Minn.

Blayne Dulian - So., Business and Marketing Education, Coon Rapids, Minn.
Pieter Gagnon - Sr., Mechanical Engineering, Minneapolis, Minn.
Bob Nicolls - Jr., Accounting, Parker, Colo.
Adam Zutz - So., Undeclared, St. Francis, Minn.

All seven of the Gopher women's NCAA Championships competitors qualified for the academic honor, including Molly Kayfes and Laura Docherty, the team’s top two runners throughout the season. Kayfes led the Gophers at both the NCAA Midwest Regional and the NCAA Championships. She earned All-Region honors with an eighth-place finish. Laura Docherty led the way at the Big Ten Championships, running to All-Conference acclaim with a ninth-place showing. She was also an All-Region performer. Maggie BolligKatie MoraczewskiAshlie DeckerRachel Drake and Liz Berkholtz rounded out the NCAA Championships roster.

The men's and women's track teams began their indoor season last Friday with an intrasquad meet at the U of M Fieldhouse.  The indoor season continues on January 12 with the Northwest Open at the U of M.  Both the men's and women's teams will be competing.  Part of the women's team will compete at the North Dakota State Invitational in Fargo, ND on the same day. will continue to preview the indoor season before true competitions begin in January. Click on the links for previews of the throws and the sprints, jumps and hurdles.