Monday, May 05, 2014

Hassan Mead Keeps Improving at Stanford

Hassan Mead(359) and Ben True(449) at the finish of
the 5K at the Cardinal Invitational.
Phil Johnson/Tracktown Photo
Hayward Field may well be the "cathedral of track & field for US runners, but Stanford's track has been the place where Gopher grad Hassan Mead has had consistent success over the years.  On Sunday he continued his streak of PRs there with a 13:02.80 runner-up finish at the Payton Jordan/Cardinal Invitational 5K.

"The only reason (the runners) come there is to run fast," says Mead.  There's no prize money, no national championships at stake, just a chance to get a fast time and potentially set yourself up for races later in the season, he says.  Some years the objective is to get a qualifying time for the World Championships or the Olympics.  This year it's to get the attention of European meet promoters so that you can get a place in the big meets on the summer calender.

Distance runners are fortunate in some ways in that their events can accommodate more participants and are not limited to the number of lanes on the track, as in the sprint and hurdle races.  So you don't get slow, kicker's races at Stanford as the runners are there to run as fast as they can to impress Euro event directors.  The assembled fields are usually comprised of runners who are pushing to "get the best out of each other," said Mead.  The time of year, the location create the perfect environment for posting a fast time, adapting to surges and midrace "moves" that can come in highly competitive racing in Europe.

Mead and his coach Mark Rowland mapped out their objectives for this year's race.  On top of the list was running as fast as possible.  Next was to cover the moves during the race at a fast pace, to get used to the surging and staying in contact with the leaders at a pace that is, at best, uncomfortable.  To work on the finish, when to make a move, and how fast you can finish at a pace that you will encounter in Diamond League or other top meets on the summer circuit.

The good news, aside from the time, was that there was "more left in the tank" at the end of Sunday's race.  It wasn't a situation where you're spent and don't think you could run any faster.  Just like his previous best of 13:11.80 that he ran in Europe last summer, Mead knows he's capable of running faster.  The 13 minute barrier is not some achievement that requires everything to go right during the race or is at the limit of his potential.  From his preparation, and how the race went on Sunday, Mead believes he can run faster.

When he talks about his preparation he uses the word we to describe that he and coach Rowland jointly structure the training and the racing.  They settle on a plan and Mead's job it to execute that plan.  For Rowland and Mead training and racing as an incremental process.  Last year it involved two successful assaults on Mead's previous PR for 5K, which he set as a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, prior to an Achilles injury and lung collapse that set back his development and threatened his future in the sport.

Gopher coach Steve Plasencia also used the gradual approach to bring Mead back from the brink and prepared him for post collegiate competition.  Plasencia helped Mead get accepted in the Nike OTC Elite team, and Rowland has taken it from there.  After Stanford, Mead and Rowland will analyze the race.  What went wrong?  What went right? What did you learn from the experience, and what needs to be worked on to continue Mead's improvement.  Next on the agenda is a 1500 race at Occidental College, then the Pre Classic, where he'll likely face a strong international field and an opportunity to make another assault on the 13 minute barrier.

The weather will probably be the major factor for whether the Pre race is focused on tactics or if there is an opportunity to drop his PR again.  After that it's US nationals and off to Europe for another summer of racing.

Mead credits his progress to Rowland's slow, but steady approach.  Putting in the work: "These days you can't get away with 'normal,'" says Mead.  Normal being not taking into account all the elements one needs to work on to improve.  Not just mileage, or tempo work, or track work, or a combination of those things.  Weight work to strengthen potential weak areas and help prevent injury.  Nutrition.  Recovery.  All the pieces of the puzzle that confront someone preparing to be ready for top flight competition, peaking at the right time, and racing at your best when it matters most.

This summer Mead hopes to take the next step in the process, racing at the top level in Europe.  His apprenticeship served, Mead is ready for the next level.

No comments: