NCAA West Regional Preliminaries

5 years. 448 barriers. 112 water jumps. 16 races. 2 nationals appearances. 1 Mountain West Conference Championship.

This is it. One last time to don the familiar blue, gold, and white of San Jose State. One last time to bread the bread in my collegiate track career, and I did just that. I left everything I had on that track and although I couldn’t get a qualification to the NCAA championships in Austin, I’m proud of the way that I ran the race.

Friday started out with an 8:30am shakeout just to get the blood flowing and my mind in the right place for the day. Immediately following was breakfast with the classic three pieces of peanut butter toast. Then, the long 12 hour wait until my race began. I was in the third heat of the last event of the night, which was slated to start at 9:00pm at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento. I watched a lot of food network and Guy Fieri to keep my mind occupied, but was constantly visualizing the race and what I thought I would need to do. I knew the race was going to be more like Stanford than the Mountain West race. There would be a lot more jostling, jockeying for position, and probably a few spike marks, and that’s mentally what I prepared for.

We left the hotel at 6:30pm, Bruce reminded me I was Born to Run in the Darkness on the Edge of town, and we headed out to the track. There, the coaches and I talked a lot of nonsense about funny races that we’d want to see in track and field to try to keep me from freaking out too much before my race. At 8:30pm I left for my warmup after a quick pep talk from Coach Wick to keep my mind focused on the right place and he remind me that I was the underdog in this race. I did the usual 20 minute warmup, drills, strides, and then went over to the tent to put on my spikes and hip numbers. They let us sit at the start line for an unusually long time while they did introductions, and then the race was finally ready to start.

The race got out quick. I started on the outside at the start and in the first 200 meters was running in lane 3. To get a better position I jumped to the front, but cooled the pace down a little, so I could have a better position going over the first few barriers. From there I stayed pretty tight on the front pack and never dropped into a position worse than 6th place in the entire race. There was a consistent pack in the front of between 6-7 of us for most of the race, so there was constant jostling and people moving all over the track to get the best jumps they could. Sometimes I had some pretty bad form on the hurdles to cover someone moving in front of me and ruining my steps, but that’s how the race goes. The first lap we rolled through at 67 and I got a little too much air on the water jump but didn’t lose any time recovering which was good. From there my goal was to maintain contact with the lead pack and never let them get away from me. A runner from Iowa took us through to lap 4 before a Cal runner took the lead. By the time we had run through the 1600 mark, I knew there would be no one making it on a time qualifier. We were running 71’s and 72’s because the wind had picked up down the back stretch. That meant that each time we hit the turn into the water jump, it was straight into the wind and made the race go slower than the previous two heats. With about 2 laps to go in the race I had closed the two/three stride gap on the front runners and the pack was starting to seriously bunch up with 8 runners. I knew that two of the runners had a better kick than I did, and have historically run better times than I have, so I made the decision to jump to the front and hope that I could hold on for 3rd place and get a qualifier. I took the pack down to 5 men quickly, dropped the lap pace from 71 seconds to 68 seconds, and held onto the lead for just shy of a lap. The runner from Stanford and BYU covered the move, which was fully expected, and passed me to take the bell lap along with the Iowa runner. Shortly after a Washington runner went by me. As we hit the backstretch, that wind hit me I was done. At this point I couldn’t feel my legs, my arms were carrying me along, and my hurdle form had gone to crap. I hit the water jump and was thinking to myself, “I don’t know how I’m going to get over this”, hopped on top of it, two footed the landed, and took off hoping no one could pass me down the homestretch. My legs were screaming over that last 100 meters and I’m not sure how I made it over that last hurdle and got to the finish line without falling.

I finished with a time of 8:48.71, good for 5th place in my heat, and 18th place in the West Region. It wasn’t a PR, or a school record, or a time that would take me to Nationals, but it was a race that proved I have what it takes to compete at a higher level and I’m no longer afraid to make moves I would never have dreamed of in the past. I know that there was nothing left in me after this race and I took the race in my hands to try to make the best outcome for myself. Everyone wants a fairytale ending, but that’s not the way that running works. I went out there and gave it my all. And when I’ll look back on this race I’ll won’t remember getting 5th place, but I’ll remember the announcer calling out my name about my bold move into 1st place trying to run San Jose State to the National Championships for the first time in over 30 years. I’m honored to have had the chance to train under Coach Wick, Coach Layten, Coach Sarver, Coach Petersmeyer, and Coach Reimer over these past 5 years. I’ve grown so much as a runner in my time as a SJSU and would be remiss without also mentioning my family, especially my parents, for supporting me throughout my tenure as a Spartan. My career has never been perfect, but pushed through it all and kept my eyes on what the future held for me.

“No retreat, baby, no surrender.” – Bruce Springsteen

To 5 years of never surrendering.

-Craig

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The Mountain West Outdoor Championships

This race is one that has been five years in the making. Since my freshman year I’ve been waiting to be able to compete at the conference championships and this race was my one and only opportunity at it as a Spartan.

We left San Jose early on Friday morning, but not until I had the classic three pieces of peanut butter toast. The drive to Fresno only took about two and a half hours and we stopped for lunch when we arrived. My race was scheduled for 8:10pm, so I had a lot of time in the hotel to visualize the race and get ready for the race to come. I spent this time just trying to keep my nerves down and not get too excited that far out from the race. Coach Sarver picked me, and the women’s steeplechasers from the hotel at 6:00pm and we headed over to the track. On the way over Bruce Springsteen reminded me that as always, I was Born to Run in the Darkness on the Edge of Town. An hour before my race I went over to the hipping tent for my numbers, went for a warmup, did my drills, and spiked up. Let me tell you, I was nervous for this race, but I knew exactly what needed for happen if I wanted to win it and my plan was to take control of the race early on and never let it go.

The gun went off and I jumped straight to the front of the race and took the first lap through at 68. I wanted to establish early into the race that I wasn’t going to take it out slow and kick. I was going to lead from the front and if someone was going to beat me, it was going to be hard for them to do that. Going into the second lap, a Wyoming runner took over lead duties and we went though at 70 seconds. The following lap, he slowed the pace down too much for my liking, and with four laps remaining in the race I made my move to reclaim the lead. I noticed on the previous lap that the Wyoming runner was stuttering on most of his barrier jumps and swinging out of lane one to make his jumps, and I took advantage of this. I passed in front of him and took away the ability for him to keep swinging wide, and that caused him to think even more about the barrier he had to jump. My move had the desired intention and he couldn’t cover the move. From there I took the lead and never looked back. I wasn’t thinking about the times I had to hit, or how much I had in the race, I kept thinking about how close the other guys were to me. I pretended that there was someone right on my back and I kept pushing the pace down. I like to think I’ve figured out how to run the last two laps of a steeplechase better than most people, and I knew that if I had the lead going into the last two laps that I could hang onto it, or at make the last lap hell for anyone trying to get around me. The very last lap was a bit rough at times. I was going really quick and that made it harder to gauge where I needed to jump for the barriers. I had a few ugly jumps, and my last water jump was more “I need to get over this without falling” than trying to push off, and the very last barrier was the same mentality. I cleared the last barrier and knew that I had executed my plan to perfection.

I won my first ever college race and became the first ever male Spartan to win a Mountain West conference championship in any event. With a time of 8:48.02, I was very close to my PR and since I was doing most of the work alone I’m confident I can lower that time when regionals rolls around in two weeks. The race itself was surreal and I am so happy that everything worked out and I was to execute a perfect race strategy. Big shoutout to my parents for making the drive up to Fresno to come see my race and for coming to so many of my races over my entire career as a Spartan. It’s been a long ride to get here and I’m excited to see what I can do at the West Regional Meet in Sacramento on May 24th. Be back soon!

The Cardinal Classic

It’s been two years since I first ran the 5k, here at the Cardinal Classic, and since then I’ve only run it two more times (San Francisco and Macabbiah). Coming into this weekend, I knew that I could run a good time, but with the lack of experience in the race I wasn’t quite sure how it would all play out. Coach Wick told me what I needed to do in the race, so I just focused on that.

The race was scheduled for 7:30pm, which was nice because it’s been fairly warm in San Jose this past week. I got lucky that passover didn’t start until the night, so I was able to get my three pieces of peanut butter toast in for breakfast. But I brought the matzah with me to the race for after. The rest of the morning I distracted myself with some homework and got a light 10 minute shakeout in just to keep my legs loose. Coach Sarver picked me and the other 5k runners up from the dorms at 4:30pm and we headed over to Stanford. On the way over Bruce reminded me, as always, about what I’m born to do.

The benefit of running the 5k this week was that I’m not the only one on the team who runs this event. I had Jose to run with as well, and we were supposed to be hitting similar times, so it would work well for us. We did the usual 20 minute warmup, drills, and strides and then they took us out to the track to get the race started.

We had a rabbit in our heat who was going through 8 laps and running 67’s from the front. My goal for this race was to be running 67/68’s for the entire race, so it was exactly what we needed. But that’s not how it turned out for me. There were about 25 guys in the  race, which strung out pretty quickly, but it was a little bit bunched up at the beginning. Around 400 meters into the race, I hit the guys feet in front of me, stumbled and recovered, then got clipped, twice,  by the runner behind me, and stumbled into lane 6 to recover and try not to fall. Unfortunately I fell off of the pack that I needed to go with and I was chasing people that fell off that lead pack for the rest of the race. It would have been easy to just fall off and count myself out of the race, but I knew I could still run a good time so I shifted into just trying to run consistent laps and go for a PR. I was running consistently 68-69 seconds per lap, and most of them just looking at the people in front of me and trying to pass them. Once I went around someone I never saw them again, which was a good feeling, but I was doing so much more work being in no-mans-land. It would have been much easier to hang onto the pack with their rabbit and go through at the times I needed to. All I remember in the middle of the race was getting to 3000m and thinking to myself, “Man if this was the steeplechase, I would have been done by now.” In reality I just need to run a few more 5k’s to really get a hang of how to race it, but that’s not in the cards for this season. Towards the end of the race, I again was focusing on not counting myself out and trying to pick it up and close well. With one lap to go, I saw 13:15 on the clock, and so I was determined to run below 14:20. I closed with a 63 second lap and ran 14:18.27. Which is a 15 second PR for me in the 15.

Overall the race wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I made the best of an unfortunate situation. I’m still happy that I was able to get a personal best in the race and my time places me 9th on the All-Time Top-10 list for SJSU! Jose also ran a great race, running at 14:06 and placing 4th on the All-Time Top-10 list. I’ll be back to the steeplechase and going for the school record in two and a half weeks at the Mountain West Conference Championships. The conference has some solid competition, so I’m very excited to see what I can do. Be back soon!

The Stanford Invitational

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 23.07.57 1(2)It’s been a long time coming for me to get back to the steeplechase. After all of indoor, a few injuries that kept me out of steeple training, and a 1500 season opener, I’d given my body enough time to prepare for a steeplechase. Coach Wick says it best, “No matter how good a steeplechase you run, it’s never going to be perfect.” I wasn’t looking for perfect today, but I was looking for a time that would qualify me for the first round of nationals. But I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself with how the day unfolded.

It started with my usual 7:30am wakeup and a serenading from Springsteen. The best way to wake up on race day. I did a small 15 minute shakeout run at 9:00am, and then followed that up with the classic three pieces of peanut butter toast. How else am I supposed to get ready to bring the bread? We had Aiden running the 400m and Jeanette running the women’s steeplechase before me, which meant we didn’t leave San Jose to head to Stanford until 2pm. However, my race time was 6:10, so I had quite a while to hang out at the track and mentally prepare for my race. An hour before the race, I checked in, did my 20 minute warmup, drills, and then reported to the hipping tent to get taken out to the track. Before the race started I did a barrier jump and a few hurdles to see how my achilles was holding up, and to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt it more by doing this race. The good news was that it felt fine, and I was mentally ready for this race to get underway.

I started on the outside of the waterfall start and got out solidly in the middle of the pack, but less than 100 meters into the race, no one wanted to take the lead and we started just crawling along. So I hopped to the outside and took the lead. My racing philosophy, as I’m sure I’ve stated before, is to always run an honest race. If that means that I get dead last but I run a PR, then that’s good with me. My honest pace I wanted to set in this race was splits somewhere between 69 – 71 seconds/lap. And for the first three laps of the race, that’s exactly what I did. I stayed on the railing in the lead, making sure that others had space if they wanted to pick up the pace, but no one did. We rolled through the mile at 4:40/4:41 and an Oklahoma runner had taken the lead role, but there was still a good pack of us with him. Throughout all of this, my hurdling was smooth with only a few hiccups, and I was hitting the water jumps cleanly. With the exception of the last lap, I can’t recall a lap where I had really bad hurdles or water pits. And with what little hurdle training I’ve had this season really just shows how much the past has helped me prepare for these big races. On the fifth lap, some other runners threw in surges and I was sitting in 6th, but still around most of the other guys. The leader and one other runner had managed to get more separation from us, so I started racing with the guys around me (BYU and Santa Clara). With two laps to go, we all passed a runner from Cal, and started to really pick it up. My last lap in the race was somewhere around 66 seconds, and I was running on fumes by the time I was over the last barrier. I had pulled into 3rd place coming off the water pit, but the BYU runner had more in the tank than I did, and I narrowly got out kicked by the runner from Santa Clara. If this race had been another 50 meters I probably would have gotten close to repeating what happened in San Diego during the cross country season.

I finished the race in 5th place with a new personal best of 8:47.52. Both Coach Wick and Coach Sarver agreed that I brought the bread this race.  I would have really liked to hang on at the end of the race and not have let two guys pass me, but not everything can be perfect in the steeplechase. This result showed me that with some more weeks of solid training, I can shave even more time off that personal best and maybe even break the school record of 8:43. Today’s time should also give me a qualifier for the first round of Nationals, so I’m excited to have that under my belt so I can really focus on training. The schedule hasn’t been ironed out of where I’ll be racing next, but I’ll be posting in two to three weeks with another race.

The Hornet Invitational

For the last time in my collegiate career, outdoor season is back! It’s once again a momentous occasion marking the first outdoor completion with both a Men’s and Women’s team competing in San Jose State history!

This exciting day started like so many of my previous race days with a serenade from Bruce Springsteen. This was followed up with the classic three pieces of peanut butter toast and a last minute bag check to make sure I had all of my gear. The race this week was in Sacramento, so we had a 2 hour drive to get to the stadium. As we got onto the bus, my teammate, Adi, asked me how I was feeling about today. I told her that my goal was just to make it onto the track. I’ve been fighting the same achilles injure from the winter and had taken most of this week off to cross train. So as long as I could get through the warmup pain-free and get on the track, I’d be happy. And as always, I made sure to bring the bread.

I was placed in Heat 1 (the fast heat) of 6. Coming off a week of little training, I was nervous about this, but I had to do it. The warmup, drills, and strides all felt good so I decided that I would run the race. With my new cornrows on display for the rest of the world, I took off from the gun and was in the lead. That lasted about 150 meters before the rest of the field realized what pace I was running for myself. We rolled through the first lap in 61 seconds and I was spit out the back of the pack and started running in last. But before that, another runner moved inside too soon and I ended up with another nasty gash on my right leg. I really can’t run a race without getting spiked. The next lap was somewhere around 63-64 seconds, and Coach Wick was worried my achilles was hurting and that’s why I was in the back. In reality, I just didn’t have the right training to run a quick 1500 this early in the season, and I was putting in everything I had. I rolled through that lap, making up some ground on the pack that had pulled away early on. My third lap is where I make up all of my ground because I know it’s the time to grind. With one full lap left in the race, I saw one guy ahead of me and made it my goal to catch him by the finish. My form went to crap, my hamstrings started to tighten up, and I was hurting. But with under 100 meters to go, I passed the guy and finished the race not in last place! Instead I was second to last with a time of 3:57, which is a 2 second PR for me!

The time wasn’t too important for me in this race, but a PR is always nice. I was just happy that I walked out onto the track today without pain, and I know what exercises I can do to work on it and keep my achilles from flaring up again. The season is just getting started, and I should be racing a steeple in about two weeks at San Francisco Distance Carnival or at Stanford. I can’t wait to see what this season has in store, and hopefully I can achieve the goal of setting a new school record in the steeplechase of faster than 8:43!

📸: Huruy Zeratsion

Mountain West Indoor Championships

It’s been a solid season this winter. I’m thrilled to finally be a part of the team representing San Jose State Men’s Track & Field at the Mountain West Indoor Championships for the very first time, and at our first championship meet in over 30 years. I wasn’t sure that this week was going to go the way I wanted though. After my last race at the Bronco Challenge, I came back to San Jose and started having Achilles pains. I spent an entire week in the pool and on the elliptical keeping my fitness up with the hope I would be better before the conference meet. Earlier this week I was able to start running again and on Wednesday, I tested it with a short two mile tempo at race effort. I never planned on missing conference once I started running this week, I just wasn’t sure how it was going to end up.

We left on Thursday for Albuquerque after a brief stopover in Los Angeles. After we arrived, I got in a short treadmill run to acclimate myself and see how my Achilles was holding up. Like in Boise, I was running the 3000m race. The race was scheduled for Saturday at 1:40pm, so I got a shakeout in on Friday morning, and spent the day supporting the rest of the Spartans competing.

This morning, I woke up to get my little shakeout run in, and then went to get breakfast. The hotel had run out of bread by the time that I had gotten there, but that was okay because I always bring the bread. I made my usual three pieces of peanut butter toast, ate with the team, and then went to my room to get my bag ready for the race. We left the hotel around 11am and headed over to the track. On the way over, I listened to Bruce remind me that no matter how many obstacles I have to go through, I was born to run. We did the usual 20 minute warmup, I did some drills, put on my headband, and was ready to race.

There were about 20 people in my heat, which again is a lot of people to fit on an indoor track. I got lucky this time and wasn’t up on the curve and also wasn’t boxed in at the start. I didn’t have the best start, but I still got out considerably well. I didn’t have to deal with the people coming off the turn at the merge, so that was nice. I held onto the front pack while I let the race settle a bit, but got out a little bit quicker than I had planned. Edgar was up in the very front pacing through the mile at 4:35 pace, and he did a perfect job. He pulled enough people up there with him that would die off later in the race, but put me through the mile right where I needed to be. I never fell too far off of the lead pack, and always had two or three guys around me to work with. I got spiked a few times on the turns when guys would swing a little wide, and I got close to taking them down. I rolled through the mile around 4:32/4:33 and was sitting in the top 10, and I knew I was running exactly the type of race I needed to be running. I just worked on moving up and working with the people around me as the race went on. With four laps, 800m, I knew it was time to start working. I started making my moves around the people that were dying off, and continued to move up. Going into the last two laps, I knew it was really time to work. My last two laps were 32 and 30 seconds respectively. I was running in fourth place going into the last lap and was a second away from first place at the end of the race.

I finished fourth in my heat, and twelfth overall in the two heat finals, with a time of 8:31. And since we were running at five thousand feet of elevation, there is a 13 second time conversation. That means my time today equates to a 3000m race at sea level with a time of 8:18. And if you recall the race in Boise of 8:28, that’s a 10 second PR, and an even faster school record! I can say that it’s truly been such a humbling experience getting to represent the history that SJSU’s Track program carries with it, and I can’t wait to see what I can do in the steeplechase and 5000m races this spring. I’ll close this indoor season with a Springsteen quote that’s been playing in my head all season.

“If you think it’s your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball”

See you on the line

-Craig

The Bronco Challenge

It seems like it’s been much longer than three weeks since my last rase. Since then, schools started, I’ve been sick twice, and I’ve had some crazy good long runs in between. But everything was looking good for my first shot at the 3000m and I was ready for business. This week we traveled to Boise, Idaho for The Bronco Challenge. Most of the distance squad was also running the 3000m with me, so it was very similar to the setup we had in Albuquerque, but without the altitude.

The morning started out with a 8:30 shakeout in the snow and slush, followed by the classic 3 pieces of peanut butter toast and Bruce telling me where dreams are found and lost. The race wasn’t scheduled until 4:10pm today, so we had most of the day to watch the other races and freak out a little bit.

My plan for the race was to roll through the first mile at 4:30 and then shoot for a sub 8:30 finishing time. Having never run the 3k indoors, I really didn’t know if this was a good plan, but I was going to stick to it.

There were 26 people in the race. There’s only 6 lanes on and indoor track, and 26 is hard enough to fit on a 9 lane outdoor track. So it was tight on the waterfall start. I got out well and settled into about 4th and all of us came on the outside waterfall, so it was a smooth merge for us upfront. Two guys took off early on in the race, and there was a pacer running right with me going 4:30 through the mile. He hopped off after a few laps, which left me leading the chase pack and Jose right behind me. The guy in first had pulled away and I was closing in on the Utah athlete he dropped. I rolled through the mile right around 4:30-31. Jose passed me after the turn and started to separate from me a little bit and passed the Utah athlete as well. As I got to the Utah athlete he surged and intentionally moved into my lane to prevent me from passing him. He did this for another two laps until I just surged ahead of him. With about 800 meters to go, I had caught back up to Jose and started to make my move with 3 laps to go. I passed Jose just after the turn and just kept working the last 500 meters. I knew it would be tight to get under 8:30, but as long as I keep pushing I knew I could get it.

I finished in second place, first collegiate, with a time of 8:28 and new San Jose State school record in the 3000m. It’s been a long 5 years to get to run an indoor season, but the hard work and good training has finally started to pay off. It’s clear to see that I brought the bread today!

It’s been a short season but the last race of indoor is in about a week and a half back in Albuquerque for the Mountain West Conference Championships. I’ll either be running the mile of the 3k, with hopes of a new PR in either event. I’ll be back soon!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Collegiate Invitational

This is a very exciting blog post for me. After five cross country season and four outdoor track season at San Jose State, the Men’s Track & Field team has been reinstated! This is the first time since 1988 that San Jose State has an official men’s team competing in track and field. It also marks the first time that I’ve had to opportunity to race an indoor track season. It’s a shorter break from the end of cross country season to the start of the outdoor track season, but I’ve always liked a bit of a challenge and today’s race was definitely that.

Indoor track is a bit different from outdoor track and not just in location. The track is a 200 meter track with banked turns (similar to those found on a cycling track) in comparison to a 400 meter flat outdoor track. It presents a new set of technique and running style that I haven’t experienced before, but I enjoyed my season opener if it was nothing else but practicing my technique.

This meet all the distance runners, except Evaristo, were entered to run the 1 mile race. In my race was Jose, Edgar, Charlie, two UCLA runners, and a few runners from New Mexico. My plan was to take the race out running somewhere between 63-64 seconds per lap. The race went out exactly how I needed it to go, with the first 400m at 63 seconds. There was a nice string of about 5 of us in the lead pack, with a rabbit about 10 meters ahead of us. The rabbit would pull us through 800 meters before he stepped off the track. I passed through 800 at 2:07, again exactly where I needed to be. The turns took me a few laps to get the hang of and I was hovering more towards the outside of lane one so I didn’t clip anyone that was on the inside of me. After I got more comfortable with the pack, I ran the turns tighter and had a better feel for the track. My ankles got clipped a few times by a runner behind me and I was lucky not to have fallen earlier in the race. That luck didn’t hold on forever though. Just after we passed through the 1200 meter mark, a runner behind me kicked me a few times before deciding to jump to the outside lane and try to pass me on the curve. He got in front of me and moved back inside, I got tangled up with him in the process, and I went down. I learned that indoor tracks are not as soft as their outdoor counterparts can be and they also make a much louder noise when you fall on them because they’re wood underneath. Because it was on the curve, I ended up rolling down the track into the sand pit before I could get back up. I was down for maybe 2 seconds, but in that time the lead pack had put pulled away too much and I couldn’t get back with them. I got up and gave it all I had left, and didn’t have much of a kick because I spent so much energy after the fall. I ended up finishing in 8th place with a time of 4:20.9 (Which converts to a 4:14 mile at sea level).

Overall I’m pleased with the effort I gave, happy that the fall didn’t hurt me anymore than a few scrapes and bruises, and I’ll take it as a learning experience to do better in my next indoor competition. The combination of it being an early season race, the altitude in Albuquerque, and falling mid-race made this a very difficult race, but I think that as the season progresses, I’ll only have better races to come. More than anything I’m so excited that Men’s Track and Field is back at San Jose State and it’s so exciting to be a part of this fantastic team! The men’s team will be traveling to Idaho for the Bronco Challenge on February 9th.

NCAA West Regional Championships

58 pieces of peanut butter toast. 24 Races. 5 years. One Dream: The NCAA XC National Championships. As I went into this week I knew that it would take another race at peak performance for me to be an All-Region runner in the top 25 and qualify as an individual for nationals. The race was setup to be a perfect day with some fast times. On Thursday, during our warmups, the smoke from the nearby fires was strong and it was a very windy day. The forecast for the race said both the wind and smoke would die down, and it really did. It was sunny, but not too warm at the noon race start, with nearly no wind. The course in Sacramento was the same as two years ago; Three big two mile loops, no hills, barely any dirt, and wide turns and straightaways. Much better than the San Diego course from two weeks ago, and an even faster course than the Wisconsin course from Pre-Nationals. 

From the gun, I got out in a really good position. I was up with the lead 20-30 people, which was exactly where I needed to be. I felt like I was cruising, not working too hard, and putting myself in a good position for when the pack started to pull away. The pack rolled through the first mile around 4:42, and Jose was right there with me. Around the 2k mark there was a little bit of a jumble on a turn and Washington State runner went down right in front of me. My legs did not make it out of this race unscathed. I’ve got spike marks on the front of both of my legs and my right knee. I was right in the middle of the pack and instead of using energy to put my hands up to tell people I was there, I would just let my legs do the talking as I ran into them. As we rounded the turn to start the loop for the second time, I was in a very good position. I was sitting somewhere around 15th-20th place and still didn’t feel like I was working too hard to be there. About 4k into the race I passed Jose, and took the lead for the Spartans. Just a little over 2k later there was a nasty fall on the inside of one of the turns and it took out a lot of the pack. I managed to avoid the runner as he went down right in front of me, but it was still a mess. I was getting shoved from all sides as I collided with other runners around me. I found myself near the top 10 on the outside-left part of the course trying avoid a similar occurrence on the next right turn that was rapidly approaching. This is where the race really took off. The lead pack started to make a surge to separate themselves going into the third loop, and I was not able to cover it. In the span of about 800 meters, I fell from around 10th all the way to 50th. The lead pack dropped me, Jose passed me, and I felt like I had hit a wall. Physically I felt gassed, and wasn’t sure how much I had left in me. I hit the 8k mark and told myself that it doesn’t matter what happens, but I’m not letting this race kill me here. I haven’t trained this hard, put in hundreds of miles this season, and devoted my life to this sport to give up because it’s two kilometers longer than I’m used to. There was UCLA runner directly in front of me, and a St. Mary’s runner in front of him and I set my sights on them. It turned into just picking off one runner after another, and not letting anyone else get passed me. I found something left in the last 2k of the race and just focused on relaxing my arms and having good form. When we got the last kilometer, I just went to the arms. If someone was going to try and pass me, they were going to have to work for it harder than I was. 

I finished 42nd overall and 1st for the Spartans with a time of 30:27.4. It’s the highest finish I’ve had in the West Region Meet by 15 places and the fastest time I’ve run for a 10k by 20 seconds. I’m content with the finish, but I wanted to make it to Nationals. It’s the race that I’ve been dreaming of running for 5 years, and it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t make that happen in my last year. Things don’t always go as we plan them, but I’ve been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to run for the Spartans and have everything go as well as it has. It’s been one hell of a ride, and I can’t believe that this is the end of my collegiate cross country career. I’ve grown so much as a runner and a person and this has been a truly life changing experience for me. I want to thank everyone who reads the blog for following my journey these past five years, for supporting me, for reaching out to me after the races, and for being the best audience that I could ask for. It’s been so great, and I can’t wait to be back for the first official season of the reinstated Men’s Track Program. I’ll close with a quote by Bruce that I feel applies to my dream of nationals, the effort I put into trying to hit that goal, and where it’ll live on forever.

“Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost, I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost, For wanting things that can only be found In the darkness on the edge of town.”

See you in the Darkness on the Edge of Town.

-Craig 

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Photo Credit: Savanna Perez

Mountain West Conference Championships

The conference championships have always been one of my favorite races of the season, although historically it hasn’t gone great for me. My best conference race was my freshman year, followed with the mess that was the Reno race, and my last effort in 2016 with poor racing tactics at Boise. I’ve been looking forward to this race for two weeks to really see how my training not only this year, but also all of last year has helped me become a better runner. This year was a special year because the race was back at sea level in San Diego. So I wanted to make sure my last conference race was my best one yet. 

We left San Jose Thursday morning at 9am, landed in San Diego, and went straight to the course for our pre-race warmup. The course was not very flat with an even mix of uphill and downhill, a fair amount of curves, and a lot of dirt. We still laced up the spikes, but had some smaller pyramids in them than we raced with at Wisconsin. The race was designed to be two bigger loops, followed by two smaller loops. It was nice to start with the big loops and then finish with a smaller loop. Friday morning began with a 5:45am wakeup and a 5:55am shakeout run. After that, I had the classic three pieces of peanut butter toast with the bread I make sure I always bring. We left to go to the course and Bruce reminded me that I was Born to Run. My parents said a brief hello before the race, we went for the usual 20 minute warmup, and then it was time to rock and roll. 

The starter of the race gave the “On your mark” command and fired the gun very quickly which I think threw off some of the racers. It allowed me to get out well in the pack and situate myself right up in the front. Because of the narrow course and mixed terrain at the start, there was a lot of jostling, pushing, and running into other people on the turns. The course was not equipped well to handle the pack of people that we started out with. Around 1.5K I got clipped from behind on one of the turns and would have gone down if I hadn’t grabbed the back of a nearby Air Force runner. Shortly after, a Boise runner clipped the back of my spikes and went down, so it was really tight conditions. The entire first loop was pretty packed up with the leaders pulling slightly ahead of the rest of the pack around the 2K mark. By the time we hit the downhill of the second loop, it pack was still at least 20-25 people strong and barely starting to accordion. I worked on maintaining the pack I was in for the second lap, and once I passed the 4K mark, I knew it was time to pick it up. On the downhill at the start of the third lap I had caught up to Jose and was sitting around 14th place. I worked the downhill to get the next pack and just maintain going up the hill. There were a couple Air Force, Wyoming, and Boise runners ahead of me so I worked to make sure I either passed them or kept moving with them in the pack. The third lap was shorter than the first two, so in no time we were back to the start for the fourth and final lap. I was somewhere around 10th place at 7K with an Air Force guy right on my tail, a Boise runner in front of me, and a Wyoming runner just past him. The last three minutes of the race, my form went to absolute garbage. My arms were flailing, I was going really wide on the turns, and I was hurting. I passed the Boise guy early on into the final 1K, and moved in front of the Wyoming guy with just enough to go that he couldn’t catch me at the finish. When I got to the top of the hill with about 150 meters left in the race, I didn’t have much left. I was leaning forward so much people though I was going to fall, and with about 20 meters left into the race I was gone.

 I don’t remember finishing the race or the athletic trainer that was there to catch me from passing out or being rushed to the medical tent. I struggled to control my breathing, my heart rate was very high, I was overheated, dizzy, and on the verge of passing out. They gave me water and gatorade, and then tried to cool me down as fast as possible. I had a bag of ice under my head, two on my upper body, and one on my stomach. I was so hot that the ice was steaming as it melted so quickly. I was in the athletic tent for about 40 minutes with the athletic trainers before I tried to get up and walk. I felt like a baby giraffe trying to walk out of there and make my way over to the team. My parents were there waiting for me and they walked me over to the tent.

I literally gave it all I had in the race. There was nothing more that I could have done, and I’m so, so happy with the results. I finished with a time of 24:58 and placed 8th overall, which gave me the distinction of All-Conference Second Team. I can’t say that that place was worth the state of exhaustion I was put in afterwards, but it definitely made me feel better knowing that I left everything I had out there. Coach Sarver and Coach Wick both agreed this time that I had executed the race perfectly, and had brought the bread better than ever before. 

Our next race is the NCAA West Regionals on November 9th in Sacramento, where I and the rest of the Spartans try to qualify for the NCAA nationals meet back in Wisconsin. Two weeks is going to go by faster than I can think, and I can’t wait to be back with another post about how it goes. See ya real soon. 

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All-Conference 2nd Team
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The Spartans!