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Marquette Wire

Distance runners look to develop consistency in meets

(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

While lining up to race, a distance athlete not only prepares to compete, but prepares their mind as well. The race starts with the bang of a gun and the runners are off.

Senior distance athlete Anna Penzkover said that everyone falls into their preferred position in the pack. She said she likes to play the defensive game where she isn’t in control until the back-middle of the heat. 

“I always like to be in there because it’s always a little intimidating when I’m leading. Not knowing if girls are just staying behind me or when I’m going to get passed by a herd,” Penzkover said. “The position gives me a chance to fall into a place and find girls who are my speed and then I’m able to stick with them for the race and maneuver around them when I feel comfortable.”

Distance head coach Sean Birren said that establishing pace at the beginning is crucial for consistent energy throughout the event.

“Pacing is real important,” Birren said. “Say you have to run a long-distance race and some splits are off throughout the race, you’ve probably put yourself in a place where you’re really not going to come back from that and even thing out to run an optimal race.” 

Senior distance runner Jadon Conroy said that another strategy distance runners follow is staying behind other competitors, something he has been following for more than a decade now.

“I had a track and field club coach in fourth grade that would yell at me for going in front of people because so much more energy is used,” Conroy said. “You’re using less energy if you’re behind people because they break the wind for you. In a race that’s a couple miles long, the energy that is saved builds up a lot and can be useful for the end.” 

After the athletes find their pace, a whole other battle sets in. 

The pack can spread out and an athlete can find themselves alone. In these cases, Penzkover said that the mental battle that athletes go through is one of the toughest parts of the event.

“The mental aspect of the race can be a lot on a runner to have to handle it going into every single race,” Penzkover said. “Especially if you’re coming out of a low week of practice it can be difficult, but it works both ways. If you have been successful a lot, you can come with a lot of confidence. For me though, it’s always trying to go out there with the mentality of competing against myself and that helps.”

Birren said that a strong mental state can be a big part of running that when adversity occurs, as it did for Conroy, taking a step back from the sport is the best option.

“I actually didn’t run last year because I was struggling with some stuff,” Conroy said. “In distance running, you’re always battling mentally on the track and you just have to push those thoughts aside. But I realized early last season that I had too much stuff going on outside of running that I couldn’t battle those things in running.” 

When the pack spreads out, Penzkover said catching up to others can be difficult.

In this case, Birren said that one has to be willing to push their body even when there might be limited energy left in the drain.  

“Mentally, there’s this rubber band that stretches between athletes for about 5 to 10 yards,” Birren said. “If the racer ahead of you gets past that point, the rubber band kind of snaps and you disengage from those people. When that happens, you have to be focused enough to bring them back into range.”

When the race is down to its last two laps, Penzkover said that’s when it’s the hardest.

Penzkover said that if you don’t start picking it up in the final 800 meters, you will never have the will to do it closer to the end. 

In these situations, Penzkover said that so much energy has been used by this time of the race, one has to dig deep to find momentum to finish. But for herself, she knows where to dig for the final push.

“I’m someone who definitely goes off the energy of the crowd,” Penzkover said. “Especially when I can hear my family in the stands and to know they’re just proud to see me running and they don’t even know what a good time on the clock is. It’s really fun to have that energy because it’s so supportive. No one really cares about your times. Just about if you’re doing your best and having fun.”

This story was written by Benjamin Hanson. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @benhansonMU.

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About the Contributor
Benjamin Hanson
Benjamin Hanson, Sports Reporter
Ben Hanson is a sophomore from Minneapolis, Minnesota studying journalism, digital media and advertising. He is a sports reporter and the assistant social media producer for the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. When he's not in the newsroom, he likes creative writing, being with friends and going to sporting events. He is excited to be able to spread the word of the Marquette Wire because it has done so much for him while also refining his sports writing.

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