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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

Cross country's gauge: The minute shave

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

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Running is a solitary pursuit, and Pirate cross country coach Dan Lee sets individualized goals for his runners. He insists that they push themselves and chase their own personal bests, but he would never insist that a barrier broken by one runner is the appropriate goal for another.

Still, in the early part of this season, Lee has seen a common achievement among a number of his ECU athletes — bettering their top cross country time by more than a minute in less than a year. Many of those fast times came last weekend at Lake Kristi as they hosted the Pirate Invitational, an event that both teams won for the fourth consecutive year.

In 5K races where top times are 17 or 18 minutes, shaving off that many seconds is a significant feat. Yet on the women’s team, Bjork Olsen improved by exactly a minute, Stacy Gonzalez saw a jump of 1:07, and Brooke Kott ran 54 seconds faster from one season to the next.

On the men’s side, senior Antonio Palmer dropped 44 seconds off his 5K at this time last year with a 15:40.49 and became the 12th fastest ECU man in history at that distance. Close behind him, also breaking 16 seconds, were young runners like sophomore Chase Miller and redshirt junior Cory Hampshire.

“When it comes to these beginning meets, I’m concerned more with how they compare to themselves than how they compare to other teams,” Lee said. “They have worked really hard over past two weeks. Lately I’ve been telling them, ‘Here is the time when I want you to test yourself, extend your boundaries.”

Gonzalez, a Raleigh native who has battled injuries throughout her career and finished second to Olsen at the Pirate Invitational, is enjoying an outstanding fall after making holistic changes in everything from her diet to her sleep schedule and her daily exercise regimen at home. She is healthier and stronger across the board, she said, and she is highly motivated by teammates who are determined to work hard and set the bar high.

“I think this team as a whole is better than it’s ever been,” said Gonzalez, who is classified as a redshirt junior. “We have so many great runners, and we have the potential to be better. The competition really motivates us all to keep working.”

Gonzalez also attributes the dramatic improvements to Lee, who pushes his runners hard but in a way that underscores how much he cares about them as people and athletes.

Lee emphasizes the mind-body connection in running and encourages his team to be lifelong learners who can always find the key to faster times if they search diligently enough.

“He’s like a dad to me,” Gonzalez said. “I find myself trying to impress him, trying to get better for the team and to make him proud.”

As for Lee, as he looks ahead to the Charlotte Cross Country Invitational this weekend and the Conference USA Championships in late October, he feels sure that the upward progress can continue. He is thrilled when he sees athletes like Palmer, who has never really hit his stride in cross country before, finally perform according to his potential as a senior.

“The sky’s the limit with this guy,” he said of Palmer, who finished sixth in the 800 meters at the C-USA Indoor Championships last year. “Now he’s starting to become the runner he should be.”

Lee is also confident that every time a runner drops a minute off of his or her PR, all of the other purple-clad runners on the course are acutely aware that the same is possible for them.

“It’s high tide,” Lee said, “and all the ships are rising.”

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09/26/2012 01:28 AM

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