Soon the Pioneers cross country program will expand their program to runners of all kinds. As of next semester, the cross country team will start a road race/marathon training focus group for interested students.
The program will give prospective runners the opportunity to be official members of Malone’s cross country team while finding time to run around their daily activities. The runners will receive coaching from Malone’s cross country coaches, a specialized training plan to fit the runner’s expectations and a support group to run with.
“It is going to be an opportunity for them [prospective runners] to come into a program that is nationally known with great athletes,” said cross country head coach Jack Hazen. “It is going to be running with other people at their pace, it is going to be guided by good coaches and it is going to be low commitment-one practice a week.”
These runners will not receive scholarship money but will run in a low pressurized environment with one weekly practice. Depending upon the runner and their goals, Hazen said that runners could run every weekend, every other weekend or train for a race that is months away.
In Hazen’s system the prospective runners can expect to see significant improvement. According to the cross country program, many high school runners who are in the program for four years see at least a one minute drop in their 5k time.
“The first year I was here I took two minutes off of my 5k time,” said senior cross country runner Bryan Eckenfels. “If they are dedicated enough they will see progress.”
As for affiliation with Malone, Hazen said these runners will be on the official cross country roster but will not sport the official uniform at races. The uniform these runners will wear is not yet known or determined. Hazen said he hopes to get sponsorship for the club through local running stores such as Second Sole for expenditures such as uniforms.
Other challenges this upstart program will have to face will be recruiting students to run, getting the word out about the beginning of the club and providing nationally recognized competition for prospective runners. In the NAIA, the Pioneers could have provided a marathon race for runners at the national meet.
However, after this year the Pioneers will no longer be affiliated with the NAIA as they make the move to the NCAA. The notable change for this club would be that the NCAA does not provide a national meet like the NAIA. Therefore, athletic director Charlie Grimes said this new program will look into entering high-caliber road race championships and entering USA club championships as well.
As for recruiting, Hazen said the Pioneers are in the process of searching for runners in high school who would fit into the program’s criteria. This means that now Hazen is not just recruiting the top-flight runners but the mid-level runners as well.
Currently Hazen said the team has about 120 people on both the men and women’s side that they are looking into having come to Malone for this program. In some sense this running group can also serve as a breeding ground for the Pioneers cross country varsity team.
“I like to see good runners and maybe some of these people will develop as they come without a scholarship and all of a sudden get a lot better,” Hazen said. “Out of this pool I may get several talented runners who could help us at the varsity level.”
According to Grimes and Hazen, the participation that is expected to be seen for this program is the big unknown. There is not much precedence at smaller schools like Malone for a club like this so the participation is something of a question mark. A key to getting participants will be to recruit a certain type of athlete.
“We got to target the right individual,” Grimes said. “Basically it is going to be someone who may not want the heavy rigors of a day-to-day grind of being on a varsity team.”
One of the main selling points for this recruitment process will not only be what this program offers athletes but also the coaching they will receive. With the great coaching resume that Hazen has built in the sport of running, Grimes said he expects it to be easier to network and recruit athletes.
As for current students interested in the program there is much excitement over the opportunity to be coached by Hazen and be apart of a running environment.
“I think to just get back into that environment in team running and having a set schedule is exciting,” said junior nursing major Alison Miller who ran high school cross country at Crestview High School in Ashland, Ohio.
Not only does Hazen hope that he could possibly gain runners for his varsity team with this club but he also wants to provide an environment for running for people who may want to run marathons one day. For example, about 10 years ago Zach Gingerich, America’s top ultramarathoner and winner of the 2010 Badwater Ultramarathon that runs through Death Valley, ran for Hazen.
Hazen said that at the time Gingerich was an average runner for him and never cracked the top 5 on his varsity team but whatever “triggered” him to keep running is what he wants to be able to “trigger” in other runners through this program.
Obviously, with such remarkable athletes that Hazen routinely pulls into his varsity team there could be some intimidation for these lower level runners as they run with the team. Hazen’s hope is that his varsity runners will not bring down these club runners but will instead help them by encouraging them.
“Any meet you go to, in a distance race, the last runner in the race usually gets more applause than the winner because people just admire that person for hanging in there,” Hazen said. “That is the kind of philosophy I want to embrace. Be a runner and no matter what your level you can be successful.”
Chris Sherwood is sports editor and contributing writer for The Aviso.