Gophers sophomore to run at the NCAAs

Ryan Schuster

Anna Gullingsrud’s collegiate cross country career has followed a long and winding road with a disappointing pit stop along the way. But she’s back where she wants to be.
The sophomore will compete in the NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championships today as a member of the Gophers’ squad. The race will mark the end of a difficult time for Gullingsrud.
After graduating from Mounds View High School, Gullingsrud decided to attend Purdue to run cross country and track and study fashion merchandising.
Gullingsrud quickly found that her chosen career, and the school, were not to her liking. The freshman didn’t fit in with the large Greek system at Purdue, or the rural atmosphere of tiny West Lafayette, Ind.
“I wanted to give it a chance because I didn’t want to admit that I had failed,” Gullingsrud said. “At Purdue, the guys in (fraternities) just associated with people in the Greek system. I don’t follow that type of value system.”
Gullingsrud didn’t get along with her coach or the other runners either, which left her alone, dejected and miles from home.
“There were times when I was in the dorms and I was about the only one there,” Gullingsrud said. “It was really hard.”
Running offered her an escape from the life that was crumbling around her.
She excelled on the course in her first year of cross country. Gullingsrud placed 16th out of almost 100 runners at the 1995 Big Ten Championships and was 27th out of over 250 at the District IV meet as a freshman last year with Purdue.
After the cross country season concluded, disaster struck again. Gullingsrud suffered from tendonitis in her shin and ankle after her coach at Purdue had her run in a national cross country race in Boston in the middle of the season. Gullingsrud said that this didn’t give her enough time to recover and led to her injury.
Gullingsrud was ignored by her coach and the other runners at Purdue, forcing her to recover on her own. It was then that she decided to transfer back home to Minnesota for her sophomore season.
“I regret going (to Purdue) just because I was so depressed being there, but I don’t think I’d be here running as well as I am today if I hadn’t done it,” Gullingsrud said.
Gophers cross country coach Gary Wilson echoed Gullingsrud’s sentiments.
“It gave her a different perspective,” Wilson said. “Sometimes you don’t realize what you’re missing until you go away.”
Before going to Purdue, Gullingsrud was recruited by Wilson to run cross country and track at Minnesota. She got sick, however, and cancelled her appointment to meet with Wilson and never rescheduled it.
The native of Shoreview, Minn., prefers to look at the positives that have resulted from her short stay in Purdue instead of dwelling on the negatives.
“I’m just a lot more confident and relaxed than I was last year,” Gullingsrud said. “Just being home helps a lot. It’s nice having my family around.”
Her improved confidence and a detailed summer training regimen, including running 60-65 hours a week, led to a fast start to her Gophers running career.
In the first two weeks of the season she twice broke the record for the fastest 5-kilometer time ever recorded by a Gophers woman on the Les Bolstad Golf Course in St. Paul.
Gullingsrud also broke Lori Townsend’s team-record time by nine seconds on Sept. 14 at the Minnesota Triangular. She bettered her own record by over 30 seconds two weeks later at the Roy Griak Invitational. She posted a time of 16:50. Her time is also the third-fastest 5K time ever in the Gophers women’s cross country program.
Gullingsrud’s performance in her first two meets at Minnesota earned her September Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Month honors.
After her fast start this year, the rest of her season hasn’t gone according to plan. She’s been slowed by minor illnesses in several races this season.
“Her season’s been kind of up and down,” Wilson said. “Any time there’s been adversity, she’s come back from it. She’s gotten back on the horse every time.”
Despite missing the Auburn Invitational on Oct. 12 because of the flu and being hampered by bronchitis at the Big Tens three weeks ago, Gullingsrud has been the Gophers’ top runner this season. She has placed first on the team in four of the five meets she’s competed in this season.
By far the biggest of those four finishes came at the District IV meet Nov. 16 in Champaign, Ill. Gullingsrud toured the 5K course in 17:33, and her sixth overall finish qualified her for the NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championships, which will be held today in Tucson, Ariz.
Gullingsrud hopes that she has a better start today than she did nine days ago at the district meet when she fell in the first 500 meters of the race.
“I was in shock because I thought that would never happen to me,” Gullingsrud said. “I got up and I said `I’m not going to have another bad race.’ I didn’t get out hard enough, and I got caught in the pack. I know I have to get up there right away and stay (in front) at nationals. I really want to be All-American and in the top 20 Monday.”
In order to be considered an All-American, Gullingsrud will have to place among the top 25 American finishers today.
“I think she’s got a very legitimate shot at being an All-American,” Wilson said. “She’s on top of her game right now.”