Coach says women’s track must run smart to run better

by David La

As she completed the 1,500-meter run at the Maroon and Gold Open Saturday, exhausted junior Rasa Michniovaite needed a trainer to keep her upright for several minutes.
But this example of heroism personified all that is right and wrong with distance runners, and perhaps track and field athletes on the whole, according to coach Gary Wilson.
“Their greatest strength is their greatest weakness,” Wilson said. “They’ll run through a wall for you, but that has to be tempered with the idea of being smart early, so you’ll feel a lot better late and run better times.”
Michniovaite was aiming for a sub-4:20 time in the 1,500, and received assistance in her quest from Fran ten Bensel, a former All-American at Nebraska. Now competing for New Balance, ten Bensel set a pace that Michniovaite kept up for three laps before falling back in the last 300 meters.
Though she went on to run a personal best and NCAA provisional qualifying time of 4:22.83, Wilson was somewhat critical of Michniovaite’s pace, which he considered impatient and ultimately costly.
“It’s called race distribution,” Wilson said, “and it wasn’t good today.”
Though she did fall short of the sub-4:20 goal, Michniovaite was thankful for ten Bensel’s competitive assistance, and encouraged by her own performance.
“She helped me very much because it’s difficult to run by yourself,” Michniovaite said. “She helped to pace me.
“I left everything on the track and that’s a good sign.”
Another good sign for the Gophers included senior Yvette White’s personal record and NCAA provisional qualifying time of 59.01 in the 400-meter hurdles. White has been hampered by a hip-flexor this season, but said she is “happy now. I ran a ’59,’ and my goal was under ’60.'”
The Gophers went on to win nine events overall, though the true test of their ability will come in two weeks at the Big Ten championships May 21-23.
Performances like Michniovaite’s had Wilson somewhere between satisfied and frustrated, but he concluded the desire of his athletes to give the most of themselves isn’t such a burden after all.
“These people are motivated,” Wilson said. “It’s better to have to reign someone in than having to kick them in the butt all the time.”