Cross-country teams ready for annual Griak Invitational

Lou Raguse

Minnesota’s men’s cross-country coach Steve Plasencia described his team going into Saturday’s Roy Griak Invitational meet as “Carlson-less.”

Running their second meet without senior Andrew Carlson, who is still recovering from injury, the Gophers are growing accustomed to running in packs to compete at the same level.

One of the runners Plasencia needs to lead those packs is junior Ryan Ford.

“He’s a competitor and a real race-day guy,” Plasencia said.

Last year, Ford finished the 8,000-meter Griak event in 25:20, which was fourth on the team. This year, Ford hopes to make a bigger impact, as he did Sept. 13 at the Brigham Young University Classic when he ran a minute faster than his 2002 time.

“I’m in a lot better shape this year going into it,” Ford said. “I want to go after it more.”

One unique aspect of Ford’s running resume is that in track and field, he specializes in the 800-meter race – quite a disparity from the 8,000-meter or 10,000-meter cross-country races.

“It’s quite a contrast to train during the season,” Ford said. “During cross, I’ll put in 70 to 80 mile weeks, and then when track starts I run 40 to 50 miles.”

Ford describes the Les Bolstad Golf Course, where the Griak is held, as one of the toughest courses the Gophers run.

“It seems like around every corner there’s a hill you need to climb,” Ford said. “On a scale of difficulty from one to five, we rate this one a four.”

Of course, one of the biggest factors in the Griak’s difficulty is its number of competitors. With 31 teams competing in the men’s Division I race, it is truly a national event.

“The race is a bell curve, with the middle very wide and the front and back ends narrow,” Plasencia said. “I tell my team not to get in the back half of that bell curve because there are so many bodies to get around.”

Gophers try to ‘pack it in’

In last year’s intrasquad race, her first on the Les Bolstad Course, Amy Lindner told herself she would finish.

Technically, she didn’t run the whole race; instead of taking the straight-away to the finish line, the dehydrated freshman women’s cross country runner veered left and passed out.

“One of the things my high school coach always told me is that your body will do what your mind tells it,” Lindner said. “So obviously I was cookin’ along, but I basically ran myself into the ground.”

Coach Gary Wilson hopes his team takes that kind of determination into Saturday’s Griak competition, as long as they do so in groups.

“What I told them (Wednesday) is the same mantra we had for this

season, which is to ‘pack it in,’ ” Wilson said. “We want as little a split between our first and fifth, and first and 10th runner.”

That style of running has helped Lindner climb into a spot as one of the Gophers’ top runners. “That’s what’s great about our team,” Lindner said. “We can compensate for all those points when we have a bunch of teammates there together, compared to a team that has one frontrunner but no one else.”

This season, Lindner has worked with senior Anita Menden on improving her starts and pacing. It has paid off. Lindner finished seventh at the intrasquad and the Oz Memorial run.

Running the Griak against 26 other teams gives Minnesota its first taste of Division I competition at a national level this season. With so many runners competing, the Gophers’ packs will need to stay as close as possible.

“Three seconds could be five finishers, so there is no room for space in there,” Lindner said.

Last season, Minnesota finished 11th out of 22 teams in the Griak, and Lindner was not one of the Gophers’ top 10 Saturday, Lindner hopes to improve her personal and team’s performance, and let her body do as her mind tells it.

As long as it says to cross the correct finish line.