Distance runners expect workout at Oregon relay meet

Monica Wright

After a successful opening of the outdoor season last week in Arizona, the Gophers men’s track team is ready to head to what assistant coach Steve Plasencia calls the “hotbed” of track and field: Eugene, Ore., for the Hayward Relays.
Eugene rose to track notoriety back in the 1970s as home of University of Oregon runner and Olympian Steve Prefontaine.
Today, the Hayward Relays are run on the same track that Prefontaine won 35 of his 38 races on. Because of Prefontaine’s legend, track is a popular spectator sport at the prestigious race.
“It’s different out there because they support track; it’s a bigger thing out there with a lot of fans,” junior Jason Owen said. “Last year there were kids running around asking for autographs — we don’t get asked that very often here. But out there we’re like star basketball players.”
Hoping to capitalize on some of the magic at Hayward Field, Minnesota is sending two strong relay teams, some individual distance runners and several field event competitors for the one-day meet to compete against the likes of Stanford, Brigham Young, and Arizona.
Conspicuously absent from the lineup are the sprinters, who posted NCAA qualifying times and broke school records over the spring break trip.
According to Plasencia, it’s not unusual for them to get a break during the season.
“Certain meets are geared towards distance and mid-distance, while others are more sprint meets, and Hayward is a distance meet,” Plasencia said. “It all comes together at the Drake Relays, but until then we prepare different runners in different meets.”
Last year at the Hayward Relays, senior Eric Pierce, the Big Ten outdoor champion in the steeplechase, earned an NCAA-qualifying time. But runners like Owen don’t expect to get record-breaking performances this early in the season.
“We should be pretty strong, as good as any team there,” Owen said. “But we’re not trying to peak here, we’re hoping to improve from the last meet. It’s still early in the year, so times don’t mean as much.”
Though the meet is early in the season, head coach Phil Lundin still expects the times to be consistent with his runners.
On the 10-day spring break trip to Arizona, Lundin expected the strong workouts but slower times posted.
“We were a little flat, but we knew we’d be flat and we competed accordingly,” Lundin said. “We want to be fairly ready for Hayward. Our training is geared toward May, so we shouldn’t be really tired now.”

Monica Wright covers track and field and welcomes comments at [email protected]