Nagging injuries provide Hanson with new resolve

by Adam Fink

It was the longest distance of his career, but the pain of a 17-mile run was far from the mind of Minnesota’s men’s cross country runner Neil Hanson.

Following the two-hour run during the team’s training camp two weeks ago, Hanson was excited for one reason: He had just witnessed the first positive results from his summer workouts.

“My summer is going to pay off,” the 22-year-old said. “I feel like I am in the best shape I have ever been in.”

After three seasons of learning the ropes and battling injuries, Hanson enters this season following a successful summer of conditioning. This has led to lofty expectations for Hanson to help carry a Gopher squad returning its top-seven runners.

The 26th-ranked Gophers open the season at the Brigham Young Invitational on Saturday, and Hanson is ready to embark on his primary goal of making second team All-Big Ten.

“I haven’t lived up to my potential yet,” the four-year scholarship runner said. “I got some things to prove.”

Change didn’t happen overnight for Hanson. Last season, the Fairmount native was the Gophers fourth-best finisher at both the Big Ten championships and the Midwest Regional meet.

At the NCAA championships, Hanson regressed and finished last among the seven Minnesota runners competing. Back and hamstring tightness hurt his performance, the latest in a long line of bothersome injuries.

Hanson had his appendix removed as a freshman. Since his sophomore year, a hamstring injury has affected his performance. The applied economics major knew he needed to do something drastic to build durability and prevent future occurrences.

“The challenge with Neil has always been to get his body to respond,” said men’s cross country coach Steve Plasencia, who helped Hanson set a workout for the summer. “He had to develop cross country running. He is in position to have a great year.”

Hanson began a vigorous summer schedule by lifting weights in the wee hours of the morning, heading to his full-time internship at US Bank, and then running at night.

The consistency is far cry from the freshman who came to Minnesota over three years ago.

“I was thrown in the mix,” the 1998 Minnesota State Cross Country champion said. “I didn’t know what to expect. What do I do? It has taken me four years to grasp the mileage and intensity of college running.”

Hanson has established himself as one of the top four runners for the Gophers and understands this is his last chance to make a lasting mark on the team.

After last season’s Gopher squad finished in 25th at the NCAA championships, Hanson has made it his personal goal to help improve on the mark and along the way enjoy a career year.

“I am ready for a bigger role,” Hanson said. “I have some experience and am old as anyone on this team. Knowing that I have done the work and put in my time, I am ready for the results.”

Adam Fink welcomes comments at [email protected]