24: Bailin evolves into a running sensation

Sept. 15, 2009

24 Hawkeyes to Watch: S. Bailin

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, Aug. 12, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2009-10 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Much like acing a biology Honor’s research project, the development of a distance runner — or in Sam Bailin’s case, the evolution of a distance runner — requires patience, persistence and of course, practice.

For Bailin, a walk-on cross country/track performer from West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley High School, he is a student with a capital S and an athlete with a small A.

“Studies are what we’re here for,” Bailin said. “We’re students first, athletes second.”

Bailin sports a 4.0 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and he is working toward a bachelor’s degree in evolution. Bailin is currently in the midst of completing a year-long research project, specifically monitoring fruit flies.

“For me, it’s pretty easy because I like it and it’s interesting,” Bailin said.

Balancing school and running has not been an issue for the Hawkeye junior.

“It’s not so much that I need help, I need people to understand that I might be busy at certain points,” Bailin said. “Coach (Larry Wieczorek) is very understanding about that. If I’m taking a class that goes until 3, I might be a few minutes late for practice every day, but coach works with us on that. He realizes that class comes first.”

Upon completion of one shirtless jog through Iowa City, Bailin noticed that several of his research subjects were saturated and stuck to his sweaty body.

“I stopped counting after 200 (fruit flies) were on my chest,” Bailin said. “My teammates were like, `You would count!'”

“We’re training year-round,” Wieczorek said. “These kids are working all year, so one or two days when you have to let somebody go to take care of academic business — I don’t have a problem whatsoever.”

When Bailin has a spare moment from Monday through Friday, he becomes restless to pass the time. Usually he turns to a text book.

“I don’t like to have down time. If it’s a weekend, I’m fine with just sitting around and relaxing. But if it’s a weekday and I’m not running and I’m not doing research, I feel guilty. Then I’ll study for a couple hours and that kind of adds up after awhile. I never actually feel like I’m studying that much. It’s mostly just to keep myself busy.”
UI distance runner
Sam Bailin

“I don’t like to have down time,” said Bailin, who also enjoys playing the piano. “If it’s a weekend, I’m fine with just sitting around and relaxing. But if it’s a weekday and I’m not running and I’m not doing research, I feel guilty. Then I’ll study for a couple hours and that kind of adds up after awhile. I never actually feel like I’m studying that much. It’s mostly just to keep myself busy.”

Bailin experienced run-of-the-mill success as a high school competitor, qualifying for state cross country and track for three seasons. During his senior year of cross country, he placed 14th at the Class 4A state championship with a 5-kilometer time of 16-minutes, 24-seconds. He was sixth in state in the 3,200-meter run in track with a time of 9:35.64. That same year he finished ninth in the 1,500 (4:31.72).

“Sam is one of those special people you get in coaching,” Wieczorek said. “We all want to get the stars and for sure you have to have blue chip people every once in awhile to come into your program. Just as rewarding is someone that doesn’t come in with the blue chip credentials, but makes themselves into a blue chip athlete. Sam’s not there yet, but I really believe he’s on his way.”

Bailin earned a cross country letter as a freshman, competing in all six races with season-best times of 25:27 at the NCAA Pre-Nationals 8K and 33:24 at the NCAA Midwest Regional 10K. Last fall he chopped almost two minutes off his best 8K time at the Auburn Invitational (23:36) and showed a 48-second improvement at the Midwest Regional (32:36). Bailin placed 50th at the Big Ten Championships.

“It’s quite different being a walk-on because you’re coming into Division I and you have the high-caliber runners coming in,” Bailin said. “Some people see that as a disadvantage. In my case it was kind of an advantage because I was under the radar. Coach saw that I had potential, so he let me train and get used to having a year to grow as a runner. That’s what allowed me to become better. If you’re a high-caliber recruit, there’s a lot of pressure on you that first year to perform, so I think that’s harder in a way.”

Bailin prefers the 10K and 5K events in track. He redshirted as a freshman, completed the indoor season a year ago before coming down with mononucleosis prior to the outdoor season. Bailin ran 8:30.31 indoors in the 3K and 15:00.26 in the 5K.

At the regional cross country championship last November, Bailin was the No. 4 runner for the Hawkeyes (54th overall), as the team finished seventh out of 23. He expects even more success this season.

“I really feel I’m in a good position this year to do something,” Bailin said. “I felt like last year was a breakthrough, but I didn’t quite get to where I wanted to be. I put mileage in this summer and I’m in a lot better shape. I feel we have a good chance of being a great team this year, so I definitely want to be in there contributing to the team and doing what I can to carry us to nationals.”

Iowa returns five of its seven runners that competed at the 2008 regional: NCAA qualifier Jesse Luciano, Brendan Camplin, Bailin, Mark Battista and Tommy Tate.

“You’ve got to have horses in sports to be successful,” Wieczorek said. “You can recruit the horses, or sometimes people make themselves into one of the horses you need. That’s how I describe Sam. We want to be a top program in cross country and track and field. We’d like to go back to nationals in cross country. Sam is making himself into one of those horses that could help us do that this season.”

Bailin’s summer mileage total has reached nearly 90 per week with an average of 80-85.

“I get confidence because of the training,” Bailin said. “I came out of high school doing 50, maybe 60, miles a week by myself. I came here and it was kind of a big shock. Eventually I trained through it mentally and physically and came back the next year knowing what I needed to do.”