Dec. 8, 2010
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa —There is at least one reason University of Iowa distance runner Jeff Thode climbs cross country performance lists while leaves are falling and temperatures dip.
“I prefer colder weather over warmer weather. It’s a lot easier to breath,” said Thode, the UI’s most-recent All-American.
So it makes sense that on Nov. 22, Thode, a 20-year old from James B. Conant High School in Schaumburg, Ill., became the sixth person in school history to become an All-American in cross country. Thode covered the 10 kilometer LaVern Gibson course in Terre Haute, Ind., in 30-minutes, 21.4-seconds, for 30th place — 12 seconds out of the top 15.
“It’s an accomplishment,” Thode said. “I’m definitely happy about it, but I’m not going to be too worried about basking in the glory or clouding my mind on how I train. I see it as a stepping stone in my running and I’ll move on from there.”
Thode is the first All-American cross country Hawkeye since Stetson Steele in 1998. Just a sophomore, he now has a chance to be the first two-time All-American since Kevin Herd in 1992 and ’93.
“I had no idea we hadn’t had an All-American (for 12 years) until I saw it in the paper,” Thode said.
A person that did know was 24-year UI head coach Larry Wieczorek, a cross country All-American for the Hawkeyes in 1966 and ’67.
“It was really exciting and it certainly pleased me,” Wieczorek said. “People don’t realize how tough cross country is in general and then how deep of a field there is. To be in the top 30, 40, 50 or even 60…when you look at the names of the people that are way back in the field, it’s really tough and it says a lot about Jeff to do that as a sophomore in his first trip to nationals.”
Thode was named second-team All-Big Ten after finishing ninth at the league championships Oct. 31 in Verona, Wis., where he ran 23:56 in an 8K race on the Thomas Zimmer course. He followed that with a fifth-place finish at the Midwest Regional in Peoria, Ill., running his first 10K of the season in 29:55.78.
“Jeff ran terrific at the Big Ten meet and then he followed that up with a 10K at the NCAA regional which was really an outstanding race,” Wieczorek said. “One of the things I’m worried about when you get to nationals is, No. 1, do you recover physically in a short period of time for the 10K, and then, are you hungry? Have you recovered mentally to do it all over again, even at a higher level?”
The pace was brisk at nationals with Thode zipping to a time of 5:50 at 2,000 meters and 15:07 at the mid-way point. His final 5K was run in 15:14.4.
“I needed to go out strong and get ahead of the entire pack because I knew I was going to fall back,” Thode said. “It was a little tiring because the pace went out a little faster than it normally goes out. I was caught off guard, so that’s why it didn’t look like I was at my best.”
The top 40 finishers at the national meet earn All-American status.
“Good athletes have a special intelligence about them,” Wieczorek said. “Jeff went in with a focus of being in the top 25, then he had a little cushion to make All-American. His focus was to get right in there and hang on with that group from the start. He had a strong finish and placed in that All-American group.”
To Thode, running is running, although he prefers the shorter distances in track and field (1,500 meters and mile) to the 10K in cross country.
“I like to go fast and I can’t really do that during the cross country season,” said Thode, who logs 75 miles a week. “I hammer hard every day, no matter what the mileage is.”
It was a strong conclusion to his freshman track season that helped spring Thode into elite status as a cross country runner. In the first round of the NCAA West Preliminary in Austin, Texas, last May, Thode broke the Myers Stadium and the UI school record in the 1,500 with a time of 3:43.02. He advanced to the quarterfinals where he placed 18th in 3:47.12, but did not qualify for the final round in Eugene, Ore.
“In the track season I realized I was so close and I could do it in cross country,” Thode said. “I want to make it to the finals at nationals and become an All-American in the 1,500 and try to be an All-American in the mile during the indoor season.”
Thode owns the Hawkeye records for the indoor mile (4:03.07) as well as the 1,500. He also owns the 1,500 record on Iowa’s Francis X. Cretzmeyer track.
“I’m a big believer that one season leads to the next,” Wieczorek said. “Success in cross country leads to success on the track for a distance runner and vice versa. They work hand-in-hand with each other. Those top people at the cross country championships are a `who’s who’ of the track and field All-Americans as well. I think that’s setting Jeff up for a good track and field season.”