Editor’s Note: On Aug. 11, the Big Ten Conference announced the postponement of the 2020-21 fall sports season, including all regular-season contests and Big Ten Championships due to ongoing health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — A majority of college student-athletes want competition and they want it now. An exception is University of Iowa sophomore cross country runner Leah Kralovetz.
Don’t be misled, Kralovetz would toe the starting line in a minute and whenever the pistol is fired, she undoubtedly would be with the lead pack. But, Kralovetz is still young and she is still recovering from a partially torn plantar facia. So, another year of non-stressful training in a collegiate setting is just what the doctor ordered.
“I was thankful from a running standpoint that we didn’t have a season,” Kralovetz said. “Now I can ease into everything. I like to push the pedal, go fast and train hard, so this makes me slow down a little bit.”
College training can quickly turn into a vicious cycle for a developing runner, said Randy Hasenbank, Iowa’s associate head coach for distance. Their training cycle bounces from cross country, to indoor track, to outdoor track, then back to summer training. The anxieties and demands multiply when an injury is involved.
“This fall being put on hold as far as competition makes Leah even more dangerous,” Hasenbank said. “She will have an opportunity to grow without having to force herself into meets.”
In her first season, Kralovetz fared well in meets, too.
As a true freshman in 2019, she was Iowa’s top runner in three of five competitions, including a fourth-place effort over 5 kilometers at the Woody Greeno/Jay Dirksen Invitational on Sept. 21 in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a 16th-place showing over 6K at the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Her performance at regionals sticks out: Kralovetz averaged 5:40 per mile and was the first freshman finisher…not just on the Iowa team, but among the entire nine-state area.
Her prerace motto? Keep it simple.
“That’s when I started to realize that I just needed to run free and not worry about the expectations people have,” Kralovetz said. “I enjoy running so I was simply going to enjoy it and not make it anything more.”
Aside from experiencing discomfort in her foot, Kralovetz felt strong and left everything on the Stillwater course. It didn’t shock Hasenbank. He saw her potential as a senior at Denmark (Wisconsin) High School, located 20 miles south of Green Bay and a five-hour car ride from Iowa City. A late addition to the running scene — she emphasized soccer until her junior year of high school — in the fall of 2018, Kralovetz won the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division II cross country title by 33 seconds. She backed that up in the spring of 2019 with state titles on the track in the 3,200-meter (10:38.12) and 1,600 runs (4:56.84).
“She had a tremendous senior year of high school and we were not surprised by the (freshman) season she had,” Hasenbank said. “We knew she was capable of what she did at the end of the (2019) season. It is something that will fuel her for the next time; she got off to a good start and now she wants to do better.”
Kralovetz thrives on a lower-mileage work load and has run her way back to training 35 miles a week. That recipe serves her well, even if it is many miles less than many of her teammates.
Another benefit to the fall season being canceled is that Kralovetz, a Dean’s List student, doesn’t worry about finishing homework on a bus to and from a meet and it leaves more time for studying on weekends. Kralovetz is majoring in enterprise leadership with a minor in sports and recreation management.
Her dream job?
“I was thankful from a running standpoint that we didn’t have a season. Now I can ease into everything. I like to push the pedal, go fast and train hard, so this makes me slow down a little bit.”Leah Kralovetz
“I want to open my own coffee shop, bakery or café,” she said. “I like baking and cooking.”
For now, Kralovetz is following a formula of running success handed down by Hasenbank. The example she has set is an inspiration to Hawkeye teammates, young and old.
“It sets a high bar because she is willing to work hard,” Hasenbank said. “It’s nice to see a wildly talented person work just as hard as anybody else. She got off to a good start and now she wants to do better.”
The next competition for Kralovetz could come during the 2020-21 indoor track and field season; because of the foot injury, she did not compete during the indoor season a year ago. The fact she is already on the threshold of being one of the top distance runners in the region won’t be a distraction. She intends to keep on keeping it simple.
“You can’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low,” she said. “You have to remain steady through it all. College running is temporary, there is so much more to life than what is right in front of us.”