Pre-Meet Q&A with NCAA Contender Chris Derrick
Nov. 23, 2009
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Chris Derrick, Stanford's sophomore distance running star, enters Monday's NCAA cross country championships in Terre Haute, Ind., as a strong contender for a team and individual championship double. Stanford has never won an individual title, but enters the race as the nation's top-ranked team.
As Derrick prepared for the race, he broke down the meet with David Kiefer of Stanford Athletics:
Q: How would you describe the LaVern Gibson Championship 10K course?
A: It's got one big outer loop, and three inner loops. It begins with a big flat wide open start. You start off very quickly. There are no killer steep hills, but a lot of the course is uphill. It kind of builds up gradually. It's not a super tough course, but it's pretty fair. It's really easy to move up because it's so wide. It's a strength course, but not ridiculous.
Q: What will be Stanford's strategy?
A: Our team likes to get out in front and get involved early. I think if you look at NCAA cross country the last 10-15 years, there's really only one team that can come from behind, and that's Colorado. They train at altitude, so they have a little different set of skills. By training at altitude they might have more aerobic strength, but you don't get to work on your speed quite as much, so it's harder for them to get out hard.
We'll just try to put ourselves in a pretty strong position. We'll have a strong presence at the front without putting in too much work the first 5K, and really work with our teammates and roll people down the last 2 or 3K.
Q: Which teams are you most concerned about?
A: Talent-wise, Oklahoma State is the team we're most worried about, just because they have the potential to score really low. Oregon, with their guys' past history, can definitely get faster, but given the way they ran at Pac-10s and regionals, they're going to have to turn it around pretty quick. They're a couple of other teams, NAU has a couple of good guys if they all run well.
Q: Can Oklahoma State's German Fernandez (the American junior 5,000-meter record-holder and 2009 NCAA 1,500 champion) win at this distance?
A: He could eventually. I don't know what kind of fitness he's in. He's had some injury problems this year. He's talented enough. He can definitely do it. I just don't know what kind of shape he's in.
Q: If you came in second, but the team won, would that be satisfying?
A: That would be great. I would definitely be happy with that.
Q: What about your chances to win?
A: It's something I'd like to try and do, but our team this year has been very very focused on trying to win NCAAs. That would be the defining reason on whether or not we're satisfied.
Q: Could you sacrifice the team title by going for an individual win?
A: For the most part, no. You help the team by scoring as low as you can. There are some strategies that come into play. (Liberty's 2009 NCAA runner-up) Sam Chelanga likes to go out pretty hard, and when you're running more for your team, you can't take as many risks. You can't run the first mile in 4:20 with Chelanga and blow up and lose 20 points for your team. You might want to work with your teammates for the first part while trying to keep the pack together. Also, But for the most part, that's not something that would be a problem.
Q: How important can those Nos. 6 and 7 guys be?
A: They definitely matter because the strength of our team is our depth. Things happen all the time, people have bad races. It's really important to have that depth at 6 and 7. And also what we've seen in the past few meets is our sixth guy moves up some spots. The meet could be really close, and I think if we can get our sixth man up to our five and Oklahoma State's five, they could displace and that could be the difference.
Q: How important is cross country in comparison to track for you?
A: When it comes to individual accomplishments, track is considered more important. On the international level, world cross country is a pretty big deal, but it's not as important as many track races. But I think at the college level, cross country is very important because it gives you a chance to showcase the strength of your team. It's the distance championship. Who has a better distance program? So, I would say it's 50-50 in college. We really value it, to show how strong our team is.
Q: What is it about the way you run races that sets you apart?
A: I don't think I do anything too crazy. What I try to focus on is being consistent in my training all the time, a consistent mental outlook. I like to think I do a pretty good job of always putting in the work and being as emotionally steady as I can. But, in races, probably my biggest strength is being able to make a strong move with about 2-3K to go and make a sustained drive. That's tough because you know you're going to hurt.
Q: How confident are you that you can pull it off?
A: I feel really good about where I'm at training-wise. I feel really strong. One of things is when you make a move like that, they hang on for a while, especially at this level because the guys are pretty good. It brings some doubt in, but I always try to think about Haakon DeVries, who was on the team last year. He told me when I first got to college that 'good guys take a long time to die.'
This year, I'm more confident than I was last year. It happened at the end of track season a little bit. I spent a lot of track season following other people, not making real decisive moves. I developed more of that this year.
Q: Is that something you consciously worked on, being more assertive?
A: I think it's more the confidence thing. It's not something really talked about too much. It's just happened naturally after getting more adjusted to college racing and feeling better about where I'm at.
Q: Have you been influenced at all by Galen Rupp, running against him so often as a freshman last year?
A: It's tough to say. There's nothing I can really point to specifically. I think at the time, it was, this guy's really good. He was at such a different fitness level than anyone else at NCAAs. It was almost tough to glean anything off of that because he probably would have won it any way he could have run. I've probably learned more about how to race from guys that are at my level, figuring out more about what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Q: Can you describe coach Jason Dunn's coaching style? What does he emphasize?
A: Jason is all about `just put in the work.' `I don't want anything crazy,' you know, on the last interval or whatever. There's no real workout that we circle as though it's the big workout. Just focus on aerobic development, especially in cross country. We just run solid volume. He doesn't really have any workout where he wants us keeling over afterward. It's really, all throughout the season leading up to Nationals, it's being emotionally solid, not getting too invested in one race or one workout. Minimal ups and downs. That's kind of his personality too, just trying to keep everything on an even keel, until you're ready to run.
Q: Are you running high mileage?
A: I don't think it's higher mileage than normal. I think it's pretty standard. I think we've got guys around 90 miles a week. Peter (Tegen) was a lower mileage coach before Jason took over, and we had a lot of young guys. I think it took a little time to build up. I wouldn't say we're an exceptionally high mileage program. We're probably in the middle of the road. Maybe next year, we'll have guys getting close to 100.
Q: How often do you run?
A: I run about 11-12 times a week. Elliott (Heath) and I, we like to get up in the morning with the guys and practice at the golf course. Get out there before the golfers get out there. It's really nice. I like to run barefoot out there on the grass. We're really thankful for what they've done, letting us use the facility.
Q: Do you have a favorite run on the weekend?
A: We usually go to Huddart Park. I like to go out and run the first part and come down off this road and come downhill for about two miles. Ever since high school, I like to pick up the end of my long runs and start flying for about 3 or 4 miles at the end.
Q: Have you read 'Born to Run'? It has some revolutionary ideas about running, including running barefoot. Do you buy into that?
A: It's definitely something I would do more if I didn't have the season. But I've stayed pretty healthy so far. It's kind of, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But I do think that running on a soft surface barefoot will definitely help. It makes you run more efficiently.
Q: Was coming to place with hills and mountains a big draw for you after living in Illinois?
A: Visually, it was definitely very nice. Especially if you go up to the Dish with the sun setting and you see all the hills. You don't get that on the prairie.
Q: Does that environment make you better? Could you have done that without the hills?
A: I definitely could have. I think I just enjoy it a little more. You wake up, it's early morning, you get out and go for a run with your teammates. You think, wow, this is cool. This is a great place to be. It definitely makes things easier in terms of getting out the door in the morning.
Q: Do you have to love running to be as good as you are?
A: You definitely have to love competing, for sure. It would be really hard if you didn't. You have be really tough and focused. You definitely have to enjoy it if you're going to run at a high level, because you've got to do a lot of it. A lot of training is having the right mental attitude.
Q: Having that attitude, do you feel confident about your ability to push the envelope?
A: I think so. I'm not Superman or anything. I think everybody has doubts during races. They kind of question themselves, at least I do. I think it's just a matter of getting through those and remembering how bad you want to do well for your team. Over the years, I've been pretty satisfied with how I've been able to handle that. I'm not going to get crazy. I'm not going to come like Prefontaine and try to make myself hurt more. But I think I can be pretty tough.
Q: Were you athletic growing up with different sports?
A: I had good fundamentals. The whole lateral movement thing, and quickness, never quite came naturally. I could take the spot-up three in basketball, but I wasn't going to the rack. I stopped playing basketball and baseball in middle school and decided to concentrate on running.
Q: You mentioned Chelanga earlier, you beat him at Pre-Nationals. He likes to go out hard. How much room do you give him, and how much can you afford to give him?
A: It's a tough question. I'll be talking to Coach about it a little bit more. A lot depends on the course conditions. If it's fast, I can't afford to give him as much room because the race is going to be over quick. I feel it's a little bit harder to reel him back in when the course conditions aren't bad. Because when you start hurting, if the ground's hard, you can get through it. If you start hurting and it's muddy, you really start hurting.
It's going to be a snap judgment, I think. I'll definitely have to talk it over with Coach. At Pre-Nats I gave him about 15 seconds or so in the last 3K. A gap like that is manageable. I think what'll be important is being close enough where I still feel I'm in contact and still feel like I can go get it done. And have the confidence to make strong moves.
He's definitely a tough guy and I don't think, when we raced at Pre-Nats, that he was where he's going to be. He'll be a much tougher competitor at Nationals than he was then. He's the collegiate record-holder at 10K. When he's feeling good, he's very very good.
Q: What does it feel like to run six miles at whatever you run it at?
A: It probably feels like it did when I was running six miles at 5:10 pace. It kind of feels the same for everybody, I think, no matter how fast you're running. It kind of hurts for a little bit. You get that dull ache for about three miles. Sometimes, you recognize how fast you're running, but most of the time racing still feels the same as it did when I was 18 in a three-miler, you know? Running doesn't get easier as you go faster.
Q: Finally, what happens if you feel poorly in the opening miles? Do you let that get into your head?
A: Over 10K, you definitely have bad patches where you're just going to feel bad sometimes. A lot of times, when you finish a race, you sort of collapse from exhaustion. Then, you start to feel good about it because you ran hard, and get that post-race glow going. And then you forget how much it hurt in the middle.