Past Tribulations Help Herrera In Final Season
BOULDER – When the pandemic started in 2020, it would have been easy for most collegiate athletes to just go home and forget about training for a while. But that was not what Eduardo Herrera chose to do.
Heading into what he thought would be his final year at the University of Colorado, he wanted to be ready for the 2020-21 season, so he went to work.
His serious training started in June of 2020 and he did most of that work alone. With no schedule planned out, he just wanted to get in shape to be ready for the upcoming season.
After returning to campus in August to train with his teammates, the Pac-12 Conference decided not to have any fall sport competitions which was tough on all athletes. Herrera remembers thinking, "If I can just continue to work and stay in shape and stay fit, whatever is going to come next, I'll be ready for it."
And he was.
When the Buffaloes were finally able to compete the calendar had turned to the next year, 2021. Herrera recorded a second-place finish at the season-opener on February 5, at the FSU Winter Classic in Tallahassee, Fla. At the Battle Born Collegiate Challenge two weeks later in Las Vegas, Herrera recorded a third-place finish. His hard work and his training for all of those months was showing.
Then on March 5, 2021, he was able to etch his name into part of CU's legacy, becoming a Pac-12 Individual Cross Country Champion in University Place, Wash., more than four months later than the meet is typically held. Herrera won the 2020 conference title in 22:30.9, defeating the runner-up in the 8-kilometer race by 11 seconds.
With the win, he became the second-straight Buff to earn the title, following in Joe Klecker's footsteps from 2019.
"This is annually one of the best, if not the best, cross country conference in the country," head coach Mark Wetmore said following the race. "It's hard to win as a team and it's hard to win it as an individual. I think we had a long dry spell before (Joe) Klecker won a year ago. So to have him win it this year is rewarding. He had the best training of his life since we all got shut down in March. He did very good work alone, which distance winners have to do and it paid off today."
Klecker went on to finish second at the 2019 NCAA Championships following his conference title, which was a good sign to Herrera, or so he thought.
Herrera raced at NCAAs 10 days later on March 15, in Stillwater, Okla. Due to Covid, the NCAA decided to forgo the usual regional meets that helped decide the NCAA field and had a committee select the 31-team field instead. The race also increased from 8-kilometers to 10k for the men, a change that is typically made for the first time at regionals.
Unfortunately when Herrera got to the line at NCAAs, his nerves got the best of him and he ended up finishing 107th. It was the first time during the season he was not CU's first scorer as he placed fourth for the Buffs.
"I've never been so nervous," he said looking back at it. "I still remember to this day how nervous I was. I don't think it was the fact that I was tired. I just felt like I was expecting a lot out of myself. As a Pac-12 Champion, you're going into nationals thinking you need to place top five or better. For me, that's all I had in my mind and I think leading up to the race I was just thinking about it too much; I made it bigger than what it was."
After nationals, Herrera rebounded and went on to run several amazing races on the track. He clocked the second-fastest 5,000-meter run time in CU history (13:24.46) and set the school record in the 1,500 (3:38.09). He also ran at the U.S. Olympic Trials and made the finals in the 5k.
He could have hung up his spikes but when he was offered another year of eligibility, he could not pass it up.
"I felt like I had unfinished business," Herrera said. "I thought about it and I felt like I didn't finish the season the way I wanted to finish it. Coming back here gives me another opportunity to be able to do what I wanted to do; become a national champion and a back-to-back Pac-12 champion.
"Part of the reason I came here was because of the history," he said. "Where I'm from, people say, 'Colorado is really, really good.' It's all business here and I think for me just picking this school because of the history, because of the coaches, because of seeing the potential that I can have here as an individual and then five years later that resulting in me becoming a Pac-12 Champion has meant a lot to me."
The 2021 season is in full swing as the Buffaloes are gearing up for the postseason. Herrera is surrounded by a different group of men this year than last year with several new graduate transfers in the varsity line-up.
"I think it helps that we're, in a sense, old of age because we're mature and we know what we want," Herrera said. "We know our goals. That makes it very easy for us to get on the same page. I feel like this team is special and I think that we definitely have a team on the podium for national, so I'm very excited for this team. We have a very good group of guys here."
While Herrera knows the team is special and has aspirations of winning the Pac-12 Championship back from Stanford this Friday, October 29, in Salt Lake City, before they have a chance to earn a top-four finish at the NCAA Championship, he knows he needs to score a few points for that to happen.
"I want to defend my Pac-12 title and try to do the best I can for my team in nationals, which is one point to win nationals and I think it's possible," he said. "I just have to continue to work hard and help my teammates out throughout the process."
No matter what happens during the next month, it's great to see how the last five-plus years Herrera has been able to learn some important lessons from his highs and lows.
"I'm appreciative about these experiences because it just makes me a better runner," he said. "I know what it takes and I know what to do for these important races."