UNCG looks to carry momentum into indoor track season
By Rob Daniels
GREENSBORO, N.C. – A few antithetical concepts for your consideration: fairness and the IRS; snow and South Beach; and UNCG distance runners and downtime.
You can walk around the Health and Human Performance Building on campus and see athletes in every season in various forms of training, but nobody approaches the notion of year-round competition quite like Joey Thompson, Ashley Schnell and their teammates.
Coming off the most successful cross country year in school history and looking forward to spring outdoor events, the Spartans also have a niche season of indoor track to take on. Bone-chilling cold is inconvenient and injury amounts to frustration, but so far, it hasn't been enough to knock anybody out of commission entirely for more than a few days at a time.
They're the U.S. Postal Service minus the junk mail.
"You look to build each season upon the last one," said coach Linh Nguyen, whose athletes compete at the Liberty University Invitational this weekend. "The winter for us is our base period for (spring) track. So they do have time to hit the reset button and enough time to build up."
Thompson is an excellent case study in the demands of the schedule. He pushed himself to excellence in the fall, finishing second in the Southern Conference championships, but that came with a price. In December, he was diagnosed with an overstressed tendon in his right foot, and that kept him from running for four weeks. He didn't run with any pace until Tuesday.
"There were definitely times when I was getting angry and upset that I wasn't getting to do workouts with everyone else," he said. "But after (Tuesday) morning, I felt pretty good."
In the interim, it's not like Thompson lounged around and played X-Box.
"Biking, swimming, going to the gym," he said. "Trying to do whatever I can to stay in shape without putting all the strain on my tendon. I'm not really out of shape. Although I wasn't really running, I was still doing what I could to not lose my fitness level."
So this weekend's event will be an important gauge and further proof that a runner's work is never done.
History says it's unwise to bet against Thompson, who tossed aside crutches to place second in the 1,500-meter run at the Southern Conference outdoor meet as a freshman two springs ago. He sprained an ankle in midweek training, spent three days in ice baths and wanted to give it a go. That experience offers hope that this weekend won't be too arduous.
"The coaches and I all feel it's time for me to race," he said.
Schnell earned All-Region honors in cross country while running with a bum hamstring, an ailment brought on by a foot injury that messed with her mechanics. She didn't abstain from running for very long, but her plan apparently worked.
"My foot doesn't hurt anymore," she said. "I think we've got (the hamstring) figured out and it's feeling fine now. I hadn't been pain-free since July, so it's nice to be able to run when I can now.
"I have to make sure I keep doing the stretching I'm supposed to do."
Schnell will compete in the 3,000 and the mile with the goal of qualifying for one or both for the NCAA outdoor championships in June in Eugene, Ore. The top 48 performers in each region in regular-season competition get to the regionals, and the top 12 in each advance to the nationals.
The process of qualifying might as well start this weekend. If you can't put up a qualifying time right away, you can at least work toward it.
"I really like the mile," Schnell said. "I think I can make it to regionals in both. I've never really run a serious 3K before, so that should be interesting."
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