May 13, 2008

Distance Double Duty

May 13, 2008

By Darren Shimp

Eastern Washington University distance-running extraordinaire Paul Limpf redshirted this year's indoor track season. He also suffered a hip injury that forced him out of commission for a couple weeks in February. Some days of handy work later by the talented EWU athletic training staff, and Limpf was off running once again ...

... to San Diego to compete in the USA Track and Field Cross Country Championships on February 16, finishing 69th on the 12,000-meter course.

"That's a pretty good feeling," said Limpf. "I think I could have finished in the 40s at full strength."

That boost of confidence and a dismissal of pre-race anxiety has Limpf amped and ready for this week's Big Sky Conference Track and Field Outdoor Championship (May 16-17) to be held in Sacramento. Limpf will be competing in the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters, and enters the meet ranked in the top four in the Big Sky in both events.

"I've had a problem in the past getting nervous and too worked up for races," said the secondary education and social studies major. "Going down there and having fun, just running against top of the line guys like that -- it doesn't make college competition seem as bad any more."

Two men who have already qualified for the USA Olympic Team in the marathon were in the race in San Diego. Dathan Ritzenhein and Ryan Hall finished first and fifth in that race, respectively. However, Limpf's newfound stride hasn't gone completely to his head.

"It's still going to be tough," said Limpf. "It's not like `Oh, I can beat any college guy now.' It's like `Oh, that college guy is not Ryan Hall, who just set an American record for the marathon.' It just makes it a lot easier now."

The lofty personal goals Limpf has set for himself have been in place since he walked onto the Cheney campus -- which include having his name atop the Eagle distance records. Going into the conference championship, he ranks third in EWU history in the 10K (29:57.13), only six seconds from the No. 2 spot and less than nine seconds from the school record of 29:48.6 set in 1978 by Rick Adams. His 5K time (14:09.32) ranks him second in school history behind Bob Maplestone's time of 14:09.0 set in 1972.

"I've had three straight weekends of PRs," said Limpf. "Going into conference that gives me a lot of confidence. There's a lot of good guys in our conference, but I think I can run with them now after my last few races."

Chris Zeller, Eagle cross-country head coach and distance coach for the men's track and field team formerly coached distance running at Port Angeles High School, where Limpf's Evergreen High School (Vancouver) competed against Zeller's team. He believes Limpf has brought a great deal to Eastern's distance-rich roster, buying into its system and being a good role model for the younger runners.

"It was fun to see Paul in high school, and then get to come here and work with him right away," said Zeller. "One of the very first meets we went to together, he asked, `What's the school 10K record? I plan on beating that by the time I'm done here, that record is going to be mine.' Ever since then, he's been so consistent with his training and anything you ask of him."

This outdoor season, what is asked of him is to compete in the dreaded "Distance Double." This consists of a 10K run and a 5K run in the same weekend.

The schedule for this year's conference championship at Hornet Stadium has the start times for these two only 20 hours apart, as the 10K will begin at 6:20 p.m. and the 5K at 2:35 p.m. The forecast for the weekend in Sacramento is calling for high temperatures nearing 100 degrees.

"It takes its toll on your body," said Limpf. "Just to run a 10K is enough - then to add a 5K the next day, you get about 16-17 hours rest. It's one of those things where you want to get as many points for your team as you can."

With his experience against world-class competition from February, the races won't produce the stomach butterflies of the past.

"I'm not as nervous on the big race stage as I have in the past, and that was always something that really affected me," said Limpf. "I would think, `He's national caliber, I'm going to get my butt kicked by him.' I'd get nervous and think I should be back 10 seconds and it cost me races."

Zeller predicts a future in marathons down the road for Limpf, who admits he could see himself running for a marathon organization out of Michigan.

"I think post-college, down the road five years from now, the marathon is where he ends up," said Zeller.

Limpf could also envision an early May visit to Spokane when his time as an Eagle has elapsed -- to stake his claim in the annual Lilac Bloomsday Run.

"As soon as it's all said and done, I'll want to do Bloomsday," said Limpf. "I want to get in there and be competitive, and break up that Kenyan Top 25 that they have."

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