Thode set to compete at nationals


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All-American cross-country runners don't come through the University of Iowa very often. In the history of the program, there have been just five. The last 20 years have seen two, none since Stetson Steele achieved the feat in 1998.

Head coach Larry Wieczorek, an All-American at Iowa in 1966 and 1967, said having a runner of that stature helps a program in many ways. The 24-year coach cited national recognition and a nice recruiting pitch as benefits of boasting an All-American runner.

Don't expect any of that to psyche out Jeff Thode.

The Hawkeye sophomore will attempt to join that short list — and provide those accompanying perks to his program — on Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind., at the NCAA meet.

"None of it will be a distraction," Thode said. "I'll get all the nervous feelings out before and just think of it like any other race."

The Schaumburg, Ill., native hopes to repeat the stellar performance that qualified him for nationals in the first place. At the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 13, Thode ran a more patient, tactical race than he ever had — and it earned him a top-five finish. He said the plan remains the same for the national meet: Hit a comfortable stride just behind the leaders, let somebody else set the pace, and have enough left to "flip the switch" late in the race.

Wieczorek said if Thode runs the way he did at regionals, he could very well place in the top 40, which is the cut-off for All-American honors. Thode said he believes he can stick in the race's top-25.

Thode has spent this week primarily resting and recovering from the grueling 10,000-meter regional race, in preparation for another one. Wieczorek said Thode's training for the season is over, and his fitness is at its peak. All that's left now is to "stay hungry."

"You've got to avoid feeling like you've already achieved your goal and relaxing," Wieczorek said. "But I've never seen Jeff Thode not go out and get after it."

The plan, if budget allows, is to bring senior captain Mark Battista to Terre Haute in order to help Thode stay loose and focused. Battista said he was happy to help his teammate prepare.

"He could use somebody to help him warm up," Battista said. "He's obviously going to do well, so I just need to run with him and keep him company."

Wieczorek spoke with excitement about the atmosphere and events that take place the weekend of the meet, including a banquet and an awards ceremony.

"I never tire of the experience. You get to see the sport at a whole new level," Wieczorek said. "I'm just glad Jeff is taking me along as a coach. I'm looking forward to going to the banquet, having a pasta dinner, and saying to all the coaches there, 'This kid has accomplished a lot, and I get to ride his coattails.' "

Thode wasn't excited about the prospect of a banquet or award, instead bringing up a simpler motivation.

"Me making All-American," he asked. "I would just see it as my effort and hard work paying off."

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