Hawkeye runners eager to compete

BY BEN ROSS | OCTOBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's cross-country team will resume competition this weekend after a three-week hiatus, traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., to compete in the Chile Pepper Festival on Saturday.

The 10-kilometer event will feature more than 80 college teams and will be a similar atmosphere to the Roy Griak Invitational in which the squad ran last month.

This weekend's meet will feature top competition from across the country for the Black and Gold. Teams such as No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 15 Arkansas, and No. 27 Texas A&M will be there to showcase their talents.

Even though 19 days have passed since the Hawkeyes last competed, head coach Larry Wieczorek said he doesn't think the time off will affect his runners. Sometimes, he said, the extra rest is a good thing.

"I think the [time off] can be tough for the younger guys," he said. "We've had three weeks off, and our guys have gotten better. We've had really good workouts, and sometimes, when you don't race for a while, it's a good thing. Our runners will be anxious, and it's good for guys to be eager to run."

This weekend will also be the first time since Sept. 2 that junior all-American Jeff Thode will be in the lineup for the Hawkeyes. Thode has missed the last two meets for Iowa to rest and because of a family emergency. Even though he hasn't competed on the course with his team for a while, he said he doesn't think his performance will be inhibited.

"I don't think [running will be affected] by the time off," the Schaumburg, Ill., native said. "I've been training with the team and doing what I've always been doing. I should be fine."

Wieczorek is particularly excited about his star runner getting back into action, and he said he was anxious to see how Thode will fair against the top competition in Arkansas.

"It's a very big race for [Thode]," the 25-year head coach said. "He's coming off an All-American season and hasn't competed in a long time. [But] I'm not worried. This weekend will be a really good assessment for him."

This will also be a big weekend for junior Nick Holmes, who is coming off arguably his best performance as a Hawkeye; he finished 20th overall at the Griak Invitational in St. Paul, Minn.

Holmes has battled a myriad of injuries, including shin splints, tendinitis, and most recently, a serious viral infection. The junior said he looks forward to racing this weekend and believes the squad can be successful — especially after racing in a similar format at the Griak.

"This race is going to be just as big, if not bigger, than the Roy Griak," the Peoria, Ill., native said. "Our team has been running together better, and our chemistry is doing really well. We can't be too fast or too slow, we just need to get out there and go with it. We've been training for 10K all year. We've had good practice, and we're ready to get there and run."

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