Hawkeye runners head to Illinois for Big Ten Championships

BY BEN ROSS | OCTOBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's cross-country team will travel to Champaign, Ill., this weekend to compete in the Big Ten championships. The men's meet will begin at 10:45 a.m. Oct. 30.

The Black and Gold finished ninth out of 32 teams in their last competition, the Chili Pepper Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. Junior All-American Jeff Thode finished 17th overall in the event, and he has placed first for the Hawkeyes in the last nine meets in which he has competed.

Thode said routine in practice has changed to better prepare the runners for the most important meet the squad has competed in all season.

"We've been doing longer runs and shorter workouts," he said. "We're going a long steady distance — seven 14-mile runs that last around 70-90 minutes. Those long runs help get the lactic acid built up in your legs out, which helps you react quicker when it's race time."

Although Thode and the Hawkeyes are a talented team, it's been hard for them to gain recognition because of their conference and the tough meets in which they have competed. The Big Ten has the second-most top-30 ranked teams in the nation, with five: No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 7 Indiana, No. 12 Minnesota, No. 21 Michigan, and No. 26 Ohio State. The Pac-12 leads with six teams in the top 30.

Head cross-country coach Larry Wieczorek is still optimistic about his team's chances, even though his runners will face some stiff competition in Illinois. He said the Hawkeyes are good enough to crack the top-five as a team on Sunday and said he took some pages out of football coach Kirk Ferentz's book to help motivate his squad.

"I listen to Kirk when he talks about football and feel the same way about us," the 25th-year head coach said. "Every team in the Big Ten is a challenge in football, as it is in cross-country. Every team is tough, even though it may not look that way; if we can take care of our goals, I know we're good enough to get past the Big Ten teams."

Although the practice schedule has been altered to better prepare for the Big Ten meet, junior Nick Holmes said he thinks being mentally prepared prior to and during the competition is just as important as being physically ready.

"With the extra rest, we still need to get in shape and keep up strength," the Peoria, Ill., native said. "Mentally, you need to put yourself on another level. You need to think about what you want to do during the race, and get yourself psyched up without putting too much pressure on yourself."

Because the Big Ten competition is such a star-studded event, one might expect the runners to place the meet on a pedestal. But Thode said the race this weekend is no different than any other.

"We're going to treat this like any other race," he said. "Conference, regional, national — they're all the same."

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