Thode heads for second-straight NCAA Championships

BY BEN ROSS | NOVEMBER 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The season is over for most members of the Iowa men's cross-country team, but one runner has continued to train for one last meet.

Junior All-American Jeff Thode has been preparing for his second-straight trip to the NCAA championships, and he has the chance to be only the third Hawkeye runner to ever record two-straight All-American seasons.

The meet will be held at Indiana State's Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind., and it will be composed of 31 teams and 38 runners who qualified individually; Thode fits the latter category. The first 40 finishers earn All-American status; Thode placed 30th last year.

Head men's cross-country coach Larry Wieczorek said it's an exciting event for not only Thode, but it's also enjoyable to attend as a coach.

"I'm more excited for myself than Jeff — to heck with him," the 25-year head coach said and laughed. "I'm excited to be coaching there, I'm excited for him, and am sincerely excited to go there. I never tire of the opportunity to go there — it still remains a thrill to me."

Even though the rest of the team is done with its season, Thode still had the luxury of practicing with his teammates this week as they prepare for the track and field season. Thode said having his teammates train alongside him is invaluable during his preparation for the meet.

"Last year, I didn't really have the team to run with," the Schaumburg, Ill., native said. "This year, the team is running and training with me. Having them help me train helps me know where I'm at pace-wise, which allows me to train a little bit harder."

The meet will take place on Nov. 21, with extra festivities for the athletes and coaches — such as a banquet — planned to take place throughout the weekend.

Wieczorek, who has been to his fair share of NCAA meets in his tenure as a coach, said the event is a good tribute to the runners and the work they put in during the season.

"The banquet is Saturday night, and it's a real nice event — a chance to savor we got to nationals," he said. "It's a festive atmosphere, which gives the runners the chance to relax Saturday and Sunday to get ready to go Monday."

Assistant cross-country coach Tad Holtz will accompany Thode and Wieczorek to Indiana. He'll act as a personal trainer to Thode, working him out and joining the junior on his runs.

Holtz echoed Wieczorek by saying the event is a spectacle in and of itself and that it's an excellent chance for Thode to spread the Hawkeye influence.

"It's exciting," Holtz said. "It definitely doesn't get old seeing someone get to nationals. Thode is a tough competitor, and I'm always ready to see how good he can be. I'm excited to know he has a chance of doing something impressive for Iowa. It's a great thing to see them get together and treated as elite student-athletes"

Thode said he isn't taking his shot at the NCAAs for granted — he knows how hard runners have to work and train to reach where they are this weekend. He said he believes it's nothing a short of an honor to be a part of the festivities, and it's something he hopes to commemorate by running to the best of his ability.

"My expression last year to the banquet and stuff was that it's an honor to be with other runners," he said. "It's another honor to be with the pro athletes, and talk with the pros."

"Obviously my training has been better this year; I just have to do what I've been doing for race day. Go out with the lead … and be with that first group and aim for the top 25."

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