Hawkeyes' Thode hopes to break the four-minute mile mark


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The Iowa men's track team will divide its roster across numerous meets for the second weekend in a row.

The bulk of the Hawkeyes will head to Ames for the Cyclone Classic; others will make their way to Fayetteville, Ark., for the Tyson Invitational or to Seattle for the Husky Invitational.

All-Americans Jeff Thode and Erik Sowinski will compete in the Husky meet, a famously competitive field in which they've both had success. Both hope they can post the national qualifying times they've been waiting for all season, they said.

"The earlier you can get a qualifying mark in the season, it's just going to be that much easier on you later on," Sowinski said.

Thode set a school record in the 3,000 meters last year in Seattle, but he'll focus on the mile this year. It's a distance he struggled with last weekend at the Meyo Invitational; he entered that meet hoping to break the four-minute mark for the second time in his career, and head coach Larry Wieczorek said the race would be an important milestone for the talented junior. The longtime Iowa coach called it "his first opportunity this year to really try to go run fast."

Thode finished at the front of his heat and earned ninth place overall, but he fell short of the four-minute mark with a 4:08.06.

"I was on pace for a 3:57-3:56 if I finished the last 400 [meters] strong," Thode said. "It was a learning experience for me, to run 4:08. I couldn't believe I went from running that fast to winding up with that slow of a time."

Thode said the disappointing time came from a lack of motivation from being at the head of the pack for most of the race. This weekend, he said, he's in shape to break four minutes against stiffer competition.

"Coach and I weren't really disappointed about it, because we felt that maybe if I had raced differently and had someone lead me instead of leading the entire pack, I would've easily broken four minutes," Thode said. "We have some kinks to work out β€” hopefully, this weekend will be a little bit better."

Thode might find himself in a familiar bind if he can't break four minutes this weekend, with just over a month to go before the NCAA indoor championships. His breakout performance in the mile at last season's national championship wouldn't have been possible without a last-minute qualifying bid at a last-chance meet.

But Thode said he doesn't find the prospect of coming down to the wire overly frightening.

"In the back of my mind, I have a feeling that might be the case," he said. "In realistic terms, I don't really care as long as I get under four minutes before the end of the indoor season. That satisfies me."

Sowinski has also had his fair share of success at the Husky Invitational. This year, he'll try to do the same against some of the nation's best middle-distance runners.

"That's definitely the reason to go up there: to compete against some of the top competition in the country and hopefully qualify for nationals," Sowinski said.

In Ames, Troy Doris β€” the top triple-jumper in the Big Ten thanks to a mark he set two weeks ago in Fayetteville β€” will shift his focus to sprinting.

"I'm really focusing on my 60 [meter dash] this weekend; I'm really hoping to get a faster time," Doris said. "I'm hoping I can take a little bit of my technique into competition, not just be a really good athlete in practice."

The Hawkeyes will return home on Feb. 17 to host the Iowa Invitational, the Hawks' last meet before the Big Ten indoor meet on March 9-10 in Lincoln, Neb.

"This is definitely a big weekend for a lot of guys, and hopefully, we'll put up some big marks," Sowinski said.

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