In a May 29 article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2008/2009 school-year.
The criteria are as follows:
Each academic year, The Bootleg's Honor Roll will recognize the top ten Stanford student-athletes who have performed at an exceptional level, with athletic accomplishments that are both extraordinary and inspirational. While achieving athletic success, these athletes should also have displayed uncommon leadership, sportsmanship and respect towards their fellow teammates and opponents. Finally, these honorees' performances and actions should also demonstrate their love for their particular sport as well as their school pride, the famed "Spirit of Stanford."
During the months of June and July, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. The Bootleg has previously announced swimmer Julia Smit, volleyball's Cynthia Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo, gymnastics' Sho Nakamori and basketball's Jayne Appel as 2008/09 Honor Roll winners. Our sixth announced member of the The Bootleg's 2008-09 Honor Roll is distance runner Chris Derrick.
In Biblical parlance, it's that there's a season for everything (as The Byrds know well). In football, it's reloading. In the Lion King, it's the circle of life. Whatever you call it, as stars fade away others must take their place.
The Honor Roll is traditionally upperclassman-dominated and this year is no exception, with all but one honoree an upperclassman. That sole rising star is distance runner Chris Derrick.
Though I have been running quasi-competitively for 10-plus years now, I'm by no means any sort of cross-country expert. It doesn't take one, however, to see that Chris Derrick has the potential to do something truly special.
Part of the joy and the frustration of distance running is the amount of training one needs to undertake to be competitive. Maybe I'm biased, as I know full well how hard basketball players, football players and all the rest work in their off-seasons, but a typical summer for a collegiate runner at a top program would consist of 140 miles per week. That's 20 miles a day, every day. Twenty-three miles per day, actually, when you consider you need to rest one day per week. And those aren't mere jogs – it's interval training, hill work, tempo runs. I dare you to find me any athletes who work harder.
(Side note: Alan Webb, the first American high schooler to break four minutes in the mile and thought five years ago to be the great US hope in distance running, was revolutionary for running such a low weekly mileage total, albeit at incredibly high intensity, such as repeat quarter-miles at a 3:30 pace. That total? "Only" 100 miles per week, or 14 miles per day, or 17 per day with a rest day.)
The trick to running such a ridiculously high weekly mileage base is two-fold. First, you need to build to your weekly triple-digit mileage total without breaking your body in the process. As the rule of thumb is that you shouldn't increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent per week, and no high schooler out there is running close to 20 miles per day, the cross country roster is perhaps the only place you're more likely to see a redshirt than an offensive line. The mere fact that Derrick competed this season was extraordinary.
Second, it doesn't take a Pre Fontaine to realize that running 20 miles a day is going to dramatically slow you down in the short-term. Add in the fact that humans' aerobic/endurance capacity seems to peak later in life than our anaerobic/explosive capacity, and it's no surprise that elite distance runners age like a fine wine. Consider that the world's best gymnasts are 16 (or 14 if they're Chinese), sprint champions are in their early 20s, with Beijing star and three-time gold medalist Usain Bolt barely old enough to drink at 21, NBA and NFL stars are thought to peak in their late-20s, but the elite marathoners of the last decade were setting .
So let all that preface serve as context to appreciate Derrick's exceptional accomplishments, because, like any distance running feat, they can be summed up pretty quickly. (After all, there's really only one stat to report.) Derrick has won four All-America honors through his freshman season: a seventh-place individual finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships as Stanford took third, its best result in six years, third in the indoor 5K and fifth in the indoor 3K championships, and, perhaps most impressively, third in the outdoor 5K NCAA Finals, where Derrick led much of the race and lost to Olympian and distance legend Galen Rupp of Oregon by a mere three seconds. Derrick was also First Team All Pac-10 in cross country, where his national finish was second-best for a freshman.
It's off the Farm, though, where Derrick's success has been the most salient thus far. In high school, he finished second at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, distance running's US Army All-American Game, with a blisteringly insane 13:56 for the 5K (which Go Stanford calls "the fastest time ever in an all-high school race," begging the question of how he finished second). His 8:48.90 in the two-mile is also the stuff of legend.
After his freshman season, Derrick finished second at the junior US Championships (i.e. college freshmen and younger), and then took 15th at the junior World Championships, with an 8K of 23:39.
Derrick has established himself as the nation's top distance runner in his class save for Oklahoma State's German Fernandez, who's looking every bit the once-every-five-year talent his hype proclaimed. Here's hoping the two can push each other to greater heights yet in the years to come.
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