Behind the Scenes: XC's Miles Unterreiner

When the Pac-10 announced its 2009 awards for men's cross country, Stanford walked away with the lion's share, including Athlete of The Year (Chris Derrick), Coach of the Year (Jason Dunn), and, most auspiciously for the future, Newcomer of the Year: Miles Unterreiner, a 20-year-old redshirt freshman from Gig Harbor, Wash., and future bright star in the Stanford galaxy of long-distance runners.

The Bootleg caught up with Miles during finals week to get his reaction about the award and his performance this year.

Were you surprised to be named Newcomer of the Year? "Yes, very surprised. I didn't even know the award existed until I heard that I was the winner at the awards banquet. The coaches vote for the award, but I think, technically, it goes to the runner who finishes highest at the Pac-10 Cross Country meet who has not competed in that meet before. Since I didn't compete as a freshman, I was still a newcomer." Miles finished 11th and was No. 5 on the Stanford team, but still beat the top runners from California, Arizona and Washington State.

Miles also was named to the Pac-10 All-Academic First Team, along with teammates Chris Derrick and Justin Reed. "It was nice to get that, but here at Stanford, everyone really tries to do well in the classroom, so it shouldn't be a surprise. We had something like 21 academic honors, which is a real testament to the guys and how hard they work at everything.

He has not declared his major, but has an eye on the future. "This quarter, I'm carrying only 15 units, including two history courses. I had been carrying a much heavier load, but because of all the running events this quarter, I decided to ease up a bit."

What do you intend to do with the history background? "Well, this is still a long way off, but I'm thinking about eventually becoming a history professor or maybe going to law school after I graduate.

"I'm going home on Saturday for a couple of weeks, and then back here for winter quarter."

Will you continue training during the holiday break? "Absolutely. We all take a break from running for a week or two after the NCAAs. I've already done that, so I'll start running again this Monday. We train all year, even though our next cross country competition won't be until next fall.

"During warm weather, we run about 80 to 85 miles a week, spread over seven days. It varies from person to person, but the range for men is about 70 to 90. Some of the guys do more, but 80 miles is about right for me, and I don't want to risk any injury right now."

Miles has some cross-country genes in him. "My Mom (Alison) competed in the first U. S. Olympic women's marathon trials back in 1984. She and my Dad still run marathons regularly, even in their fifties.

"Mom encouraged me to take part in all sports at an early age. I did everything—soccer, basketball, track. I got really interested in running in middle school, and then became serious about it in high school. I competed in both track and cross country, all four years." Miles did well enough to be selected the 2007 Gatorade Washington State Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year and 2008 Gatorade Washington State Boys Track Athlete of The Year, and was the Washington 4A state champion in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter events.

How did you wind up at Stanford? "This was always where I wanted to be. I contacted Stanford in my junior year, sent in a letter and a resume. I got a nice letter back and a media guide. The coaches encouraged me to stay in touch and let them know how I was doing. I finally met a coach at the Golden West Invitational, a big track meet in Folsom, California. It was the same weekend as the NCAAs in Sacramento, so it was an easy trip over to watch not only me, but a number of other high school runners. Fortunately, I ran really well. I stayed in touch over the summer, and submitted an early application. This was the only place that I applied. If I wasn't accepted, I would have applied elsewhere. But Stanford was always number one for me. After I was accepted, I made an official visit here in the fall of my senior year, and then signed a letter of intent as soon as I could."

Miles redshirted his freshman year, in a joint decision with the coaches. "As a freshman, if you don't figure to do well enough to help the team's scoring as a top seven competitor, redshirting is usually the best way to go. You get some experience, so by your sophomore year you're ready to contribute. Three of us freshman sat out a year.

"I mean, someone like Chris Derrick was ready to compete as a freshman, but he is an amazing All-American."

So what kind of courses do you run? "Basically, we run on grass. We run a lot on golf courses. Our own meet, the Stanford Invitational, is run on the golf course. The Pac-10 meet in Long Beach and the West Regionals in Oregon were both on golf courses. Only when we got to the NCAA championships in Indiana did we run on a dedicated 10K course, the LaVern Gibson Championship course, and it was grass. We run in lightweight mesh shoes with metal spikes that screw into the bottom to give us traction on the grass and mud."

What's your routine on race day? "A lot of it depends on what time the race starts. But regardless of the starting time, we always start the day with a shake-out. We get up early, and even before we have breakfast, we'll have about 10 minutes of easy running just to warm up our legs. Then we go right to breakfast. The guys eat what they want. Some of them don't want anything except a little fruit. Personally, I like a big breakfast about three hours before a morning race. I eat everything—pancakes, waffles, eggs, yogurt, fruit-- except meat, because it can sometimes upset my stomach. If the race is in the afternoon, I'll eat another big meal at lunch.

"An hour before the race, we'll start to get ready. We put on training shoes which are a little heavier than the running shoes. We run for about 15 minutes to get loosened up, then stretch and do a few easy drills, then another short run. Fifteen minutes before the start, we put on our shoes with spikes and then we'll do practice sprints from the starting line for about 100 meters. We get called to line up about two minutes before the start. We line up in blocks—there will be a Stanford block, a Cal block, an Oregon block. Our team is usually in two lines, maybe three at the biggest meets. The guys who get out fastest are in the front row. You don't want to be too far back, because you can get caught up in the traffic."

So the gun goes off, and you're running about six miles, hopefully in about 29 or 30 minutes. What's your strategy? "It all depends on how the race unfolds. Coach gives us some tips before we start. But there can be hundreds of runners, and you don't know how it's going to go, so there's no real game plan like there is in other sports. Generally, I look for the Stanford jerseys early in the race, and try to stay with some of my teammates. It's a big help to run as a team. You know how you're doing, and those who are having a great day can help those who might be struggling a bit. Having the support of your teammates can keep you mentally focused. That's what we did all year, and it really paid off."

If you fall, can you get up and get back in the race? "Absolutely. It hasn't happened to me, but it has to others. There is one exception. If someone falls in the first 100 meters after the start, they will restart the race."

Miles obviously will be a big part of the team next year. How does he plan to improve? "We lift some weights, and I'll continue to increase my training by running a few more miles a week and working on my stamina. But a lot of it is just natural progression. I'll be a year older, a year stronger. Long-distance runners don't peak until their late twenties. So I have a long way to go."

At 5-foot-11 and 140 pounds, Miles still has room to develop physically for next year's competition. But mentally, he sounds ready to go right now.

About the author: Bob Iacopi '56 spent his entire working career in the book business as a writer, editor, and publisher. He served as a reporter for the now defunct Palo Alto Times and SF News-Call-Bulletin, has written for the Fast Break Club website, and lives in San Jose.

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