Senior runner switches focus to outdoor season
SAULT STE. MARIE - Since last spring, Lake Superior State fifth-year senior Aaron Litzner has run more training miles than he ever thought he could.
The extra work has led to faster times and better rewards than he thought were possible.
"At the end of the last spring season I finally got motivated again," said Litzner, who won his first collegiate cross country race, but has otherwise endured four years of disappointment during his running career at LSSU. "I increased my training from 40 miles per week to 80 during the summer and fall."
Under the LSSU first-year track/cross country coach Drew Ludtke's guidance, Litzner started at 40 miles per week and added 10 miles every three weeks. His training wasn't sidetracked by cross country last fall, because he had used up his cross country eligibility the previous year.
"Drew's program works so well for me," Litzner said. "(Former coach D.J. Baars) believed in quality - a lot of speed. Drew is implementing volume. It's working for everybody, because you have to build that base before you can start doing anything fast."
Litzner isn't a big fan of indoor track, but had a great winter season. Every time he stepped on the track he set a personal record. Last week he set a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record of 14:36.24 in the 5,000-meter run. On Feb. 21 he cut 1.65 off his previous time and clocked a school record 4:15.94 in the mile.
"I didn't think I could ever run that fast," Litzner said.
Litzner knew he ran a great 5,000 race, but he was only going for the win, not a particular time. He didn't know until the following day that he had broken the conference record.
"It was the best performance of my life," said the soft-spoken Litzner. "I went out and raced instead of worrying about my time. Usually I worry about my time or trying to hit a certain split."
Litzner heard his split early in the race and knew that he, along with Hillsdale's Steve Larson and Grand Valley's Tim Nichols had gone out fast. Despite the faster pace, Litzner pulled away from the pack with a mile to go.
The 3,000 included the same contenders, but didn't start out at the same furious pace. Larson pulled away earlier than expected and won the event in 8:37.81, while Litzner was second in 8:40.57.
"I started to catch him at the end, but I ran out of room," Litzner said. "He just outsmarted me, I guess."
Only the top 12 runners advance to the indoor nationals, and Litzner is ranked 16th in the 5,000.
During the upcoming outdoor season, Litzner's goal will be to qualify for the NCAAs in the 3,000. That means he will have to bring his time down to the 14:25 range, according to Ludtke.
"I missed (the national cut) by four seconds, which is not a lot for 25 times around the track," Litzner said. "I think I could have done it, but there was no one around for the last mile. I was going for the win, and I didn't know we were going that fast."
Litzner's blooming confidence is starting to rub off on the rest of the LSSU team, which has already expanded under Ludtke's leadership.
"Our team is beginning to show confidence in its training," Ludtke said. "Litzner had set three personal bests in his first three races, and he still was doubtful that the training would work for him. After his final races (4:15 in the mile, 14:36 in the 5,000) and the team's improvements, he had no doubts."
Three weeks ago, Litzner and Ludtke met for 90 minutes to discuss the new Laker coach's training method.
"His inquisitive nature has led him to learn a lot in the last few months," Ludtke said. "Whether he chooses to run competitively or pursue his teaching and coaching degree, he will be successful."