SPEED — Brittany Sloan runs the course at a recent meet. She and teammate Taryn Thor will compete at NAIA Nationals.
Herald Photo / Provided
SPEED — Brittany Sloan runs the course at a recent meet. She and teammate Taryn Thor will compete at NAIA Nationals. Herald Photo / Provided

On Thursday, IU Kokomo harriers Taryn Thor and Brittany Sloan will head to Vancouver, Wash., to prepare for the 2017 NAIA Cross Country National Championships this weekend. 

The speedy pair is focused and has prepared as much as they possibly can for the contest.

“The last couple weeks have prepared us fairly well. It’s been cold and wet. We’ve done a lot of our hill sprints and tempo runs to get ready in the grass. There’s not a whole lot you can do to prepare for a course you’ve never seen. You can kind of guess. Vancouver is going to rain. We’re used to that. We’ve done a lot to prepare,” said Thor.

“Our last race was really muddy, too, so I think we’re prepared for any kind of rain,” added Head Coach Jason VanAlstine. 

The River States Conference meet held at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., was held in cold, wet conditions. 

“I’m actually glad that our conference meet was so sloppy because it showed both of them that they could still go out and run their race, no matter what,” he said. 

This will be the fourth time IU Kokomo has sent runners to the NAIA National Championships in five years. Previously, men’s standout runner Javier Vasquez made two trips. This will be the second time both women will have the opportunity to compete on the biggest stage for NAIA.

“It’s not something you expect. You work for it, but you don’t expect it,” said Thor, who made her first trip to Nationals in North Carolina in 2015. 

Sloan competed in the 2016 Nationals in St. Louis. Both times the women competed, they set school records for time.

Mental preparation is as important as the physical preparation for the big race. Typically, there will be a decent time spread at regional and conference meets. With Nationals, all of the runners are fast and will pack up early in the race. 

“Last year I was trapped pretty much the whole race, which is how I ended up PRing because I couldn’t slow down,” Sloan said. 

“Basically if you don’t go out really hard and get your position, you’re going to be able to pass a whole lot during the race because there are so many runners within two minutes of each other. It’s really hard to get around people unless you waste a lot of energy and push people out of the way, which you really can’t do. You have to sprint and go for the position you want and hang on and hope to pass more people,” added Thor. “Getting your position is probably the most important part of a meet like that.”

Thor and Sloan both said getting the opportunity to race at Nationals again is exciting, yet both wished their teammates could join them in the journey. The team finished fifth in the conference meet, missing the cut by three spots.

Hard work and discipline have contributed to the women’s success. Both Thor and Sloan push one another to be better. They also are fast enough to keep up with some of the men. VanAlstine said that both Thor and Sloan put in the work and lead their teammates by example. He hopes others notice the work they put in and that it inspires them to do more.

“I think it’s hard sometimes for people that aren’t runners to know how much work really does go into it. You can’t take a month or two off. At all,” said VanAlstine. “I’m sure both of them will take a small break, like a week or two after this. Then they’ll be right back to it. The kids are training 330 to 340 days a year for seven races. It’s so much work for so few competitions.”

The race will begin at 2:30 p.m. PST at Fort Vancouver National Site in Vancouver, Wash. Thor said the time change won’t affect her race since she and the team are used to competing at different times of the day. She is aiming for a top 25 finish and hopes to break the 18-minute mark for the 5K race. Thor would like to finish the season as an All-American. Sloan is focused on setting a personal best and enjoying the race experience.

“Nationals is the highest stage we can compete at here,” VanAlstine said. “To be able to send people, so many years so early, in the program I think says we’re doing things right. Our next real step is to keep building on this and send a team to Nationals. We’re excited about our future.

“(This success has) helped us build a local base. A lot of the local coaches respect what we’re doing. We’re also reaching beyond sending people to Nationals. We’ve graduated a lot of people in four years that have started their careers. The Nationals part of this, I think, draws more attention, but we are building a legacy,” he said.