Junior cross country runner Alex Zupan (Monona, Wis.) was unable to run and train like he would have liked during last year’s track and field season due to a case of mononucleosis. This summer, he took out his frustration of missing most of the 2004 track and field season by logging the most summer mileage of any runner on the 2005 Gustavus cross country roster. In an attempt to repeat as an All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Association runner, Zupan made off-season training a priority to supplement his participation in a research program in Michigan.
While in Michigan, Zupan met up with a group of runners from a division II program. He trained daily with this group of men throughout the summer who habitually ran in excess of 100 miles per week. “Running with guys from a division above me was really motivating. It was beneficial and an eye-opening experience to see some intensely dedicated runners who are at the top of the division II rankings. They live for running through their work ethic and discipline.”
Many other Gustie runners have witnessed Zupan’s dedication and success and in turn have made off-season training one of their top priorities. Teammates no longer train hard during the season and relax during the off-season months. They continue to prepare for the upcoming season all year around. Many of Zupan’s teammates logged countless hours in their respective hometowns preparing for the 2005 season, and as a result, Zupan likes the direction Gustavus cross country is headed this season and in the future. “The attitude on the team hasn’t been this serious in past years. This group of men is devoted to running and they have positive attitudes. This program is definitely moving in a positive direction.”
Zupan ran to an 11th place finish in last fall’s MIAC meet to become the first Gustavus runner to receive All-MIAC honors since Steffan Freeman in 1999. Gustavus head coach Jed Friedrich has high hopes for the junior, which include repeating as an all-conference runner, finishing in the top-five at the MIAC meet, and qualifying for the NCAA Championships. “After logging the most miles of anyone on the cross country team, Alex’s hard work will pay off. He is not the type of runner that operates on luck. He is a runner that works hard for all his quality times. As a result of Alex putting in a lot of off-season time, other guys on the team did the same. Alex leads by example and wants to make a difference in this program. He wants to improve the whole program, not just himself.”
As a runner at Gustavus, Zupan’s leadership doesn’t cease outside of athletics. In addition to being this year’s team captain, he is a big partner in St. Peter, accompanist for the Gustavus music department, calculus tutor, and a tutor in the writing center on campus. “Unlike most of the guys I ran with this summer, I am able to maintain a really balanced lifestyle with sports and other activities. Division II runners hardly find time to do anything but eat, sleep, run, and work. I enjoy having the opportunity to be involved in many different things in addition to my participation in cross country and track.”
In the midst of his diverse schedule, Zupan has devised some individual and team goals he would like to achieve this season. “I would like to be at the top of the MIAC again this season, improve on my performance at the NCAA Central Region meet, and try to qualify for a spot in the NCAA Championships. As for the team, we have been moving upward over the last few years. We have done a lot of talking about wanting to finish in the top half of the conference as opposed to the bottom half.”
The Gusties have participated in two invites this season, one at Saint John’s and the other at Saint Olaf. Zupan has finished 26th and 23rd individually, while Gustavus as a team finished 4th out of eight teams at Saint John’s and 8th out of 15 teams at Saint Olaf. So far, the Gusties have finished in accordance with where Zupan and Friedrich would like to be. As for Zupan, he has until November 12 to lower his times for the NCAA Central Region meet in Waverly, Iowa in an attempt to be the first Gustie since Freeman in ’99 to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Story by Jon Quinlivan, Gustavus Sports Information Office.