My favorite track race as a Gopher.

Before the race: Steve Plasencia (Plaz) announced the travel roster during a distance meeting for the upcoming twilight meet at Stanford. In my redshirt-freshman season, my name made the list. This was a big deal as last year he only took two runners to the meet. This year there would be five of us traveling. With me in the 5k would be my teammate Erik Grumstrup, also in his second year.

To prepare for the race and get us comfortable with the pace we were to run, Plaz had Erik and me run a time trial of 1.5 miles at race pace. He wanted us to hit the regional qualifier time of 14:24 which would be 4:38 per mile (my PR was currently 15:20). Erik and I struggled to keep an even pace throughout the trial and when we finished the 1.5 miles, had our hands on our knees breathing heavily. Plaz asked us if we could do it again, because if not, it didn’t make sense to fly to Stanford for this meet. Fortunately, Erik was quick to respond yes, and tickets were booked!

Toe the line: As we took our places at the start, 25 runners lined up on two arcs. The announcer started saying the runners’ names along with accolades to the full crowd for this night event. It seemed most runners were All-Americans or conference champions. The runner named before me was a 3-time All-American from Stanford and raised his arm as the home crowd cheered. Then I heard it, “Ryan Malmin, Minnesota.” I played it cool and also gave an arm raise. Without the crowd cheer, it had more of a feel of a home room attendance acknowledgement. Nonetheless, I was there.

The gun goes off: As we take off and jostle for position, Erik and I find each other in the middle of the pack. We come around the bend to a crowd excited to a level I had never seen for a distance race. After the straight away on the first curve, the infield was filled with students banging on a dozen tipped over garbage cans and various drums playing non-stop the entire race. The backstretch was poorly lit. As we entered the dark stretch, we were far away from the drums. I got to hear the sound of 50 spikes pounding on the track. Finally at the end of this stretch was Plaz and many other coaches yelling split times. For that entire race, every time my mind told me I was tired I thought ‘No way, I want another lap of this!’

With two laps remaining, Plaz yelled it was time to get moving. I had nothing left, but Erik absolutely took off. I tried my best to keep close to Erik. Other runners started hitting the wall left and right as we kept moving up the pack. With each runner passed was just enough of a boost to keep going. Finally, to a roaring crowd, Erik finished at 14:14 and I was close behind at 14:18, a personal best by 62 seconds. This was the first time I wished the race was longer.

I thank Steve Plasencia and the University of Minnesota for making this moment happen and hope the next generation of young gophers can have the honor to compete with Minnesota on their jersey. Go Gophers!