The Stride Report will be running a series of articles consisting of interviews and op-eds from athletes across the nation. Our aim is to bring you a variety of perspectives from multiple collegiates in the running community who have been impacted by the recent competition cancellations.
The men of BYU were coming off their first-ever cross country national title and were eager to continue their progress during the indoor season. While some of their top runners dealt with injuries, a few had standout seasons. Two of them - Jake Heslington and Talem Franco - qualified for NCAA’s in the 5k and mile, respectively. Heslington earned a national qualifying spot to Nationals with his 13:39 while Franco qualified running 3:58.
Additionally, BYU, with Franco anchoring, qualified for Nationals as a DMR. These two, along with teammate Clayson Shumway, were gracious enough to talk us through how they and the team are feeling about the cancellation of Indoor Nationals and the outdoor season.
Thank you to all three BYU runners who give their honest reactions about this truly unprecedented situation.
The Stride Report: Coming off the NCAA title in the fall, you guys ran well this indoor season. How was the team feeling about the indoor season and the upcoming outdoor season? Talem and Jake, how were you feeling as you prepared for your first NCAA Indoor Championship?
Clayson Shumway: We felt like our indoor season was slightly underwhelming, at least for a championship team. In the 5k, Jake ran really well, and Brandon Garnica did great, but the rest of our [top] seven from NCAA’s either graduated, redshirted, or were dinged up over the winter. However, Jake and Talem both qualified for Indoor Nationals for the first time and our DMR qualified for the first time in the last few years, so we were happy about that and looking forward to what we could do at Nationals. We were hoping to get lots of qualifiers to the Olympic Trials during Outdoor.
Jake Heslington: I was feeling confident because 1) my speed was feeling better than it ever had been and 2) Coach said he thought I could realistically be top 3-6 and Coach doesn’t say things he doesn’t believe.
Talem Franco: Similar to Jake, I was feeling very excited and was looking forward to seeing how I stacked up with the national-caliber athletes because I didn’t have the opportunity to race them much during the season. I was also excited to race at altitude because I thought Albuquerque gave me an advantage, since most of the milers who had qualified were sea-level guys.
TSR: When did you guys start thinking that Indoor Nationals would be cancelled?
Everyone: We never thought it would be canceled. We tried to avoid thinking about the possibility, so we could be mentally prepared to race our best. We got suspicious when the ACC and Big Ten had pulled out, and it started feeling inevitable.
TSR: How did you find out that the Indoor National Championships and all of the outdoor season had been cancelled? What was your reaction?
Talem: At first we thought it was comical. We were just trying to cope with the situation at hand, then the realization that it was actually happening dawned on us. Then all the feelings of frustration and disappointment began to set in.
Jake: I saw a tweet and thought “Is this for real?” and immediately after that Coach called me. Like Talem, I thought it was crazy in a funny way at first. On the flight home is when it really hit me that I wouldn’t be able to do what I’d come to do. I didn’t realize at first that outdoor had been canceled as well, and so that realization was also a blow.
Clayson: I was sitting in a class and checking Twitter since all the dominoes had started falling and saw it and I thought “Really? They are already there. Hasn’t most of the damage been done already with them traveling?”
TSR: What were your goals as a team and as individuals this spring?
Clayson: I ran much slower during indoor than I did in either of my other seasons. I was looking forward to steeplechase as a chance to hopefully get out of my funk.
Talem: My goal was to run 3:35 and set our school record in the 1500 meters. It was a stretch goal for sure, but as audacious as it sounds I felt like outdoor is my best season, and I was looking forward to seeing how my progress would carry through. Also, I wanted revenge from last year’s final in the 1500 meters.
Jake: Like Talem, I wanted revenge after last year’s steeple final (I fell, but no one saw it since it was a commercial break. Thanks ESPN.). After a good indoor season I thought I had a strong shot at winning. I also wanted to run a fast 5k to prove that steeplechasers aren’t always slow in flat events.
TSR: How will this impact your future in the sport? Talem and Jake, as seniors, will you return next year? Clayson, as a junior, will you stay an extra year in 2022 to use up your eligibility?
Talem: It is still up in the air. I would like to stay and hopefully get back the winter season as well, so I can get closure in indoors.
Jake: As far as getting professional contracts, it stinks because I haven’t done much, besides my indoor 5k to make my case, and I was looking forward to running fast and placing well to increase my stock. I have a wife and daughter, so I can’t just wait around forever without a solid source of income, but I still have a desire to keep running, so my plans are also still in the air.
Clayson: I have been in school for what seems like forever already, so the idea of stretching out my undergrad for that long doesn’t sound fun. The plan was to graduate after this next cross season and take a little break before diving into another 5-7 years of grad school, and I’ll probably be sticking to it.
TSR: What is the plan for the next few months?
Clayson & Talem: Trail running, baby!
Jake: We’ll just have fun with running and look for jobs whether in running or engineering.