David Ribich is a Western Oregon senior who just became the 501st American miler to break the 4-minute mile barrier. He has captured the attention of running fans all around the nation and is developing into one of the best distance runners in the NCAA. We were lucky enough to send a few questions to David Ribich and learn a bit more about him and his running career. We would like to thank Ribich for his time and extremely detailed answers!
EARLY PORTION OF CAREER
1. Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into running? What kind of times were you running in high school?
Thinking all the way back to my early running days, I began running in 7th grade because Enterprise Jr. High did not offer soccer past 6th grade. Being from a small school had its pros and cons. At the time, I thought no soccer was a con. Now, I could argue that it was a big pro. Enterprise is a town of just 2000 people, located in the north east corner of Oregon, encapsulated by the Eagle Cap Mountain range. It is a beautiful place to live and I am fortunate enough to call Enterprise home.
I began running because I simply loved burning off energy. I was the hyperactive-name on the board kid that counted down the minutes to recess. By the time the Fall rolled around, I was ready to find a sport I could do. Football was out of question due to my size. Going into high school, I was 86lbs 4’11. I looked more like the actual football than I did the players. With my only two options being football or cross country, I chose the latter, because running is one of the only sports that a small underdeveloped kid could beat a grown man in (at least when you compare to my younger days.)
When I graduated from high school, a strong passion for the sport emerged. It was my confidence, my motivation, and my identity. I was known as “the runner”. I loved the every aspect of the sport. The hills, the hard work, and the reward of personal bests.
When I graduated high school, I was still not fully developed and my high school coach knew that. I thank my high school coach for the successes I’ve had today because he knew my body was in development and never pushed me beyond my limit. I graduated from high school with PRs of 15:57 (cross 5k), 8:57 (3000m), 4:10 (1500m), and 2:04 (800m). My times were good enough for a 118 person-sized high school, but not good enough for Division I attention.
2. When did you realize that this was something you wanted to do in college? Which schools were you looking at / getting recruited by? What made you choose Western Oregon?
I knew I wanted to compete in college when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember walking into university offices like Oregon State and Western Oregon, handing the coach a portfolio of my first two years of high school performances, and leaving it at that. My college decision was made pretty easy because I really did not have that many schools looking at me in the first place. I got letters from Eastern Oregon, Western Oregon, and Southern Oregon, so the amount of options were limited. I chose Western because I knew some guys on the team, it was far enough way from Enterprise that I felt like I was in a new place, and it was close enough where if I needed to rush home for some reason, I could make the seven hour drive.
I verbally committed to Western in December and signed with them in February. They offered me a great scholarship out of high school and I had a feeling it was going to be a great fit.
3. Talk a little bit about your first few years at Western Oregon, mainly the expectations you had, and the adjustments you had to make.
The expectations I had quickly turned on a swivel. Here I am, coming out of high school, thinking I was one of the best in the state, you know? A 4x state champion (2A), I thought I was a big deal. Little did I know that I was the 64th best 1500m runner out of all divisions in the state during my senior year. I got into college and felt a whirlwind of new competition and sport. I went from being the only guy on my team who was able to run fast, to just another guy on the workout grind. I wouldn’t call it cockiness or arrogance when I came out of high school, but I think I was purely being naïve. I didn't comprehend that there was a great big world out there that I didn’t fully understand.
The adjustments I made took about 5 months of finding my rhythm with the program, I would have practice PR's and I would run fast times in races, but my big breakthrough came at the end of February where I ran 4:13 in the mile. That was a big shock to a lot of us, myself and coach included. That was 3 seconds off my 1500m PR so from there, Coach Johnson and I became more and more on the same page, developing workouts and strengthening my body as a middle distance runner. He too, knew my body was in development, so his patience and awareness let my body grow naturally. Once he felt confident that my body could handle the collegiate workouts, we started the process.
4. During indoor track of your sophomore year, you improved your mile time to 4:05 at the SPU Final Qualifier and found your way into an All-American spot at Nationals. What kind of confidence did that give you moving forward?
Sophomore year was a big turning point in my career that had ups and downs, I would say the year of 2016 was my big year not because of what I accomplished, but because of what I learned about the sport and what I learned about my own confidence. That year, I ran 4:05 in the mile, snuck into the final at Div. II Nationals, and earned an All-American Accolade. That spring, I ran 3:43 in the 1500, set a new conference and school record, and finished 5th at the Outdoor National Championships in Florida.
After that year (sophomore), I went into the fall of my junior year with complete expectations that I would make Nationals as a junior in cross country. I thought, “hey man, you did it as a sophomore, easy peasy.” Flash forward to regionals after a month of injury rehab I finished 15th, 2 seconds off from qualifying in a 10k. It was the biggest turning point in my career. I am so thankful for that injury because it was the first dream-hindering element that I had ever faced.
It put every race before that in perspective. My sophomore year I finished 67th at Nationals for cross country and I was devastated. My junior year, I did not even qualify, so I would have been ecstatic to be 67th again. It put into perspective that my sophomore year was fueled by a bit of an inflated head that my future successes were guaranteed. So in terms of confidence, I would say it gave me too much and what I needed was a setback. After that fall of my junior year, the focus was back to the basics, enjoy the process not the prize.
5. Although you have made solid progression throughout your entire career, the 2016-2017 track seasons seemed to be when you really broke out by earning personal best times of 1:49, 3:39, 4:02, and 8:13. You would later go on to secure your first-ever individual national title in the 1500 and even found a spot on the starting line for the 1500 meter final at the US Championships this past summer. What was it about those winter and spring track seasons that made you as strong as you were?
This last winter and spring was fueled by the perspective that nothing is guaranteed. The winter after I failed to qualify for Nationals in cross country, my coach and I got on the same page and I told him that I wanted to enjoy the sport again. I wanted to be able to close my eyes, take a deep breath on a run, and just feel alive. Just feel the passion and the joy of just running.
So often we get caught up in this egotistical tango of competition that we forget the big picture of what we can accomplish in the sport. I took each day and each week at a time focusing on the specific task. In January I wasn’t focused on the spring, I was focused on January, and continued to maintain that mentality until I found myself on the starting line at the USA Championships.
At the time, the winter months were my favorite weeks of training. My roommate Josh and teammates Dustin and AJ stayed to train. We trained every day together, worked out in the snow, and just enjoyed each other's company. It was a beautiful feeling waking up to a workout with a three other guys and a coach. It felt like we were really the only people on the planet. Those three other guys and myself later formed the Distance Medley for Western Oregon, and set a Division II national record along side a National Title. My strength was just running, not focusing on the outcomes and enjoying the thrill of each race/practice.
6. Let’s fast forward to this season. A few weeks ago, you ran a 2:21 1K to defeat some of Oregon’s top athletes and pushed World Championship qualifier (and former D2 star) Drew Windle to the line. Talk a little bit about that race and the emotions that followed.
It was a great race really! Mick from Oregon and I are great friends and have had some great races. Drew and I are DII friends fighting for the same goal. I got on the line confident in the fact that I was surrounded by friends fighting for a common goal, rather than enemies lining up to battle it out in a blood bath.
Drew and I texted all week leading up to the race and I respect the guy a lot. He is a tremendous inspiration and being able to race him was a thrill of speed. I didn’t put a time expectation on the race, I just wanted to compete. 2:21 was a big surprise for me. I really didn’t think that that time was going to be the golden ticket.
7. This past weekend, you ran a 3:58 mile to run under the 4-minute barrier for the first time in your career. You are now the 2nd fastest D2 miler in NCAA history (assuming that we exclude the “wind-assisted” mark from Oliver Aitchison in 2016). Talk about what that means to you and how it feels to be part of a very elite club.
I feel great. It's January 31st, so it's a few days after the weekend and I am definitely a bit sore, have some fatigue, etc. But other than the physical feeling, its incredible.
I have gotten tremendous support from D2 competitors and fellow runners congratulating me and the support I get from others is unreal. I truly couldn’t accomplish these feats if I didn’t have an army behind me. Being the 501st American to break 4 minutes is a funny feeling. I am just the honorary member to the 500 club, but if anyone can be 501, im glad its me. I've got a good sense of humor for it.
Every male runner at one time has fantasized about running sub 4, so the fact that I made that a reality is surreal. In the spring, my 1500m time converted to a sub 4, so that was when I really had the mind blow moment. This last weekend was more so a calm collected confidence of “just do what you know you can do.”
8. So where do you go from here? What’s the goal? What else will we see you run?
We go back to the grindstone and continue to sharpen the necessary skills and fitness needed to compete for the next six months. The most important aspect in my training is health. I have run some great times and won some great races, so now it is just about enjoying the last two seasons of collegiate athletics, race hard, and recover harder.
Staying healthy is the ultimate goal. Of course, records are included in my goals, but those cannot be obtained without a healthy body. At the Husky Invite, as of right now, I will be running the 3K. The pressure is on as I have stepped up from 1K, to the Mile, to now the 3k. There will be a lot of outside hype leading up to the race, but ultimately, we are just going for a fast time and a fun race.
As the season(s) go on, we will pick and chose what and where I race until closing out these collegiate chapters.
9. After you have finished your eligibility, will you go pro?
I am more in love with the sport now than I have ever been before! My coach has done a great job of letting me focus on the present while he obtains contact for the future. Him and myself have talked with post collegiate groups briefly, but May is the month for all that fun process. Running has been apart of my life since 7th grade and it feels like it is just getting good, so stopping after this year seems a bit silly to me.
So in a quick response, yes.
10. As seen in your Flotrack interview, your sock game is always on point. What I think we all want to know is, what’s the inspiration and how do you keep with these fresh looks? Where can we snag some of these socks?
Jeez, the sock game blew up a bit more than I thought it would. I bought those socks my sophomore year at a PDX shop before boarding the plane to outdoor nationals in Florida. I feel like the biggest pressure I have now is living up to the sock expectation. Those specific socks have been my sidekick in multiple National and important races. I'm not superstitious, but those socks have been pretty lucky.
11. As mentioned earlier, your PR’s are now 1:49, 2:21, 3:58, 8:13, and 29:49. Do you see yourself as more of as an 800/Mile guy or a Mile/5k guy?
I think it will all depend on my future plans. Right now, our training is spread from 800 to 3000, but I could still throw down a good 5K if needed. Something I have enjoyed the most here at Western is Coach Johnson's philosophy. He makes sure that we don’t categorize ourselves as “event racers”, but that we categorize ourselves as “racers” who can be put in any distance or any race and still compete to win. That is the confidence he bestows upon us after breaking down incredible workouts we do throughout the season. It’s a great feeling of confusion knowing you could potentially PR from 800-10k.
12. You’ve been able to run with some of the top talent in D2 over the years with guys like Dustin Nading, AJ Holmberg, and Sam Naffziger to name a few. What’s it like to run with such a strong group year-in and year-out?
It is incredible because the group is in a constant state of commitment and chance. It may be a weird combination, but Sam Naffziger's senior year really set a tone for the program to follow. As a senior, he really dedicated his last two seasons in achieving his dreams. During the outdoor season, he was a 1500m All-American, which helped establish Western Oregon as a middle distance powerhouse.
The ability Coach Johnson has in developing athletes is the reason we have had successes. I have shaved 31 seconds off my 1500m time since high school. In the first year that Dustin Nading was in our program, he improved his 1500m time by almost 13 seconds. Nading is my daily training partner and one of my best friends, so the friendship that we have can be attributed to both of our successes. We keep each other accountable and feed off of each other like brothers. Literally, most of the time, Dustin and I playfully bicker in workouts about who is going to win, who is going to lead, and so on and so forth. Usually, this friendly competition leads to us dropping some really great times.
13. During NCAA XC last year, you went out with Tiffin star James Ngandu, but ended up fading towards the end. Afterwards, you said you were happy you took a chance. Two months later has that view changed at all?
No way! That race is still one of my all time favorites. It closed out a great 2017. The only thing I wish I would have done differently was congratulate Ngandu personally, but I couldn’t find him. He was probably cooling down somewhere by the time I came in.
I learned a lot that race, good and bad, that appropriately affected my winter training. From the feedback and the messages that I received after that race, I would say it was far worth it. It was a memorable race none the less!
14. The Western Oregon DMR just ran 9:47 at the UW Invite this past weekend. After coming off of a 9:40 and an NCAA title last year, what do you think the ceiling is for this relay?
An interesting question that I honestly don’t know the answer to. Every DMR race in the last two years we have won. We are 3 for 3 when not trying to jinx us. If we are in a 9:3X race, I think you would find us in the hunt. Win or lose, we could compete and be pulled to a fast time if we don’t pull off the win.
We are competitors. I can summarize by saying that the DMR is the focus for Indoor Nationals. The race with Adam State last march was crazy. In fact, it was probably the craziest race I have ever run in. From that, the rivalry/friendship we have developed with ASU gives me confidence that it will be another great race this year amongst other great teams.
15. You have become a bit of an icon for D2 runners all around the nation. In a way, you are proving that men and women from D2 can be just as good (if not better) than those from D1 or any other division. When your time at Western Oregon has ended, what is the legacy that you hoped to have left behind?
Yeah, icon is a flashier word than I would use. I would consider myself more so a pioneer for the sport. I want Division II athletes to step on the starting line confident that no matter the division or field, they are racing for the win.
Putting Division II athletes aside, I just want there to be a world where people disregard divisions and see athletes on the line as racers because, ultimately, we are all people fighting for the same goal. Dividing people by titles of divisions separates athletes even further from accomplishing dreams. I would love to think that I have helped elevate Division II entirely to point where jerseys don’t make a difference, it’s the people in them. This year has already been record setting and the growth over the last four years would not have been possible if I went anywhere else. I can confidently say that.
So as an inspiration to high schoolers, go where you believe you will develop. Put the money, politics, jersey aside. Go somewhere where you will love the coach and process. Track is track.
16. Finally, what is one thing that we need to know about David Ribich?
David Ribich would not be David Ribich if it wasn’t for the support behind him. My family is constantly driving and flying hours on end to help me pursue my dreams. My team helps me grind out the hard days. We stick together through the good and the bad. The coaching staff has constantly helped me develop as a person and an athlete. Finally, my girlfriend for being the love of my life.
What I do and what I have done wouldn’t be possible if it was just “David Ribich”. I have a lot of people to thank, but a quote I believe to be true is one I have told many high school athletes, “Just because you are from a small school does not mean you have to have a small dream.”