Junior cross country sensation Mathew Salas finished off his season at the NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championship on Nov. 23 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Salas is the first male runner to compete for the Leopards at the Championship since 2014 when Bryan Hayes made back-to-back trips, making it the fourth ever time that a Leopard qualified for the event as an individual.
Salas finished in 210th place out of 280 competitors with a time of 26:10.9.
He qualified for the for his first ever NCAA Cross Country Championship after he earned All-West Region honors, finishing in the top as the 21 runners at the NCAA West Regionals two weeks ago.
“Once I got there it didn’t really hit me till the night before when I had to pack all of my stuff, and I thought I’m heading to the national championship,” Salas said.
Salas said it was not a surreal experience; having felt he had put in the work.
Earlier this year Salas had the luxury of competing on the same track, which made him more confident in the race. He was able to make his moves through the pack.
Salas battled through the tough Kentucky terrain running eight kilometers in the thick of the mud and rain all while competing against the fastest athletes in Division III.
“It wasn’t until about the regional meet, which was my second to last meet where I qualified for nationals because I competed,” Salas said. “I threw myself in the front of the race and I took a risk.”
It was a roller coaster of a season, Salas said. He added that there were times where he felt he was not performing to his full potential, but also said he was very happy with how he competed in the end of it.
Coming into this season, Salas saw cross country as a very foreign concept to him, with an extensive background in track and field running, but not cross country.
After his outdoor track and field season Salas had switch his training and focus to push his body to the limits in order to prepare for the grueling upcoming races.
“It wasn’t just running 15 to 16 miles. It was running it at a good pace. I was hurting, I got tough this past summer,” Salas said.
Salas said he came into this season more prepared than ever, feeling faster and stronger, although he still found that he had a few aspects of his performance this season to improve.
“I think I let outside influences get in my head a little bit, I think I need to focus on staying more focused the motivation is there,” Salas said.
He said this season only made him even more prepared for his indoor track and field season in the spring.
“I don’t consider myself a cross country runner I consider myself a track and field runner so this whole season has been a learning experience,” Salas said.