Iowa State Distance Runner Saina Finishing Career Strong
By Rob Gray, Reporter
AMES, Iowa - The alarm clock buzzed at 3:40 a.m.
Iowa State standout distance runner Betsy Saina stirred, sat up and shook her head.
"I was really, really mad," she said.
That was Tuesday an early wake-up call for Saina and her teammates in advance of a circuitous flight path to Waco, Texas, the site of the Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which run Friday through Sunday.
Saina had won her second straight elite 10,000-meter race at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., two nights earlier, vanquishing the likes of two-time Olympian Kim Smith of New Zealand and hyped Oregon senior Jordan Hasay.
Subsequent sleep sandwiched around return flight connections and layovers came in short supply.
And short supply for Saina, the 2011 NCAA indoor champ in the 5K, means less than 14 hours, her 'A' standard per 24-hour time frame when it comes to slumber.
"I just get crabby," Saina explained.
She's happy and well-rested now, though.
Saina, along with standout teammates Meaghan Nelson, a former Xavier athlete, and injury-plagued Dani Stack, who won her first Drake Relays flag last Thursday, will cap decorated Cyclone outdoor careers.
"I'm just excited to go out and cheer them (on) and see what they can do," said Saina, who may run only the 5K this weekend. "It's been a great four years at Iowa State together."
Nelson who participated in the U.S. Olympic Trials last year was one of four collegiate runners to compete in Sunday's Jordan Invite.
She finished 17th and could be penciled in for both the 10K and 5K in Waco.
Saina's winning time of 31:37.22 at the Jordan Invite, qualified her for the August IAAF World Championships in Moscow if she's able to make the Kenyan team.
"Meaghan, Betsy and Dani, they're the ones that kind of got it going," ISU track and field and cross country director Corey Ihmels said of the senior trio's legacy. "We don't win a couple conference championships in cross country without them and we don't come within eight points of winning the indoor meet without them. They've just taken our program to a whole different level."
That's at or near the top.
But this weekend's championships run a week earlier than the past created scheduling challenges of their own for Ihmels and his staff.
"There were a few issues, but it is what it is," Ihmels said.
While the Cyclone women appear destined for a top-three finish, the men hope for, but are not assured of, an upper division end point.
One wild card in the mix is former Prairie standout Jacob Aune, who Ihmels said could score points this weekend as a true freshman.
"He's a great athlete," Ihmels said. "He's going to be a very good runner for us down the line and he's battled since day one."
Saina's steadily progressed beyond "very good."
And her enviable, lengthy sleep patterns unwind as a big reason why.
"I've always said to be a really, really good athlete you've got to be good at doing nothing," Ihmels said. "Betsy is as good as anybody I've been around at doing nothing."