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02/15/24 Nerdsletter

Contributor: The Nerd

The fifth-year freshman

With high school meets still one month away, last week we published an interview with an Omaha man who transformed from a sedentary 240 pounds to Boston marathon qualifier in less than four years.  This week we interviewed Ben Randall, a 2019 Gretna graduate, who may have an even more impressive story. 


Like many boys, Ben wanted to be a basketball standout.  It became clear to him during his junior year that he didn’t have the talent or height to compete in Class A but he still wanted to be part of a team.  He joined Gretna’s track team as a junior and senior, and he also ran cross country as a senior.

While his high school PRs were better than mine, he didn’t exactly turn heads.  He finished his high school career with PRs of 2:13, 4:47, 10:19 and 17:06 and, in his words, never came close to individually qualifying for State meets.  The 2018 Gretna XC team qualified for State with Ben in the 6th or 7th spot, and his 18-month high school running career had enough positives that he decided to keep running after graduation. 


Shortly after he arrived at Colorado State in the fall of 2019, a member of the CSU triathlon club approached him.  “You look like a runner,” he said, “how would you like to add two more sports?”  Despite having no swimming experience beyond lessons as a small child, Ben joined the club team and competed in two triathlons that fall. 


He liked the club’s team camaraderie and planned to invest more time in training the following semester.  However, the COVID pandemic ended the competition season before it started.  Even worse, CSU moved to online classes for the next 15 months, so Ben headed back to Gretna.  Without the extracurricular pursuits that fill a college boy’s time, Ben became a workout maniac.  Every day he ran or biked with the simple goal of obliterating himself, never taking an easy day.  He ran up to 80 miles and biked up to 8 hours a week, adopting a training regimen that nearly any coach would advise against. 


Somehow Ben avoided injury, and he returned to Fort Collins in the best shape of his life.  His invested in a new road bike and it didn’t take him long to tackle the nearby mountains.  As he pulled back his running mileage, he added hours and hours of non-impact training – swimming and biking – that helped him further improve his aerobic base. 


Ben’s triathlon times improved over the next 18 months, culminating in huge success last spring.  He finished 7th at the Mountain West Conference Havasu Triathlon, running a 5:00 pace for the 10K leg.  He followed that up with a 23rd place finish at collegiate nationals, recording the fastest running leg (32:02 10K) in a stacked field. 


After running the 10K leg so well, Ben wondered what he could do in a running-only event.  Five weeks later he ran the Colorado Marathon, a net downhill course at 4,800+ feet altitude, winning the race in 2:24:06 and crushing the course record by 1:49. 

Photo by Olivia Allen @olivia_took_this

Ben’s girlfriend, CSU miler Anna Petr, helped prepare his five-week marathon training plan, and her stories about Ben caught the attention of Kelly Hart, the CSU T&F coach.  She invited Ben to walk on to the cross country team last fall just as he was starting a one-year journalism masters program.  He quickly accepted the invitation and was the Ram’s 7th finisher at the conference meet (25:47 8k) and NCAA regionals (32:14 10k).    He was a long shot to earn a spot on the CSU track team this spring but proved himself during winter workouts, and thus far he’s raced the 3000 meters (8:40, 8:45) and the 5000 (14:27). 


Looking ahead, Ben has outdoor season and then graduation.  While he technically has three years of eligibility remaining, he’s leaning towards getting a job and diving back into triathlons this summer.  His performances last spring made him eligible for a professional triathlon license and attracted several sponsors to help defray training and travel costs.  He plans to compete in two half-Ironman events this year, on June 8th in Boulder and potentially on May 19 in Chattanooga. 


I finished the interview with a question that Ben has heard dozens of times: “How can other people make the gains you’ve seen?”  His advice:


·         Don’t go too hard too often - easy days are crucial.

·         Build in cross training - swimming and biking provide substantial aerobic benefit with less stress on the body.

·         Avoid the temptation to run high mileage - it will most likely lead to injury.

·         30-60 minutes of cycling after runs is a great way to clear lactic acid.  Even though he’s on the track team, he’s still cycling up to five hours during non-race weeks. 

·         If you’re enchanted by double threshold workouts, make the second workout a cycling session.


Concordia HS meet

Concordia held its fourth and final high school open meet on Sunday, February 11. I can't say enough about how Concordia's series of winter meets has contributed to the high school running community. They launched their meets in 2019 and have hosted 3 or 4 meets each year except for 2021 when no one was quite sure how to host a COVID-safe indoor meet. Last Sunday's meet attracted a strong field from Nebraska, Iowa and surrounding states (plus a pole vaulter from Michigan). The results are at Here are a few highlights:

  • Emma Steffensen of Waverly won the 800 in 2:18, and now sits 2nd on the winter list behind Lilly Kenning's 2:17 from the 1/28/24 CUNE meet.

  • Noah Davis of Platteview and Mason Wallin of Chase County both cleared 13-05.75 in the pole vault; that is the top mark of the winter.

  • EJ Brown of Elkhorn South cleared 5-07 in the high jump, matching Margaret Haarberg (Kearney Catholic) and Claire Hellbusch (LNS) for the winter's best.

  • Trent Uhlir of Battle Creek threw 57-05.50 in the shot put, and Omaha Central's Ike Ackerman threw 56-04, just short of his 56-11.5 PR that earned him a USATF national age group title last summer. Uhlir threw 61-11.50 at 2023 State in a back-and-forth dual with Kade Pieper (63-07.50) of Norfolk Catholic.

  • NDSU commit Laney Songster of Lincoln Northeast blazed to a 8.93 in the 60 hurdles; GINW's Aizlynn Krafka was second in 9.09.

  • Bishop Neumann's Kerstyn Chapek ran 7.93 in the 60 meters, and now sits 0.03 behind Zakeirah Johnson (Omaha North) for the top winter mark.

  • UNK commit Kassidy Stuckey of York ran 5:11.76, just off her winter best of 5:11.72, to win the 1600, while Joe Dustin of Pius got a big PR with his 4:26 win. Hope Riedel of Lincoln North Star broke the 5:20 barrier for the first time in her career.

  • Freshman Jaiya Patillo of Bellevue ran 55.28 in the 400 to improve her top mark. Waverly's Braxton Smith took over the winter lead for boys with a 50.46.

  • Jordan Blair of Omaha Central and Chapek ran the two fastest 200's of the winter in 26.09 and 26.12, respectively.

Top winter marks

We've updated our performance list at to reflect the Concordia results. While winter success doesn't always equate to State medals, the winter results are awfully good indicators of the athletes who hit the ground running in April.

Going solo

If you follow the Nerd on social media, you may have seen my post a few weeks ago about Jaiya Patillo. She ran a 53.87 400 as an 8th grader and is unlikely to run for a high school team this spring, opting instead to compete unattached in collegiate meets. I've only seen her compete twice, both times at the indoor Concordia meet, but it's clear that she's a talent. She's already a 5-time age group national champion and has an outside shot to qualify for national-level senior meets this summer, and those grand plans aren't necessarily compatible with running in 8-10 high school meets over ten weeks in unpredictable weather.

My original post was met with positive comments from USATF parents and skeptical comments from others. I asked an experienced USATF coach what he thought about Jaiya skipping the 2024 high school season. Given her lofty goals, he thought it was an obvious decision. Skipping this year won't preclude her from competing in high school in subsequent years, and certainly there's a social benefit to being part of a high school team. However, it's not unusual for an elite soccer or baseball player to skip a high school season to compete for a regional or national development team, and I don't think we should apply a different standard in track and field. Jaiya should shoot her shot and we'll be applauding along the way.


In the last two weeks we've posted albums on our Facebook page at for the following meets:

  • 1/20/24, NWMSU collegiate meet

  • 1/27/24, Concordia collegiate meet

  • 1/27/24, USD collegiate meet

  • 1/28/24, CSM HS meet

  • 2/3/24, Doane collegiate meet

  • 2/11/24, Concordia HS meet

Upcoming collegiate meets

If you love high school track and field, I have a suspicion you'd enjoy catching a collegiate meet or two. Here are a few meets headed our way:

Fri, 2/16 - UNL Tune-up, field events 12:00, running 12:30. UNK, Omaha, South Dakota, Creighton, and Northwestern women are among the teams. I see a lot of familiar names on the heat sheets linked here, including high school boys Carter Hohlen (Lincoln Christian), Braden Lofquest (Gretna East) and Denny Chapman (Prep) in the mile. UNL's Berlyn Schutz, who ran a 4:37 mile last weekend, takes a crack at the 800 this week, while Westside's Claire White is running the mile. Nerd Senior will be on site.

Fri, 2/16 - Loper Tune-up, Kearney. Primarily UNK and Nebraska Wesleyan. Field events at 3:00, running at 5:15. Schedule link here.

Fri, 2/16-Sat, 2/17 - GPAC meet at Mount Marty, Yankton, SD. Doane, Concordia, Midland, College of St. Mary and Hastings are Nebraska teams competing. Friday events are devoted to the pentathlon and heptathlon. On Saturday, field and running events begin at 12:00 and wrap up after 8:00 p.m. Nerd Dawg and High Mileage Nerd will be on site. Details here.

Feb 29-Mar 2 - NAIA national championships, Brookings, SD. Chances are that the SDSU fieldhouse will be full of Nebraska athletes. Most of the running event finals are held on Saturday, with about 30 national championships awarded between 12:00 and 5:30. It's a great place to compete and to watch incredible competition. Here are more details.

Mar 8 - Mar 9 - NCAA Division II national championships, Pittsburg, KS. UNK and Wayne State athletes will be competing here. It's a long drive but it will be worth it. Here are the details.

High school meets

With the official NSAA track season starting on Monday, February 26, there are only two more weekends for high school athletes to compete in open meets. The only remaining meet in Nebraska is this Sunday, February 18 at College of St. Mary. The registration deadline is Friday night at 8:00 p.m. There are already four State champions registered for the meet so it should be a doozy. Here is the registration link.

Other nearby meets that fall before February 26 are listed at They include:

Sat, 2/17 - Washburn meet in Topeka

Sat, 2/17 - VibeFest in Chicago

Sun, 2/25 - HyVee Arena in KC

No Nerdsletter

We'll take a breather the next few weeks while we start digging into season previews. Relax. You'll be fine.


First published at by Jay Slagle on February 15, 2024. If you find an error, shoot us an e-mail at and we'll get it fixed.

Like this coverage of the Nebraska track and field scene? There's more of this at Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories and and the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we can find. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter and Instagram @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at

Finally, if you think runners, jumpers and throwers are the best things on earth, you'll enjoy our two most popular articles. In 2018 we published "The Runner with the Broken Heart" about a high school boy who finished last in nearly every race he ran. In 2022 we published, "The Fall and Rise of Emmett Hassenstab," a story about a high school triple jumper who became a quadrapalegic after a swimming accident.

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