One of Seven: Villanova's Patrick Tiernan's Main Priority is Getting His Team on the Podium
By: Cait Chock
Patrick Tiernan is just a sophomore, yet he's leading the Villanova men in their strong charge for a podium finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Tiernan is also on the hunt for the individual title; however, in talking with the harrier himself it's most fitting to add the team's directive first.
"I'd say my fondest memory of this season so far would be a race I wasn't a part of," shares Tiernan. "I've had a few niggles throughout the season, so I haven't always been at training with the other boys. To see our top five at the Princeton Invite come across the line together for a dominating victory was a very proud moment for me." Dare say it, it's rare a front runner, when asked for a most memorable race, to cite a race they weren't even racing in themselves. Quite poignant just how much Tiernan feels for his team, demonstrative of just how united the Villanova men are.
No doubt it's that kind of support acting just as much a catalyst for their claw up the rankings as Tiernan himself. "I think people need to realize that we are a seven man team, not relying purely on our top two or three... I think people underestimate our depth, but it is something that we have worked on over the last 12 months." Witnessing his team blow everyone away at the Princeton Invite solidified in his mind that no single runner is carrying the team. "It gave me confidence that even if I were to have an off day, these boys would be right there with me to pick up the slack."
After all, it was the Villanova team that drew him halfway across the Globe. Originally from Toowoomba, Australia, Tiernan hadn't banked on attending a University in the United States, nor had he thought he'd be putting all of his athletic focus singularly on running. But colleges had taken notice of the runner and after they started contacting him, Tiernan ultimately discovered that Villanova had all he wanted and that the new environment, while daunting in leaving his family and friends, was just the change he'd been craving.
Tiernan cut out the two or three extra sports teams, focused only on running, and, as just a freshman, he finished 9th at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Mouths had begun being left agape by his performances by the time the post-season hit. Track saw him setting the school record for the indoor 5000m (13:37.73) and he recorded the second fastest outdoor 5000m time for a Wildcat. He's the best runner Villanova's seen since Bobby Curtis. Curtis, as we all know, currently is one of the best American distance men, running professionally for Brooks.
Coming into his second cross country season Tiernan is in a different position, he's already on everyone's radar but his mindset is exactly the same. "I just approached it as I would any other season. Obviously momentum from the previous season does help in having a successful season, however you always have to go into the season with a clear head. For me, I was starting over again." Starting over, yet with the team's chances at a podium finish now a realistic shot, Tiernan made that his ultimate goal.
Having worked so hard to put themselves into this very position, the Villanova men aren't willing to give an inch. That much was clear in the their 1-2-3 sweep at the Big East Conference, a decisive win. Their workouts hinge very much on pulling all of their men through together, establishing that depth. Tiernan names his favorite workout as a 90 minute progression run. The whole team starts with the first 30 minutes easy, 25 minutes at lower zone, the next 20 minutes at upper zone, regroup for a quick 5 minutes easy, then finish with 10 minutes at tempo. "I love the feeling of having six to eight other guys there with me, it proves to me that we're all working towards a common goal."
When Tiernan hits the line at the NCAA Cross Country Championships he'll be surrounded by those same men and with the same, clear goal he has for every race. "Run hard, run smart, and, most importantly, run my own race. I guarantee you my Dad will send me a text with those exact words the morning of the race." Give all that you have and regardless of the outcome you have something to be proud of.
While his main focus may be on the team title, it would be ignorant to not address he's an individual factor himself. This year certainly, as well as those still to come, he is, after all, still only a sophomore. Looking past the most pressing Championships, Tiernan's other goals are to, "Win a Penn Relays Wheel, win a couple of team Big East titles, and gain some more race experience at the National level." When he does change gears to track season he relishes the stretch of pushing himself with the true middle distance men. "I love being able to put myself out of my comfort zone and try and match it with [the milers]. We've got some of the best milers in the country at Villanova, so being able to train with them is unreal."
That eager drive to be outside of one's comfort level is a key to his own rise. That same mentality shared among his Villanova teammates is a key to their united climb. "For me it's the reality that I'm not just doing this for myself. When I pull on that Villanova singlet, I'm representing not only myself, but my teammates, the coaching staff, the University, my family, and my Country. If going through a little bit of pain is the only thing I have to do in order to do them proud, then I'll do it without a fuss."
Together they train. Together they race. Together they suffer, persevere, and hope to claim that podium spot.
For more on Patrick Tiernan, click here, courtesy of USTFCCCA.org: http://www.tfrrs.org/athletes/4534805.html
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.