An English phrase is quoted as “good things come to those that wait,” and waiting is exactly what Amber Henry and John Coyle had to do after a four-hour rain delay pushed back their races until late Friday night and into Saturday morning. These two Wildcats qualified for the NCAA Championships by placing in the top 12 of the West Regional in the women’s and men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Coyle, a senior at Weber State University, ran in the first of three heats, but it was a few hours later than he expected. He and the other runners were scheduled to run at 9:30 p.m. on Friday night, but instead, the gun went off early Saturday morning.
“It didn’t matter what happened with the weather or with the other races,” he said. “I felt that I was going to run good.”
Once the gun went off, it was all business as Coyle sat in fifth place for most of the race. With two laps to go, he made a move, passing a runner from the University of Texas, and started to close in on the other runners. He ended up finishing in fourth place with a time of 8:41.64, which did not guarantee him an automatic slot even though it was a new personal record by one second.
Only the top three places from each heat automatically qualify, and the remaining slots are taken by the next three fastest times. Coyle had to see if his time would be fast enough for him to race another day.
“I was confident that my time would hold up, but I started to get nervous because the heats started out so fast,” Coyle said. “But I was able to qualify in between two runners from Brigham Young University. Some of those guys ran personal bests by 8-10 seconds. It was a crazy year.”
Coyle said that although he lived to race another day, he knows he still has a lot of work to do. But training has been going well, and he said he feels like the best is yet to come.
“I just need to focus on one race at a time,” he said. “Everyone has a chance to win and become an All-American at this point. I just need to run my race and put myself in position to succeed with two laps left.”
Henry, a senior at WSU who’s coming off winning three different events at the Big Sky Conference meet, continued her outstanding season. She entered her race having run the third-fastest time in the nation. She said that all she needed to do was run her race and she would advance.
“My goal was to just run 10 minutes flat and make it to the next round,” she said. “The delay didn’t really affect me at all. I thought of it as I do this (running) every day, and it doesn’t matter what time. It will be just fine.”
Henry fought through the pack of runners to assert herself in the front of the runners shortly after 200 meters in the race. She stayed up front, dictated the pace and won her heat with a time of 9:57.75, beating the next-closest competitor by nearly eight seconds.
“The race started really fast,” she said. “Everyone bolted out really fast, so I was like, whatever, and just ran with them. As I picked up the pace, everything seemed to flow a lot better, and I was able to work on my technique and improve. Every race gives me a chance to get better.”
Just a year removed from receiving second-team All-American honors while battling a fractured collarbone and knee problems, Henry entered this year’s championship healthy and ready to go.
“This time last year, I was out buying duct tape trying to piece myself back together,” she said. “I was either on the ElliptiGO or on the couch. It was a miracle I was able to run last year. But I had a great workout yesterday, and I feel that I got under 9:50 this year. I want to be an All-American and finish the race with my best effort.”
Coach Paul Pilkington prepared his runners to be the strongest at the end of the year by lowering their mileage and doing more speed workouts. Having his runners peak at the right time is essential for them to be successful.
“The main goal is for them to make finals and run fast,” Pilkington said. “If John ran like he did in Austin in the semifinals, then he will make the final and become an All-American. In the women’s race, there are five girls that could win it, and we expect Amber to be in the top three. She is healthy and ready to roll.”
Henry and Coyle will travel to the University of Oregon and Historic Hayward Field to compete June 5-8 in the NCAA Track and Field Championships.