AT MY OWN PACE

By Jake Ziebarth

Take things slow and live in the moment.

As a runner for the Creighton cross country and track and field team, I understand the irony in that statement. My job is, quite literally, to run as fast as I can when I hear that starting gun go off, right?

But something I’ve learned throughout my time at Creighton is that faster isn’t always better, at least off the track and course.

When I got to college, like most freshmen, I wanted to rise the ranks as quickly as possible and win meets and set records, but the older I’ve gotten, I’ve learned it doesn’t work that way.

It’s the journey, filled with ups and downs, that makes you into the student-athlete you become.

When I broke the indoor mile school record last year, it wasn’t a coincidence that I faced adversity and hardship to get to that moment. 

It’s easy to get caught up in instant gratification and results, but I’ve come to understand that trusting the process and having a day-to-day mindset is even better.

Not only has that made me a better runner, it’s made me more of a complete person as I near the end of my junior year.

I’ve grown immensely in the last few years, and it all started when I made the most of the opportunities I’ve been given and started taking each day at my own pace.

Communication and recovery

During February of my freshman year, I finally felt like I was finding my place with the team. I had gotten my feet wet in DI athletics and was starting to do better in workouts and seriously compete in races.

Then my shin failed me.

I was almost in denial about the pain I’d feel during workouts. I hoped more than anything it’d go away on its own, but there came a point in time when I had to deal with this head-on.

After talking to Coach Gannon and the training staff, I went in for an MRI and found out I had a stress fracture.

While I was devastated, I now understood the importance of communicating with the coaches and trainers about my body instead of leaving them in the dark.

We had great conversations in the aftermath of my injury, and something they explained to me is that while we have a great training plan in the program, they fully understand that each body is different and are willing to work with athletes to make training more individualized. 

Truthfully, that became a game changer for me because that helped me make sure I was receiving the proper nutrition, calcium, Vitamin C, etc., to ensure my bones stay healthy. 

It also helped me keep tabs on where my body’s at, you know? I realized I didn’t have to go 110% every single day in training.

As I was making my way back from the injury, I learned that I can’t get my fitness back in one day or one week. It’s a process, and that process was difficult to accept at first, but once I did, it changed everything for me.

was able to finish out my sophomore season strong and have a breakout season, and it’s all thanks to the communication I had with my coaches and trainer and the fitness I was able to build up from my injury.

Achieving the unattainable

I had a coach in high school who gave me some profound advice that’s always stuck with me.

He told me to set an easy goal, a medium goal, and an unattainable goal. While the unattainable goal may seem impossible to reach, you’ll work so hard at trying to achieve it that you’ll end up achieving the first two goals.

I’ve always loved that.

When I was finally healthy and hitting my stride at Creighton, my easy goal was breaking 4:20 in the indoor mile.

My medium goal was clocking in at 4:15.

And my final goal was school records.

My teammate, Boston Small, had the indoor mile recordand he was such a great leader, mentor, and teammate. He was always making sure we were setting good individual goals for ourselves.

So I set out to eclipse Boston’s record, and I did so with the mindset of, look, I’m not sure if I’m ever going to get this record, but I’m going to do everything I can in training and preparation to get me there.

When I got to the line at the 2023 Nebraska Tune-Up, on a day I’d soon never forget, I remember being a little nervous. But I was in a good headspace and had an excellent race strategy, thanks in large part to Coach Fayers.

We talked before the race about not needing to go super hard right away. If I stayed in the middle for a long stretch, then pulled away at the end, I’d be in a great position.

The first time I saw my time during the race, I knew I was in a place to do something special. To be honest with you, that gave me the motivation I needed to really buy into the next couple of laps. They always say in the mile race, the stretch from the 800 to the 1,200 is the toughest because that’s when the race hurts the most and it’s easy to slow down.

Once I saw my time, I knew I couldn’t slow down.

This was my chance to do something I’d been working tirelessly toward.

During the final lap, I had no idea what my time was at this point; I just knew that I had to finish strong.

Some of it’s kind of a blur, but I recall running as hard as I could. In my head, I was thinking, finishjust finish so you can hit sub 4:10.

When I did finish, as exhausted as I was, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face when I saw my time of 4:09:32.

The school record.

I did it!

What I remember the most is Coach Gannon running over and giving me a big hug. If anyone knows Coach Gannon, he’s not really a hugger. He’s a fist-bump guy, especially at the end of races, but to get that post-race hug from him, man, it was the best feeling in the world.

All the work I put in to achieve that unattainable goal and break the indoor mile record at Creighton was rewarded twofold in that moment. 

I had a coach in high school who gave me some profound advice that's always stuck with me. He told me to set an easy goal, a medium goal, and an unattainable goal. While the unattainable goal may seem impossible to reach, you'll work so hard at trying to achieve it that you'll end up achieving the first two goals. I've always loved that.

Raising the floor

My sophomore season was amazing and will always hold a special place in my heart, but I think my junior season this year has been my favorite for a variety of different reasons.

In addition to having a clean bill of health, I beat my indoor mile record in Ames in February at the Iowa State Classic. 

I clocked in at 4:06.14, and while I’m proud of that and will work relentlessly to surpass that time, I’m even prouder of my team.

I think many overlook cross country and track as a team sport and view it more as an individual sport. My success wouldn’t be possible without the support from all my teammates in practices, in school, and in races.

Coming up soon, we’re going to be the first team in the history of Creighton track and field to compete at the BIG EAST Championships. The opportunity to compete as team makes it that much more special!

It honestly gives me chills just thinking about it.

I know I speak for all of my teammates when I say that we’re pumped for the opportunity and can’t wait to show the rest of the conference what we’re all about.

I remember we were in the BIG EAST Championships last year for cross country, and DePaul’s coach made it a point to go out of his way and tell Coach Gannon, “Man, your boys had a pretty good day out there.”

I think we took everyone by surprise with our performance, which is why we’re always preaching about raising the floor within the program.

Because if you raise the floor, you raise the ceiling, too. And raising the floor sets a new standard of expectations and constantly improving, which is what we’re all about at Creighton.

I feel blessed beyond measure, and for the remainder of this season and my senior season next year, I couldn’t be more optimistic for the goals that I have for myself and this program.

Whether it’s school records, BIG EAST Championships, or NCAA Regionals and beyond, I’m going to take it one day at a time and keep running.

At no one else’s pace but my own.

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