The Victory Lap: Edwin Kurgat🏆
Joining us this week is 2019 NCAA cross country champion Edwin Kurgat! He took home the win in Austin, Texas last week at Sound Running’s Cross Champs against a stacked field – proving to the field, and himself that he’s back. Edwin chats with us about what he’s been up to over the last year and what his big plans are for 2023. And if there’s anyone’s mindset you’d like to mimic when dealing with training and racing, Edwin’s might just be the one.
Have you run already today?
No, no, no. At this time of the year in Ames, you don’t try to go out very early because it warms up around noon. We’re still going outside as much as we can because it won’t be long before we’re all indoors for a lot of our training.
Have you gotten used to the weather yet? You’ve been there quite a while now.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. I need to move where you are in California. Every time we go out there to race: perfect 70s in the day, 40s at night to race in. But no, I’ve learned to manage training in Ames. It’s a great place.
It clearly works for you! Congratulations on the win in Austin at Cross Champs! We haven’t seen you race very much over the last year – what were your expectations going into the race?
This was a very important race for me. You know, I haven't been racing in a while. The last big race was last year at the NCAA championships and conference before that. So coming into this fall I had to get ready for something. I was originally aiming for Manchester but once I saw that this cross country race was going to happen, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I was like, ‘this is it, it's perfect.’ I ran in the Sugar Run 5k a couple weeks before and came out with a win, so that was also a nice tune-up before going into Cross Champs. I knew this was my moment and that I had to show up, especially against that high-class field.
My coach at Iowa State, Jeremy Sudbury, told me going in that this was my race, my moment, and I really went into it with that mindset. I just really needed to trust my training and fitness, which can be tough when you haven’t raced a lot, but that’s what I had to do.
What have you been up to over the last year since you haven’t raced much, did you have some sort of injury?
Yeah when I was racing last June I was dealing with a small achilles injury and it bothered me for a while. I tried to run Nationals and I couldn't finish the race because I just didn't want to make it worse. So I had to drop out and that's why I disappeared.
I took a few months off. I just stopped running and made sure that my achilles was right. Then I came back to running very slowly and just made sure I got out there racing the right way. So that's why I disappeared from racing. I came back to Iowa State and started grad school – I’m also a graduate assistant for the cross country team. Iowa State has given me an incredible opportunity. I’m going to grad school, and get to help with the team, and I get access to all the amazing facilities – the indoor track, a very beautiful cross-country course.
And so I just have to stay grounded and train and this is a great place for me to be able to do that, and for me to focus and make sure I get back to running and racing in a big way.
What’s the rough plan for the rest of the year?
This was my last race for the year. I wanted a bigger race to aim for and that was Cross Champs. You know it’s going to be Christmas and the New Year so I likely won’t race anything until February or March. This race was a great validation of my fitness and the building process, and generally, I really don’t like racing too much, I like attacking bigger races that are a bit more spread out.
My health is good and my strength is good, so heading into the indoor season I feel like I just need to work on some speed endurance, which is a fun place to be in after taking time off for that injury. But really I’m probably only looking to do one lower key race and a fast 5k during the indoor season. Like just about everyone else, it’s all about outdoors and setting myself up to be able to run some fast times in some big races in the spring.
Are you going to keep competing for Kenya or is there any chance we can get you in a USA jersey?
That's who I am at the moment and I think I'm just good with it. But you know, whatever happens, happens, and I’m not picky about it. Both countries are obviously very special.
Those Kenyan championships can be incredibly difficult, is that the main focus for outdoors?
Yeah that’s what I’m going for. That’s my ultimate goal. If things keep progressing, I want to run really, really fast outdoors, and then push for the championships and see what comes out of that.
I feel like I am still growing as an athlete and that is super exciting. And, you know, the small break taught me a lot. Yeah, it was a bit disheartening to have college end like that but ultimately, you know, I feel it was a good disappearance for me. It’s given me a good break to build again, getting more energy with my body, to be hungry again. I can now see the next four years in front of me, you know.
That’s why I’m not too worried about racing so much this year or coming back too quickly. This is a long-term plan and it’s a sport where consistency wins. But it will also be a good experience to get back out there and race some of the best in the world. I’m excited to see what I can do this year, but it’s a process and without getting too far ahead of myself, I’m even more excited about the years after.
I think I need to trust myself more and trust that I can do something special. Every time I set a goal, I surpass it, and I think that’s something I’ve struggled with at times. So now I want to set bigger goals, to achieve bigger things.
How validating was it that your process is working after beating such a good field?
I mean, that was the main goal. I’d been waiting for this, but I still had to show up. I knew there were some really good guys – most of those guys I’m friends with, we raced all the time in college, you know! And yes, a lot of them had good years last year, so this was also about letting them know that I am not gone. I am still here.
Do all of you 10k guys already know which meet outdoors you’ll be going after the standard?
That's what me and my coach have been talking about: you don't have to worry about the specific races and what's going to come up. The most important thing is to be ready in May and June, because things happen, and you can’t be too focused on a single event. Also, most of the time, everyone commits to these meets just a few weeks out once everyone sees the weather, or the pacers committed. So it’s all about just being ready and being prepared for the moment, and capitalizing when it presents itself.