Riley Coates (Class of ‘11) has enjoyed an extended and very successful running career; and one that's far from over.
Note: An abbreviated version of this blog post originated in the 2017 Runnin' Raider Newsletter which can be found at www.runninraiders.com
As a senior in 2011, Riley set the Stevens record in the 800 meters (1:55.1) to go along with modest (by NCAA Division I standards) P.R.’s of 4:23/9:40 in the 1600/3200 meters on the track. While in college at the Air Force Academy, Riley made huge gains, twice qualifying for the NCAA Cross Country Championships and then specializing in the 5,000 & 10,000 meters on the track.
Riley closed his college career running personal bests of 14:08 and 29:52 for the track distance events. To put 14:08 for 5,000m into perspective, that's 4:33 per mile for just over three miles. Riley debuted in the half marathon in January and posted an impressive time of 1:05 and change, narrowly missing the Olympic Trials mark of 1:04.00.
Last fall, Riley earned a spot on USA’s World Military Cross Country Championship squad via his performances at the USA Cross Country Championship, which the military branches use as their selection race for the World Military Championships. Held in Balatonakarratya, Hungary, the event included teams from all over the world.
In the 12 kilometer championship, Riley had an exceptional race, finishing as the 2nd USA runner (24th overall). Riley generously provided a recap of his experience in the following text.
"Europeans take Cross Country very seriously and try to make their courses as difficult as possible. There were several obstacles on the roughly 2.3K loop course (5 loops total) including logs, sand, and water pits. With 6 obstacles to each loop, this totaled 30 obstacles to clear while also running 12K of cross country terrain. Fortunately, I managed to clear each one without issue. Not so fortunately, I managed to find a tree root sticking out of the ground with my left foot and hitting the ground pretty hard around the 9k mark. Although I was back on my feet quickly, the fall was a shock to the system, and my last 3k or so was a grind.
I managed to finish 24th overall in an unspectacular time, but overall was pretty happy with my race. We ended up 5th as a team, against some very competitive European and Asian teams.
The following day, most athletes departed for the airport and went home. However, two of my teammates and I opted to spend three extra days in Budapest, Hungary's capital city and also the site of the 1994 World XC Championships in which Greg Jimmerson (another Stevens alumnus) competed. We had a fantastic time, learned a lot about the country's turbulent history, and of course had some great exploration runs around the city and along the River Danube.
Overall, it was an awesome experience, gave me my first taste of international competition, and got me fired up to qualify for even more races like this in the near future."
Finally, I asked Riley to give some advice for high school runners.
"Trust the process. Be patient, yet relentless in your training. Some of the worst Freshmen/Sophomores end up becoming the fastest upperclassmen because they never gave up and let nothing discourage them. All it takes is one good summer to go from being a JV runner to a team scorer at the state championship.
There is no reason to mentally limit yourself to what you did last season. High school is a time where your body is still developing and everyone makes jumps at different times and to varying degrees. One year's time can make a huge difference, especially when you elevate your training. Championships are won by teams that collectively make the decision to commit to the program wholeheartedly for four years, even with the smallest amounts of talent at the onset.
Finally, give it 100%; this is a time you never want to look back on and think "I know I could have done more, but I never found my ceiling because I didn't."
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