Foot Locker Journal: Austin Pondel, Corry Area - Burgers on the beach (oh, and a race, too)


Photos by Margot Kelly, Phil Grove and Don Rich


Post-Foot Lockers

Hey everybody, this is my journal update that includes the whole Foot Locker National event in San Diego. The trip was an awesome experience, and I had a great time meeting new people, getting the hang of traveling and competing, and soaking up the San Diego weather.
After the Northeast Regional, I got home about 11:30 that night and got back to another training cycle.
November 25th & 26th – 40-50 minutes very easy and on the 26th I included 11 x 1 minute pick-ups to get my cadence back.
27th – A 7.6-mile tempo averaging about 5:50 that included a long 2.25-mile hill at the very end. I do this exact workout and route as a fitness check-up through the season. I know that sounds ridiculously slow, but when you are wearing four layers and have a killer hill at the end, it’s pretty solid. The next day was an easy 45 minutes with strides after.
29th – A killer workout that my coach set up - (400, 600, 600, 1200) x 3 with minimal rest on a gravel path throughout a cemetery where we do longer interval workouts.
From Friday till Sunday morning, I took an official visit to Penn State. I roomed with Wade Endress and had a great time meeting the team, seeing the campus and talking with the coaches. While there, I did a ladder workout on the indoor track (my first time really running on an indoor track). The other two days were just easy 35-45 minute runs. Then came a problem that I hadn’t faced all season ... an injury.
The tendons on the outside of my ankles and the muscles on the front of my shin were very inflamed and sore. This injury wasn’t caused at Penn State but just a matter of not completely treating it. It would get a tad sore once in a while throughout the season, but after 5-10 minutes of ice would always be fine. On Monday, I jogged 4 miles, and on Tuesday, I jogged 2 miles on the treadmill. I then found the main cause and treatment because of physiology ace Adam Lambert! He found that my hip flexors were very tight, which caused tension on my quads which then caused tension on my muscles/tendons around my ankles. I did my last hard workout on Wednesday, which was a ladder cut down from 1K to 200 meters.
On Thursday morning, I had to wake up at 2:50 a.m. to get ready and catch my flight out of Erie at 5:45 a.m. I arrived in San Diego around 11 a.m. PT with my mom, sister and coach. I met about seven other runners at the airport, and we were taken to the Hotel Del Coronado in a coach bus. There I received a duffle bag full of Asics gear, which was awesome. I was paired up with Sean McGorty as a roommate, and we had a good time together and shared each other’s information. That afternoon all the runners got together for a run, and I finally met up with the PA guys. I did a 30-minute shake-out run and did 4 x 20-second strides after. That night I ate dinner with all the Northeast guys, and mostly all the time was spent asking Edward Cheserek questions. Ha ha. We did a regional team competition, and for some reason, the team wanted “Team Pondel” as our name. ?
By 9 p.m. that night, I was dead and went to bed. The next day we walked the course, and my coach had me do two loops of the hill and downhill section of the course while practicing making tangent turns to be more efficient. I went back to the hotel and just rested the whole afternoon as I was still feeling a little jet lagged. Friday night we had our pasta dinner and got to meet/listen to the Elite athletes which was really cool! We went to bed around 9 p.m.
Race Day: After eating breakfast and going to the course, I laid around until it was an hour before introduction and started my warm-up. I was feeling swift and good during my drills. Being introduced was one of the coolest things that weekend. At the start of the race it was around 70 degrees and sunny. The gun went off and my starting sprint felt good, but I was still back about 35-40th after 200 meters. My splits were 2:21 for 880 yards and 4:50 for 1 mile, and going up the steep hill the first time I felt so-so, and I think around 1.25 miles I was around 25th.
First half: Good, Second Half: Not so good. I got to the 2-mile mark at 10:03, and I was pretty much done there. I finished in 32nd at 16:00 and was more spent than States and the Northeast Regional. I am proud for how good I peaked at states and am finally coming around to seeing that many athletes that had great state races were pretty gone by Nationals. My friend Max Norris said it best, “You have to pick and choose your races.” A shot at Nationals was realistic, thinking that I was still in that peak shape from 4 weeks ago is unrealistic ... and I felt it.
Overall, I gave it my best and that was what I had on December 8. End of sob story. My afternoon and evening was CRAZY! I ate a great burger, fries and sundae next to the beach, went ice skating next to the beach with Brent Kennedy and Edward Cheserek. Roamed the beach and went to the hot tub with Edward Cheserek and then talked with some coaches. We had a great banquet that night, and Meb Keflezighi was the one to hand me my plaque. I had a great time with the PA people that night and actually got to meet/hangout with Regan Rome and Kennedy Weisner. I wouldn’t trade that weekend and exposure for anything in the world. My advice after my last high school XC season – train your hardest, take controlled risks, and learn your body and chances while racing.
I want to thank my family for supporting me from seventh grade till now and allowing me the chance to get better. My great coach Katie Kuttenkuler: This is her second year coaching me for XC and has been coaching me since freshman year in track. She definitely knows some stuff, and finally my team that I had great fun throughout the year. 
Austin Pondel







Pre-Foot Lockers


December 3

Hey everyone, I hope I can give an insight to my training and great season that led me to some unbelievable performances. I am trying to give the best detail because being a Foot Locker Finalist has been a dream of mine since my sophomore year, and I hope to inspire others. I am from Columbus, PA (approximately 50 minutes southeast of Erie) and go to Corry Area High School. Throughout last spring, I had an Achilles issue lasting from January through April so my track PRs are not flashy at all. My coach, Katie Kuttenkuler, was a collegiate runner and made it to D2 Nationals in XC. She designed our program with a lot of endurance and strength training, which really comes in handy for the 5K distance.

Summer Training
My XC training started in late June with basic endurance runs. I kept building my mileage up through the end of August where I peaked at 80 miles per week (MPW). I would double usually 2-3 times a week, and some staple workouts were long runs from 13-15 miles, long hill repeats and 5-plus mile tempos. One key thing I did were 200-meter strides after workouts throughout the weeks to help with staying tuned a little and to change gears after these endurance runs. Our team had an optional team practice every other week, and it was really good to see people (especially middle school) come out. Our team had eight guys, 16 girls and a total of 20 middle school runners.

The Season

After all the hard work, it was time to show off my capabilities throughout the season. At my very first race on September 1, I won the McDowell Invite in 15:36. This gave me a HUGE confidence boost because it made me #2 all-time on the course and now #3 is Andy Weilacher (2x AA XC State Champ, Foot Locker Finalist and made a World XC Team). The main issue throughout my season was getting to meets with competition. Before districts, my average winning margin was about 32 seconds. At one point in the season, Phil Grove of pa.milesplit made arrangements at the Legends Meet in Cortland, Ohio, so I would be in the same race with Cory Glines (OH 1600m state champ), but their team didn’t show up. I was consistently breaking 16:00 on every course where last year I broke 16:00 once. Through September our team had a region tri-meet every Tuesday, so for some I would do 800 repeats before the race and then tempo the race to make an overall great workout. Probably my favorite invitational was the Boardman Spartan Invite near Youngstown, Ohio, that had 100-plus teams and fans lining the course everywhere.                                          Photo by Phil Grove

Districts & States
Through the entire season I had kept the mileage between 60 and 70 MPW with a day off every other week, and coming into the championship season, the mileage was still at 60 MPW. The district (10) race was a showdown between me and Dan Jaskowak, a real friendly relationship, and we were both excited since the last time we raced was our district track meet. It was a chilly high 40s with a wet, muddy course that made it very slippery. I had planned on making a lot of surges throughout the race, but I ended up having to stop my surges to make sure not to slip, which really made my strategy worthless. At one point, Dan and I kind of slipped together and almost fell down. It ended with a long battle to the finish where Dan got me the last 30m. Being a team captain, this last district meet felt very surreal and the boys team had a solid third-place performance and the ladies finished a solid 7th.

Going into the state meet, I was the 11th returnee but had the goal of finishing in the top 3 and really just running my hardest. No one in AAA had raced me, and I hadn’t raced anyone in AAA, so with how good I was running, it would be a surprise to some. I was also very excited as my sophomore wingman Curtis Royek qualified for states for the first time; it is a relationship of guiding and keeping our nerves calm. The last hard workout I did was on Wednesday before and consisted of seven laps going 35 seconds, then 45 seconds continuously. We jogged the course the day before, and our coach emphasized picking points out on the course where we would make moves during the race. Race day, I did my standard warm-up an hour before the race and was feeling very “feather-footed” so I was expecting a good day. Curtis and I had a chat before the race, did some handshakes and prayers, and headed back to the line. The gun went off, and I had a so-so start at probably around 40th once getting to the road. Around the 800m mark, there was Conner Quinn and a kid wearing white in front of me. The kid fell down, which made me put a hand on the ground but I didn’t really lose any time. The first mile was decently fast, and I got to the front of the pack before going over the bridge to the hills. The pace was still going, but there was still quite of a lot of people around. I made a strong move at the top of the first Aloha Hill that made Jack Macauley come and strung things out a little. After the second hill, I was feeling the after-effects of the move and was getting scared that I would unravel and lose a lot of spots while running up with Tony Russell, Brent Kennedy and Jack. Tony made a heck of a move that I couldn’t cover. After crossing the bridge, I kept playing catch-up with Brent, but he had more at Poop-Out Hill, which caused a gap that held to the finish. At first, I was kind of disgusted because my last half was a struggle but I came around and was happy with being third fastest overall in the state and that I made the race with my move. I couldn’t have done that performance without my family support and Coach Kuttenkuler’s training.

Foot Locker Northeast
I got back into the grind of training after states and raised my mileage back up to 60+. Here were my hard workouts:
November 6: Did 14.2 miles on hilly dirt roads at 6:36 average pace and felt terrific.
7-8: Did 6-7 mile runs and on the 8th did 5x3min pick-ups
On November 9, I went down to Penn State to watch the Mid-Atlantic Regional. It was an AMAZING experience, and I did a 48-minute run before the Men’s race. It was really fun to watch and saw several individuals racing that I recognized on teams. After the race I went on my first official visits to La Salle and Lehigh all in one weekend (Don’t double visit, it is very exhausting!)
14th: 7x350m hill repeats to really build leg strength and help form
16th: 2x2mile at 5:19 average mile pace with 5 minute rest in-between. After second 2-mile tempo, I had a 2:30 minute rest then did a 400 in 67.
18th: 11.2 miles with 5x45-second pick-ups; averaged 6:27
19th: I did 2x400 (66 seconds), 2x800 (2:26), 2x1200 (3:48) then 1x400 (70secs)
21st: My last hard workout before Regionals is a common tune-up workout we’ve done and gives me a lot of confidence that I need in my speed. 3x400 (65 seconds) and 4x200 (30 seconds) with 1 minute rest in between everything.
I left Thanksgiving morning with my mom, my coach and her husband for NYC. We got there that night and ate dinner at the hotel’s diner (no Thanksgiving food thoughL). The next morning we got up and traveled to see Grand Central Station and Rockefeller Plaza. This was my first time to NYC, and it was a really different experience from where I come from. I even bought a soft pretzel from a street vendor so that I could say I ate NYC street food. I went to the course around 2 p.m. and jogged it; then did strides. The morning of the race I stayed in the car and even took a 20-minute nap because it was very cold and windy out. I did my standard warm-up and drills and overall felt decent.

The race started off and I managed to get into about 40th after going around the big Foot Locker inflatable guy. This race was the first time I had worn arm sleeves since my sophomore states race, and during the 1st mile I was debating whether to take them off because it felt like they were messing with my arm swing. My coach told me to be around top 15-20 at the mile, and I was far from (maybe mid-30s) but I didn’t panic because I knew I had a lot of time. Once getting to halfway, I was still very far behind and was panicking because no one was dropping back so I was very scared of not even getting top 20. Somehow, someway, I started clicking again and with about 1200m left I was in 11th place. I got into 10th and heard people saying “oh that kid has the last spot” and I held it to the finish. I dropped from exhaustion, but once getting to the tent I was PUMPED! My coach and mom were flipping out just as I was. Congrats to all the PA guys and girls that made it to San Diego, and my goal for Nationals is Top 20.