Athlete of the Week: Ben Zywicki, Senior, Cross Country

At 6:30 in the morning, most people are still sleeping. At 6:30 in the morning at this time of the season, even the sun is still sleeping. But, at 6:30 in the morning, Senior Ben Zywicki’s isn’t observing the inside of his eyelids. His alarm clock wakes him up and encouragingly nudges him out the door for his daily jog. This ‘jog’ consists of over six miles and has greeted the cross country runner every morning for five years. And as his career winds to a close, his hard work has begun to pay off.

A fifth-year senior at CSM, Zywicki helped lead the Orediggers to third place finishes at the RMAC and Regional Championships and a fourth place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky. At the regional championships last month, Zywicki inched past Western State’s Sean Brown by 0.01 seconds to become the first men’s runner in team history to place first in any of the three championship races. For his efforts, he was recently named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Central Region runner of the year, the first CSM runner to earn the award. And in addition to being named runner of the year and winning the individual regional championship, Zywicki currently holds the record for the fastest 8K time in CSM history at 23:49 and the second fastest at 24:03. In the five years he has been apart of the team, the Orediggers have reached the National Championships each time, placing as high as third place. When he graduates in May, the Mechanical Engineer looks to continue his running career by training for upcoming marathons. For his success on and off the course, Ben Zywicki is this week’s Athlete of the Week.

[Oredigger] What was going through your head during the final stretch when you won the Regional Championship?
[Zywicki] My main focus was trying to get my legs to the ground. [Sean Brown] was I guy I knew well. I knew I could out kick him, and I was just trying to get my legs to the ground and beat him out. He’s a really strong runner, but I felt that I could out kick him at the end.

How long was it before you knew you won?
I thought I won right away, actually. But it was a good two hours after the race when I found out. Coach and the team didn’t tell me, but when a couple of people came up to interview me, I kind of guessed that it was official. If it ended up that I didn’t win, I would try and just make the best of it and use it to fuel me for the next race.

How did you prepare for the National Championships, your final cross country race?
I just go out to have fun. That’s really it. I had a race strategy and everything, but I want to focus on having the most fun that I can as possible.

How do you stay focused as a team, as for the past six years you have finished behind rivals Adams and Western?
Well, we’re getting closer. And all the teams have been different for them. We always know we have a chance and all it takes is once. They have the attitude that they can’t lose now, so they don’t. But it only takes once.

You still have one more season of track, but what is it like to be completely finished with your cross country career?
I’m going to miss cross country. Track is great and all, but I’m really going to miss cross country. It’s not as structured as track and not all the races are the same, it’s all about competing. And it wasn’t until about a month ago when I realized how much I love running with the team. I’m not going to be able to be on team again.

What are your plans after college?
I don’t have a job lined up yet, but I’m moving to the Woodlands in Texas with my fiancee. And I’ll keep continuing the dream. Most runners don’t peak until they’re 28 or 29 and race-wise, I’m planning on moving up to running marathons. I’ll try to get a few sponsorships to help, but there really is not much money in running.

What is your typical practice schedule?
On a typical week, I go on 13 runs a week. Every morning at 6:30 I go on a run for five to six miles or so.  For four days a week, in the afternoon, we go on a recovery run of about ten to thirteen miles. And the other two to three days, we go on interval runs, doing sets of ‘8x 1K’s or ‘5x Mile’s with 90 seconds of rest. I end up running about 20 miles a day and about 130 miles a week.

What has been the toughest part about being a cross country runner?
It’s definitely a huge time commitment. You have to work hard day in and day out. I’ve taken off 8 days total in the past year. It’s kind of ingrained in my life, and I really enjoy it.

How is the team aspect of cross country different than other sports?
I feel like the team aspect is just as important, if not even more so. In cross country, the team is dependent upon your fifth runner to get a good score; if he has an off day, you can’t win.  I don’t know if any other sport is that dependent on their fifth player as much as cross country is.

What is one major takeaway that you will have from Mines as you end your career?
If you work hard, it will pay off.

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