Johns Hopkins Women’s XC Takes Fourth National Title

The Johns Hopkins Blue Jays captured their fourth NCAA XC 
National Championship in November (Photo / JHU)

BALTIMORE (December 19, 2016) – On November 19, the Johns Hopkins University women’s cross country team won its fourth NCAA Division III national championship in five years. All four have come under head coach Bobby Van Allen, who also leads the Blue Jays’ men’s cross country team and men’s and women’s track teams.

Van Allen joined the Hopkins staff in 1999 as an assistant coach and was promoted to head coach later that year. He is a former University of Maryland runner, where he earned All-East cross country honors and was also an ACC finalist in the 1,500-meters. Four days after JHU captured the national championship, he was named the USTFCCCA Coach of the Year. It was the fourth time Van Allen has earned the honor.

The head coach recently shared his thoughts with Fieldhouse on how Hopkins develops a cross country champion in a major city, the unique facility partnership it has with Loyola University Maryland, and how by placing academics first his runners also become better competitors. The interview was conducted over the phone and edited for length and clarity. – TF

Fieldhouse: For the second time in three years, I’ve been at a Hopkins football playoff game and heard the crowd roar when they announced over the loudspeaker that the women’s cross country team had just won the national championship. 

Van Allen: I certainly never thought that this would be happening one day, but we’ll take it.

Fieldhouse: When did you first start to get the feeling that Hopkins could be an upper echelon program? Now you’ve even surpassed that and are the top team in the country. 

Van Allen: It was probably right in the 2009-2010 range when we started to see a change in the culture of our program. The girls were really buying into the training and committing themselves to succeeding. At that point, winning our conference championship wasn’t good enough for them.

We made our first trip to the NCAAs in 2007 and then started becoming regulars there. The team then really started to focus on getting onto the podium. We wanted to “finish” and we were able to do that for the first time in 2012. That set a new bar that became our goal every year.

No matter who you have, and this crew is completely different from when we won our first one, that’s still the goal that we have going into the season.

Fieldhouse: What are your primary running routes in Baltimore City and what would you say makes for a good urban runner?

Van Allen: Fortunately Hopkins is nestled in that very northern part of the city. So we pretty much run in every direction but south because we’d be stuck on the sidewalk and behind traffic lights. There are really a lot of places to run in all three other directions.

We do a lot of stuff on the Stony Run Trail; that’s a nice dirt trail that runs from Hopkins north up to Gilman School and southwest over to Druid Hill Park. So that four-mile stretch we incorporate into a lot of our distance runs.

There is a lot of stuff at Lake Roland Park; there are about 10 miles of trails back in there. Most of our cross country workouts are over in Druid Hill. We’ve got three different grass sections where we have anywhere from 800-meter to 2,000-meter loops that we use.

We also have Lake Montebello, Druid Hill Lake, and all the neighborhoods, through Roland Park, down Cold Spring, and to the Arboretum. There is quite a lot that we have to choose from compared to most city schools that are more downtown-based.

Hopkins’ runners at the 2016 NCAA DIII Championships (photo / JHU)

Fieldhouse: Is there a hurdle in trying to describe to a potential recruit a city that they may think of as a pretty industrial place and not conducive to running distance?

Van Allen: The biggest thing that we try to do is to get them on campus and show them first-hand. If they’re interested in the school, or if they’re looking at top academic schools, we hope that we’d be in the mix. The combined success of the track & field and cross country programs means that I can usually get them on campus to show them everything and the places that we run.

We try to talk about the opportunities that they would have with research internships within the city that they might not have at more remote campuses.

We have a diversity of trails to run, and we certainly showcase the best of what Baltimore can offer. The biggest part is trying to get them here on campus so I can explain my philosophy and training expectations and how it coincides with their academic priorities.

If we can do that, I think we have at least a good chance of having them come here. The biggest obstacle is getting them accepted.

Fieldhouse: Johns Hopkins built a track facility with Loyola University Maryland. How did that come about? Are you able to train with Loyola?

Van Allen: I started in 1999, and at that point we had a four-lane track around Homewood Field. It was very challenging to get our workouts in without getting hit by footballs or lacrosse balls or soccer balls at times. When there were games or competitions, we couldn’t use the track at all.

In 2004, we renovated all of Homewood Field. We put that artificial turf in, we widened the field, and that’s when [athletic director] Tom Calder talked to me about trying to look for a place to build a new track and get rid of the one at Homewood.

So those talks started that year. Loyola came into the picture because at the same time they were trying to fund a project of building a track themselves off [Baltimore’s] Northern Parkway. It was going to be very expensive, so it made sense for both them and us. We can now both run to the facility.

As far as training with one another, that doesn’t happen. Even when we’re sharing a track with Loyola, there are different NCAA parameters that we have to follow that would prohibit us from practicing with them.

Fieldhouse: What are the limitations? That you’re not competing?

Van Allen: Yes. We can talk, we can be there together, but if we’re doing the same workout together, then in a sense we’re competing against one another.

Fieldhouse: Baltimore weather can vary quite a bit during one cross-country season, from brutally hot to cold. You get kids coming to Hopkins from all over the country. How do you acclimate them to running there?

Van Allen: You nailed it as far as our kids coming from all different places. We’ve had a couple from Alaska and a couple from Hawaii as well.

A lot of adjusting is just trying to have the flexibility to train earlier or later in the day when it’s cooler. It becomes a little more difficult after classes get started, and we’re really at the mercy of the class schedule. That puts us practicing around 4 o’clock most days, and that end of August – early part of September period is pretty challenging.

On our most intense days, early in the year, we’re trying to do a lot of those in the morning. We get up and start things around 6:30 AM and get them done before it gets too hot.

Fieldhouse: At Hopkins, they’re facing a heavy academic load in the classroom. How do you balance that with running? 

Van Allen: We start talking about this very early in the recruiting process. We emphasize that we’re not really trying to get them to have equal time or have them balance their academics and athletics. They hear it from me early on – their academics or anything related to career goals or to internships or research are really their top priorities.

It really reduces the amount of stress by allowing our team to be that second priority after they’ve gotten everything done. I think a lot of it is managing stress levels and we have a great support system with our office of academic advising, study groups, and pilot programs. I just try to help encourage and foster that.

Louie Zamperini, War Hero and Olympian, 97

Olympian Louie Zamperini (photo – public domain)

LOS ANGELES (July 6, 2014) – Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner and World War II hero, died this week at the age of 97. He succumbed to a battle with pneumonia fought over the last month of his life.

“Unbroken,” the 2010 bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand, brought Zamperini’s name and nearly unfathomable story of physical and mental perseverance to a modern audience. A movie of the same name is scheduled to be released later this year.

The Torrance, California native ran the 5,000 meters at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, best remembered in the States for the performance of Jesse Owens in discrediting Hitler’s racial and national propaganda agendas. Zamperini competed in the 5k at the Olympics despite only several weeks of training at that distance. Although not medaling, his blistering last lap of 56 seconds caught the personal attention of Hitler and Zamperini reluctantly complied with the dictator’s request for a congratulatory word with him.

At the same games, the talented but wild teen was nearly arrested for ripping down a Nazi flag on a drunken lark. He fooled his would be captors into thinking he was taking it down for a souvenir.

The 1940 Olympics were cancelled due to World War II, and Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps well prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the U.S. entry into combat in late 1941. There is speculation that had the War not so dramatically altered the course of his life, Zamperini might have been the first runner to break the four-minute mile. It’s more than wishful contemplation; his mile mark of 4:08.3 while at USC in 1938-1939 held for fifteen years as the college standard (he had an even faster time, 4:07.6, indoors), and the 4:00 mile wasn’t eclipsed until 1954.

In the Air Corps, Louie became a bombardier on the infamously difficult to navigate B-24 Liberator. Its nickname was the “Flying Brick.” Ultimately the shortcomings of the B-24, and one especially flawed plane in particular, caught up with Zamperini and in May, 1943 his plane crashed into the Pacific while on a search mission for a downed pilot.

Only Zamperini and two fellow crew members survived the crash, and began a 47-day journey on a life raft, lacking ample food, water, and protection from the elements above and below them. Sharks were a constant threat and as the raft deflated and listed close to the water line, the predators became only more emboldened in their attempts to attack the men. Only two of the three survived the trip, Louie and pilot Russell “Phil” Phillips.

They finally approached land on a Pacific Island after drifting 2,000 miles, only to be captured by a Japanese patrol boat.

Their treatment in prison camp was brutal, and Zamperini was singled out for excruciating punishment from a sadistic prison guard, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed “the Bird.” The prisoners who survived the conditions increasingly grew concerned that, as the tide began to turn in the Allies’ favor, they would be killed if the Japanese lost. Their fears were well-founded, the camp was located on what became known as Execution Island. Miraculously they were spared.

Understandably Zamperini struggled after the horrors he experienced during the war. Sleep came only with difficulty, he drank often and heavily, and he frequently fantasized about revenge upon the Bird. It was during the dire years of the late 1940’s that he found his direction through visits to Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade. It proved a pivotal turn from disaster, and Zamperini in the ensuing years became an inspirational speaker and founded a camp for troubled youths, among many accomplishments. He also wed the former Cynthia Applewhite and they were married for more than 50 years, until her death in 2001. They had two children, Luke and Cynthia.

Ultimately, Zamperini forgave his wartime tormentors, some in person during a 1950 Tokyo visit to a prison where they were serving sentences for war crimes. He was even willing to forgive the Bird. Watanabe refused to meet with Zamperini when he had the opportunity in 1998 when Louie returned to Japan to carry the torch at the Nagano Winter Games.

Hillenbrand, who struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and spent 1,000’s of hours in compiling his story despite being largely confined to bed, said upon his passing, “Farewell to the grandest most buoyant, most generous soul I ever knew. Thank you, Louie, for all you gave to me, to our country, and to the world…”

Conley Wins 10K Nationals, Loyola’s Horst Offers Insights

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 27, 2014) – Olympian Kim Conley, 28, sprinted past Oregon’s Jordan Hasay in the last 75 meters to become the USATF 10,000 meter national champion. Hasay had taken the lead with roughly 225 meters left in the race before Conley closed convincingly.

Conley competed in the 5,000 meters at the London Games in 2012 and had tremendous indoor and spring seasons, setting a series of PR’s and continuing a string of improvement that has been a hallmark of her career.

The choice of 10,000 meters was no coincidence. “Since this is a non-World Championships year, athletes often choose to experiment with a different event at the national championships since there isn’t as much at stake,” said Conley. “I think I have the potential to be competitive at the 10k as wll as the 5k, so I wanted to try it out this year at the championship level and, if all goes well, have my options open for both the World Championships next year and the Olympics in 2016,” she added.

That strategy appears to have played out perfectly to form.

Conley, running for New Balance/SRA Elite, turned in a 32:02.07 winning time with Hasay of Nike Oregon Project claiming second with a 32:03.28 and Amy Hastings running for Brooks and taking third with a 32:18.81.


Loyola University Maryland women’s track & field head coach Amy Horst, a former collegiate distance runner at MSOE and later an assistant coach at Marquette, offered insight into the tactics Conley is honing in keeping her options open at the 10k and 5k distances.

Distance runners, the truly good ones, are just that – distance runners. So whether it be a 1,500 or 10k, successful athletes will be able to race a full variety and not pigeon hole themselves into one race. If you really look at the speed, the true velocity (meters/second) of a race, in a championship 10k the field will run both sedentary and world record paces all in the same race.”

“My coaches will talk about ‘critical speed’ and loosely defined, that’s the speed that you must race at in the last segment of the race to be in a competitive position to win. In the 800 that may be the last 200m, the last 300-500 in the 1500, or that last 1600 in a 10k,” said Horst.


Olympic Runner Kim Conley in the May 13 Wall Street Journal

by Boxer Journal May 15, 2014
Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal included an article by Tom Flynn on Olympic 5,000 meter runner, Kim Conley. Kim continues on her ever-ascending path through the elite national and international ranks as the USATF Outdoor Championships approach next month in Sacramento.

(Note: the above photo is used with permission of Getty Images through their free online photo service)

Sports History: Ted Corbitt

Ted Corbitt (Photo /
Ted Corbitt (Photo /

It was five years ago this month that America’s original ultramarathoner, Ted Corbitt, passed away at the age of 88.

Corbitt, quiet, slight, and standing just 5’7″, was small in stature but prominent in accomplishment, having once been dubbed by New York City Marathon founder Fred Lebow as “the father of American distance running.”

The accolades accorded Corbitt were many. He was at one time the US marathon champion and in 1952 was a member of the US Olympic marathon squad despite having first run the event just the year prior. At different times Corbitt held the American record in the marathon, 100 mile, and 25, 40 and 50 kilometer distances.

Corbitt was not content simply to compete, winning 30 of the some 200 marathons that he estimated he ran. He also played centrally in the organizing of competitions at a time when marathon races drew few fans and fewer participants. He helped to found the Road Runners Club of America in 1957 and was instrumental in developing standardized measuring guidelines for race distances. In 1958 he co-founded the New York Road Runners Club, and in 1959 he organized the country’s first ultramarathon in New York, and won it.

Away from racing, Corbitt’s accomplishments were also considerable. He served in the Army in WW II, earned his undergraduate degree in education from the University of Cincinnati, and later completed his masters in physical therapy.

He eventually rose to the rank of Chief Physical Therapist at New York’s International Center for the Disabled. Until 1973, he ran to work every day, sometimes building 20 to 30 mile detours into his commute. He was a father to one son, Gary, and a husband to Ruth Butler for 42 years.

Corbitt grew, arguably, more active as he aged and certainly more committed to ultra events after bronchial asthma and the onset of age slowed his times and extended his distances. At 81 he walked 240 miles over six days. At 82 he walked 303.