Cross Country

 

Marci Klimek Rises to the Occasion

By Eric Evenson, Linfield College

There is no better storybook ending like going out on top.

Linfield's Marci Klimek (Sr., Phoenix, Ore.) did just that, winning the six-kilometer race at the 2009 Northwest Conference Championships on Halloween Day in a time of 21 minutes, 50.8 seconds. The win propelled Klimek into a class all by herself as she became the first female champion in the sport of cross country in Linfield history.

For Klimek, it was a victory that was a long time in coming after finishing third place during the 2008 NWC Championships. In 2009, her hard work, backed by a steady confidence, carried Klimek to the crown.

“I definitely didn’t go into it with a particular strategy, instead I just let it play out,” explains Klimek of her benchmark run. “I had a realization at the starting line that this was a race I had an opportunity to win. I realized I could do it and I felt really confident all of a sudden.”

While Klimek has powered her way to the NCAA national championship meet the previous two seasons, neither trip to the regional nor national championships carried with it an NWC title.

With the pressure to conclude her Linfield career with a championship, it was a cool, calm and collected approach from Klimek made the difference between winning or finishing among the also-rans.

“There’s a real advantage to being able to relax in a race or at the start line,” says Klemik. “It’s hard going into a big race like that. I knew it was my senior year and I hadn’t won a championship yet and I really wanted it. That’s where I think the fun comes in. You try to be lighthearted and try and smile.”

Watching Klimek bring home her first championship was especially gratifying for Linfield cross country coach Dr. Garry Killgore.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of her,” notes Killgore. “She has been close so many times to breaking through as a ‘champion’ and to have her finally get what I think she so richly deserves is fantastic.”

What may be the most important to aspect to Klimek’s success is a style of running that is not as conventional as the prototypical approach to cross country running.

Klimek relies on a style based on physical strength, while most cross country runners try to stick to one pace. Klimek uses her strength to take advantage of the course.

“I really look for courses I can take advantage of, so if there is a hill I will push it up the hill or if there’s a corner I can push it around the corner,” explains Klimek. “Other runners don’t realize you are putting in these little surges. I am more of an athletic runner while others are rhythm runners where they get in one pace and stick with that. I try to break it up a little more.”

With four years of experience, Klimek’s growth has come as much from the inside as it has from the physical adjustments of running.

“I think the biggest difference now is that I have opened up to many more possibilities,” says the senior from Pheonix, Ore. “I realize now how many boundaries you put on yourself, even if you say you want to run a certain time. While you have to set a goal you can’t limit yourself to it.”

Killgore is quick to put a finger on the reasons Klimek has had success.

“Marci is focused and confident. She is also very goal-oriented,” says the longtime Wildcats coach. “Like all of the really great competitors, she listens and trusts what we do. She is very determined to be the best that she can be.”

With a little over a week before Klimek hits the trail for Pomoma, Calif., site of the NCAA West Regional, a third-straight trip to nationals is well within reach.

While the task at hand is moving on from regionals to nationals, the ultimate goal for Klimek is a top-35 finish at the NCAA meet, Nov. 22 at Cleveland, Ohio.

That would earn her recognition her first All-America citation in cross country.

“This year I think I realize I can make All-American and it’s something I can be, as opposed to this distanced, far-off goal,” notes Klimek. “I think that I am going to approach the race with a little more purpose.”

Whatever lies ahead in the remaining weekends, it is clear that Klimek will make sure she does one thing: compete.

“More than anything I just really love competing,” reflects Klimek. “I love that more than anything, there’s nothing better than that.”

With one chapter of her storybook signed and sealed, Klimek still has a couple more chapters yet to author in what may be the ultimate ending to a spectacular career.

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