The Extra Mile

SPORTS-mike-20091201025920-1-JMConsidering the dependability and endurance that Warren College senior Mike Wright showed during his stellar four-year career on the UCSD cross-country team, it may come as a surprise that he started off as a sprinter.

Wright began his competitive running career speeding through races measured by hundredths of seconds on his junior-high track team. After moving on to high school, however, he found the further he ran, the luckier he got. So he tried his legs at cross country.

“I went out for the track team with the idea of being a 400-meter runner,” Wright said. “But as the distances increased, I would perform better, [so] I gradually became a distance runner.”

After running with the track team at Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif., Wright was persuaded by some of the long-distance runners on his team to join the school’s cross-country team. This, he knew, would be a crucial step in his future as a runner.

Wright’s team lacked plans for weekend or summer training, so he challenged his team to new limits by increasing their weekly training mileage from about 40 miles to 100 miles.

As a junior, Wright and classmate Dillon Brook began to organize runs for the team on off-days. The team visibly improved — as did its top two runners. By his senior year, the Ponderosa Bruins were in a position to compete for a spot at the California Interscholastic Federation state championships. In what Wright calls the highlight race of his high-school career, Ponderosa went into the San Joaquin section finals with a spot in the CIF championship on the line.

“Our whole high-school career, a school called Oak Ridge had dominated our league,” Wright said. “At section finals my senior year, we beat them for the first time, and got to take the last spot to state championships.”

Once the dust had settled after the thrilling finals victory, Wright looked for ways to continue his cross-country career. After a grueling college search, Wright chose UCSD because of its location and top-notch academics and athletics.

Like all cross-country hopefuls, Wright arrived on campus more than a month before classes to try out for the team. At first, he was shocked at the step up in intensity of college workouts, but eventually eased into the routine with the help of the UCSD coaching staff.

“The warm-ups we were doing for our workouts were as long as what I would do for an entire workout in high school,” he said.

In the end, Wright survived the extra mileage, made the team and went on to have a stellar freshman season. He competed in almost every meet, finishing the season at the NCAA Division-II West Regional Championships with the sixth best time for UCSD.

After his freshman campaign, Wright became an established member of the squad, continuing to improve through his sophomore year. But his breakout performance came his junior year, when he made an impressive showing at the West Regionals, finishing third on the team and 45th overall. Wright’s achievements did not go unnoticed — he was named the team’s most-improved runner at the end of the season.

This year, he inherited a significant leadership role on the team after senior Daniel Anderson suffered an early-season injury, leaving Wright as the team’s only competing senior on the 2009 roster.

“It’s definitely a different experience being a senior,” Wright said. “There are a lot more responsibilities associated with the seniority, but it’s been something I’ve enjoyed. I enjoyed both being a freshman and being a senior, but for totally different reasons.”

As a freshman, I had no idea what to expect. I had all my goals laid out, and every time I had a question, I just had to ask somebody. As a senior, I’ve really enjoyed being able to answer a lot of those questions when the underclassmen have them.”

Wright’s learned leadership came into play during his last cross-country race in a UCSD uniform: the 2009 NCAA West Regional Championships. About one half-mile into the race, he noticed that nearly all his teammates were running near each other — but not together as a group.

Wright called for them to stay together for about a mile of their 10K race, after which a smaller group broke off and kept together for more than half the race, helping lead his team to a ninth-place finish. Individually, Wright finished 43rd overall and second on the team. It was his best regional finish ever — and a fitting way to close out his UCSD career.

“I could see them running close to each other, but I’m not sure they knew they were that close,” Wright said. “I just came up to them and said ‘Hey let’s get together,’ and we fell into a pack. I definitely think that helped calm us down and [got] us focused early on in the race.”

Wright said he had great respect for the Triton seniors he has run with over his years on the team, and kept them in mind during his final season as a Triton.

“No matter what, regardless of ability or anything like that, I’ll always look up to the upperclassmen that I ran with,” he said. “The knowledge that they imparted on me while they were here is invaluable.”

Wright’s favorite moments in his UCSD career include breaking four minutes in a 1,500-meter race and dressing up as the solar system for the UCSD Athletic’s annual costume contest. Although his four years as a member of the Triton cross-country team are over, he said he sees himself continuing to run long into the future.

“Once I’m done running for the university, I can be more flexible,” Wright said. “I’d like to branch out and try some half-marathons or marathons.”

Readers can contact Liam Rose at [email protected].

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