Back to the future: Training at his alma mater

2008 graduate Chris Erichsen is training locally for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston

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November 30, 2011

By Mike Killeen

Chris Erichsen
Chris Erichsen '08 (Photographs by Brace Hemmelgarn '12)

Chris Erichsen is preparing for the biggest race of his life. Where he's preparing for that race may surprise just a few people.

On Nov. 1, Erichsen came home - home to Saint John's University, where he was a multi-decorated performer in both cross country and track and field for the Johnnies from 2004-08. He will spend until early December in Collegeville preparing for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trial, which takes place Jan. 14 in Houston.

Why Saint John's?

"There's really something special about being in Collegeville," Erichsen said. "The combination of the open roads out in the country, and the woods, are a great option. It's a little more quiet and a little more secluded. It's really the perfect option for me right now."

"It's a great place to run - in a nutshell," said SJU cross country and track coach Tim Miles, who coached Erichsen collegiately and is now helping him prepare for the marathon trial. "We all have a little nostalgia for great places we've been, whether you lived there or visited there. This is like a home for him. He went to school here four years. I think it's a place where he's comfortable, and it's a place where he enjoyed training in the past. For anybody who likes to run, it's a great place to run."

And run Erichsen does.

"Throughout November, I'll probably be running between 130 and 150 miles per week," said Erichsen, who generally runs twice a day.

It's all to prepare him for the marathon trials. Approximately 150 U.S. runners have qualified to compete in the 26.2-mile race and determine the three men who will represent the U.S. in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The January race will be Erichsen's third marathon. He won the previous two marathons - the Fargo, N.D., Marathon in 2010, and then the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon March 20 in Virginia Beach, Va. His time there of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 26 seconds qualified him for the marathon trials.

"I really don't know what to expect, at this point," Erichsen said of the trials. "The last time they had the trials, I was still in college. I remember watching it from my dorm room over at Maur (Saint Maur House). But I've never been in a situation where there's going to be a lot of guys as fast or faster than me.

"I'm really excited to see what I can do. This is the first time that I've actually been able to dedicate the majority of my time to training, as opposed to trying to balance work with my training."

The move to Saint John's also reunites him with Miles. Erichsen was a six-time All-American in indoor and outdoor track and an All-America in 2007 in cross country for the Johnnies.

"I really feel like we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things I want to do," Erichsen said. "A lot of my self-coaching was essentially based on what I learned from him. But he's been really great about letting me do my own thing, bouncing my ideas off of him and getting feedback from him. He's letting me guide my training and he's really overseeing the whole process."

"I don't want to be a post-collegiate coach," Miles said. "The great thing with Chris is that just talking about things is all he really needs. He's thinking about a lot more than I am. He'll run things by me - and usually I agree."

Erichsen has taken a leave of absence from his job as a senior business analyst in sourcing at Target.

"The support I've gotten from Target and from Saint John's is fantastic. I've had long-term relationships now with both," Erichsen said. "My relationship with Target dates back to 2003, when I started working part-time in one of its stores. Who knew that they would help me by giving me a leave of absence to train for the Olympic Trials eight years later? And then Saint John's - when I left here in the spring of 2008 after graduation, I had no idea I'd ever spend more than a night here again. But having the opportunity to come back here for a month-plus to do my training in ideal conditions is fantastic."

Erichsen knows he's probably a long-shot to qualify for the Olympics this year. But the 25-year-old knows that distance runners generally don't peak until their late 20s or early to mid-30s.

"Once this is done, I'm definitely focused on the same thing four years from now with the 2016 Olympics," Erichsen said. "Assuming I stay well off health-wise and continue my training, I should be in a lot better shape four years from now and maybe even eight years from now."

"I just don't picture him hanging up his shoes on Jan. 15," Miles said. "He loves his current lifestyle. He loves the training. You go and train twice a day and you grow to love it. It's hard getting started, but you just embrace it."