After swimming 750 meters and biking 20 kilometers at the Junior Elite Nationals in Cincinnati on Aug. 1, Chase McQueen faced his personal demons.
For McQueen, the running portion of a sprint triathlon might as well be contested on shards of glass.
“I hadn’t been able to nail the run,” said McQueen, who is now a senior at Columbus North. “If I am leading, I always get caught on the run, then passed on the run.”
This run, however, was different.
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“I ran a 15:49 5K,” said McQueen, who finished third in the 16-19 age division after placing 42nd last year. “I shocked myself. I haven’t run that fast in just running.”
At North, McQueen “just runs” as part of Rick Weinheimer’s vaunted cross-country program. While he is one of the nation’s top triathletes for his age group, he had to work hard to crack the varsity lineup going into last season’s state cross-country meet.
So if McQueen can run a 15:49 5K after racing through the swim and cycling portions of a triathlon, shouldn’t he be able to crush 5K races in cross-country?
“For me, it’s the terrain,” he said. “Running on grass is harder than running on pavement. You’re not using the same muscles.
“And in cross-country, you have to go out so hard. If you don’t get out well, you’re almost done.”
Weinheimer has worked with McQueen, who Aug. 9 in Milwaukee won the 15-19 age group at the USA Triathlon Sprint National Championships and was second overall among 1,673 competitors, to make him a better runner. Weinheimer said his is “thrilled” to help him down the path of becoming one of the nation’s top triathletes.
North’s veteran coach knows, though, that running a cross-country course is far different than running on the pavement as many triathlons offer.
“There is a conversion from the paved surface to the grass,” Weinheimer said. “You slow down about three to four seconds every 400 meters. There are 12 400s in a 5K. You might need to add 36 seconds to that (paved surface) time.”
That being said, Weinheimer believes that McQueen could have a special senior season in cross-country.
“I think he certainly has the potential to be an all-state runner,” Weinheimer said. “He needs to pick up experience running up front.”
Picking up experience in cross-country was not easy for McQueen, who didn’t join the team until his junior season.
“I started out really bad,” he said. “Well, not bad, but not where I wanted to be. But by the end of the season, I made our varsity lineup that ran at the state meet. I ran progressively better.
“I learned a lot about the communication between the mind and the body. Your body can endure a lot, but your head is telling you that you can’t. You have to get your head in shape.”
His triathlon coach, Scott Wilson of Carmel, has helped him immensely with his running technique as he competes for the Elite Multisport team out of Indianapolis.
But he credits Weinheimer and the Columbus North cross-country program for bringing his running to a much higher level.
“Rick has taught me a lot for sure,” McQueen said of Weinheimer. “In his training program, you have to be dedicated. And he not only teaches you to be a better runner, but a better person.”
Besides the work, McQueen said that being part of the North cross-country team has been plain fun. “I love the team aspect of cross-country,” he said. “In the long run, I think cross-country will help me. In the short run, I want to do anything I can to help the team.
“I’ve got so many friends I’ve made from cross-country.”
Those friends are accepting of the fact that McQueen puts in less mileage than most of them do because he also has to train for the swimming and cycling portions of the triathlon.
“Through the years, we have had what I call ‘shared athletes’ a few times,” Weinheimer said. “There is some give and take with that. His teammates know that when he is able to be with us, he works very hard.
“This hasn’t been difficult at all. Chase doesn’t have a lot of cross-country experience, but his aerobic conditioning is fantastic. This is a perfect match with what he does. It has been fun watching him.”
While McQueen was 162nd at the state cross-country meet last year, that should change soon.
“The bottom line is that within two or three races, he is going to be significantly faster,” Weinheimer said.
Ultimately, that will help with his triathlon times.
He is scheduled to compete at the International Triathlon Union’s Junior America Cup in Edmonton on Sept. 5 and 6. He also is hoping to earn a spot to the Junior Elite World Championship in Chicago on Sept. 17.
In terms of college, McQueen said he has applied to nine universities, including Arizona State, which will host the Olympic training program for the triathlon. He also has applied to Queens University of Charlotte, which gives scholarships to triathletes.
He said his parents, Matt and Neile McQueen, wonder if he spends too much time training for triathlons, but he said it continues to be his passion.
“I had no idea I would be at this level,” he said. “I think I used to do it more for fun. But now it’s really starting to come together.”
Besides his training, McQueen has shifted to a healthy diet that seems to be helping as well.
“The nutritional aspect has started to kick in,” he said.
Now it would appear the sky is the limit.
“I try to stay realistic about my goals,” he said. “I want to take it one step at a time.
“But I do dream of the Olympics.”
WHO: Chase McQueen
SCHOOL: Columbus North
DID YOU KNOW?: Earlier this month, McQueen finished third in the 16-19 age group at the Junior Elite Nationals in Cincinnati and was first in the 16-19 age group at the USA Triathlon Sprint National Championships in Milwaukee