Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Q&A with Richmond's Andrew Benford

Thursday evening University of Richmond standout Andrew Benford and Spider Assistant Coach, Jon Molz will compete in the Penn Relays Olympic Development 3K Steeplechase in Philadelphia.

Andrew Benford (Ravenswood, WV)
remembers his roots...
Shown on his way to the 2009 USATF WV State 5K Title

Andrew Benford (Ravenswood, WV) is a steeplechase and long distance runner on the Richmond Spiders track and field and cross country teams. This past fall (2009) he represented the USA at the 2009 IAAF World Mountain Running Championships in Italy leading the American team with his 13th place finish and tomorrow night (Thursday 4/21) he will compete in the Olympic Development section of the 3K steeplechase at the Penn Relays.

This past spring he was selected the 2009 Most Outstanding Track Performer of the Year for the Atlantic 10 Conference after winning the 3K steeplechase and 5K races at the championships. He also won the USATF West Virginia 5K Championships in Huntington, WV and has personal best times of 8:52 in the 3K steeple, 14:09 in the 5K and 23:44 for 5 Miles. He has also been selected by the West Virginia Sports Writers as the “2009 Track & Field Athlete of the Year” representing the top athlete within the state.

We sat down to ask him a few questions about his experiences and future plans.

In 2009 Benford was selected the
"Outstanding Track Performer"
for the Atlantic 10 Conference

Question: Last spring you were selected the “Outstanding Track Performer” for the A10 Conference and narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the steeplechase. How do you feel about your season?

Benford: I was extremely honored to receive that award at the A10 conference meet. I hadn't run very well up to that point in the season and I told Coach Taylor that I wanted to run both the 3K steeple and the 5K at A10s and that I wanted to win both races. Fortunately, things fell into place and I had good races on those days. However, it turned out to be bittersweet because I missed qualifying for nationals by less than 2 seconds. Since competing at nationals is always my ultimate goal for any season, I can't really say I was happy with how my season turned out, but it does serve as motivation for my upcoming seasons.

Question: This fall (2009) you represented the USA in the IAAF World Mountain Running Championships in Italy and were the top finisher for the team. How did you qualify for the USA Mountain Running Team? Was this part of your plan for the fall?

Benford: To qualify for the US Team, I had to compete in one of two qualifying races (one in New Hampshire and one in Colorado). I had to place in the top 3 in the New Hampshire race or place in the top 2 in the Colorado race. I went to Colorado Springs, CO in late June and trained there for about a month to get acclimated to the altitude and terrain before racing in that qualifier and placing 2nd overall. After making the decision to redshirt cross country in the fall, Coach Taylor and I talked about trying to qualify for the US Mountain Team, and we agreed that it would fit nicely into my schedule for my redshirt season.

Question: What was the experience like competing for and representing the USA? Was it your first USA team?

Benford: The opportunity to compete for and represent your country is one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences for an athlete. When I put on my USA singlet on race day, it made me think back to all of the people who have helped me throughout my running career – my family, my high school coaches, my current coaches, my teammates, and countless others who have supported me along the way. I was a member of the Junior US Mountain Running Team in 2006 and competed in Turkey during the fall of my freshman year. That experience was special, but being selected to that team was based on my running resume rather than an actual qualifying race. On the other hand, I told myself at the beginning of this past summer (2009) that I wanted to make the Senior Men's team and represent the US in Italy. Since I accomplished those goals, it made the experience that much sweeter.

Andrew Benford
(shown here ready to pass Martin Toroitich from Uganda)
on his way to a 13th place finish in
the 2009 IAAF World Mountain Running Championships
in Italy...RESULTS

Question: What is your most vivid memory of your trip to Italy?

Benford: The race course was a 4.3K loop that we ran 3 times. We climbed roughly 1300 ft for the first half, and then dropped back down to complete the loop. On the third and final loop, I was in 15th place at the top of the climb with my American teammate Joe Gray and a Ugandan that I had been battling the entire race who was about 30 meters ahead of me. I passed Joe with about a mile to go in the race and set my sights on the Ugandan. I slowly closed the gap and by the time we reached the final steep descent that led to the finish I was within 15 meters of him. When we came down off the mountain, there were about 75 meters of flat ground before the finish line. I saw my brother and my friend pointing ahead and going crazy. I'll never forget the intense look on my brother's face! I dug deep and gave it one last push to edge the Ugandan at the line and finish 13th.

Question: Why did you and your teammates Matt Llano and Jon Wilson redshirt this cross country season?

Benford: The idea first came up after our junior cross country season. We had just finished a disappointing third at the Atlantic 10 conference meet, but came back to run well at NCAA Regional’s by finishing 8th. Our two main goals since our freshman year have been to win the Atlantic 10 Championship and to qualify as a team for the NCAA National Championship. We talked it over with Coach Taylor and decided that redshirting this past fall would give everyone on the team one more year of training and experience, which would make us a much stronger team next year. In addition, some talented freshmen recruits will be joining our squad next season which will also provide additional depth.
Benford hammering the hills
during the 2008 Navy XC Invitational

Question: What were your goals for the fall (2009) since you redshirted and did you reach those goals?

Benford: The purpose of our redshirt season was to continue to train hard as if we were racing the fall season in order to improve our strength and fitness. While we did not compete in the cross country meets with the team, we entered a few road races to stay competitive and gauge our fitness. Personally, my goals were to improve both physically and mentally, and to gain more experience and confidence in my training. I feel that the redshirt season served its purpose and was a great success. I set personal records over 3K, 8K, and 10K distances, and I learned a lot about myself as a runner.

Question: The Spiders distance program continues to improve even though the men do not offer athletic scholarships. How do you account for your team success and the improvement?

Benford: I think not having scholarships makes us work even harder. While scholarships would help us immensely in recruiting, it is clear that everyone on our team is here because they are passionate about the sport and are dedicated to our team 100%. It's not like other scholarship teams where people are bound to the team and school because they are receiving an athletic scholarship. As athletes, the only thing we have control over is how hard we work and how we compete. It definitely makes us hungrier when we compete against other teams in the conference and region that are fully funded with scholarships because we know that nobody works harder or wants it more than we do. We're doing this because we love it.

Benford and Amy Van Alstine
were named the Atlantic 10 Conference

"2006 Rookie's of the Year' as freshmen

Question: What has been your most memorable experience either in cross country or track at Richmond?

Benford: In cross country, it was the 2007 Atlantic 10 Conference championship at Belmont Plateau in Philly. Everyone in the conference had written us off and we weren't even considered a contender. Due to heavy rains leading up to race day, the course was a muddy mess and there was torrential rain throughout the race. Jon Molz placed 3rd to lead us to a runner-up finish, our best team finish in program history. The race was fun and the atmosphere intense, like all A10 conference meets.

In track, the 2009 Atlantic 10 Conference Outdoor meet was definitely the most memorable experience. We had multiple conference champions and the most exciting thing was that our men's team placed 4th as a team, our highest finish in years. Everyone stepped up, and we also got some help in the sprinting events and field events from some of the guys on our 2008 National Championship football team.

USA Flag on the Mountain during the
2009 World Mountain Running Championships in Italy
where Benford led the team
with his 13th place over-all finish in the senior men's race.

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