NCAA track and field schedule
A schedule of events for Colorado athletes at the NCAA track and field championships this week (all times Mountain):
5:46 p.m. — Men's 1,500 meters semifinals: Ben Saarel
5:46 p.m. — Women's 1,500 meters semifinals: Dani Jones
6:02 p.m. — Women's 3,000 steeplechase semifinals: Madison Boreman, Sage Hurta
8:08 p.m. — Women's 10,000 meters finals: Erin Clark, Makena Morley
6:42 p.m. — Men's 1,500 meters finals: Ben Saarel*
8:25 p.m. — Men's 5,000 meters finals: John Dressel, Joe Klecker, Zach Perrin
4:41 p.m. — Women's 1,500 meters finals: Dani Jones*
4:54 p.m. — Women's 3,000 steeplechase finals: Madison Boreman, Sage Hurta*
6:25 p.m. — Women's 5,000 meters finals: Erin Clark
* — Needs to qualify
A year ago, Erin Clark was on the path to becoming Colorado's next great steeplechase runner.
She was second-team All-American in the event as a freshman and sophomore and added a trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer.
Clark took a different path to the NCAA track and field championships this year, however.
This week, Clark is one of nine Buffaloes participating at the nationals in Eugene, Ore. Now a junior in track eligibility, Clark will compete in the 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter runs.
"I'm really excited to have made it in both," said Clark, who is an Oregon native and went to high school in Eugene. "I wasn't sure I'd be able to in the 5,000, but I felt good coming back at regionals. The 10,000 is first (at nationals, on Thursday), so really my focus is on that and the 5,000 (on Saturday) will be just anything I have left."
After two successful seasons in the steeplechase, Clark was eyeing a third, but got "banged up" during the indoor season over the winter. Clark and CU's coaches — head coach Mark Wetmore and assistant Heather Burroughs — decided it would be best for Clark to avoid the rigors of the steeplechase this spring.
"I've really enjoyed focusing on the longer, flat stuff," Clark said. "I'm especially surprised with how much I've enjoyed the 10,000."
As of now, Clark said she's not sure if she'll go back to the steeplechase next year or not. But, the 10,000-meter run has become Clark's best event this spring. She won the Pac-12 title in the 10K before finishing sixth at the NCAA West Preliminaries last month.
"I'm a little bit surprised," she said of her success in the 10K. "But, I was pretty optimistic going into it. A lot of my training this year was less speed work and more longer stuff because that's what was easier on my body. I think it prepared me well for the 10K."
Clark also got a late start to the outdoor season, which is paying off now.
"I still have a ton of energy left," she said.
It may also help Clark that she doesn't have a grueling schedule ahead of her.
Last year, after the NCAA nationals, she competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the steeplechase, finishing 23rd. Then, in the fall, she competed in her final season with the CU cross country team, helping the Buffs to a Pac-12 title and third-place finish at nationals.
Having exhausted her eligibility in cross country, Clark will have the entire summer and fall to prepare for her final season of track and field in 2018.
"My summer is going to be more relaxed than it's been in the past, which is going to be kind of nice," she said.
Of course, before she starts to relax a bit, Clark has some business to take care of this week in Eugene.
"Every girl that makes it there has a chance at a victory," she said. "I'm just going to go out and try to run the smartest race I can run. That means, for me, trying to move up late in the race and see how high that can put me.
"I'm real excited. I've had an up and down season, so I am so grateful to be there and I know how hard I've worked to get to where I am, so I'm excited to see what I can do."