“It gets more and more enjoyable every year. It kind of just becomes a habit and a lifestyle, you just enjoy the process more. You wake up, do your usual routine, you train, go home, recover, relax and train again. Races become more businesslike and less emotional. It’s just like, get the job done. I get less nervous before races now.”
— Chad Noelle
In his second stop on the collegiate running trail, Chad Noelle has gotten the job done.
The erstwhile Greene High Flash whose name is sprinkled about Section 4’s record chart has blossomed into a competitor of national renown as a member of the track & field program at Oklahoma State University — which brought a No. 5 national ranking into the weekend’s Big 12 Outdoor Championships in Lubbock, Texas.
Since his transfer after two years at the University of Oregon, 21-year-old Noelle has:
* Finished as Big 12 runner-up indoors at 1,000 meters in a program-record time of 2 minutes, 22.55 seconds.
* Run a 3:59.12 mile indoors at the Iowa State Classic.
* Won the elite division of the 1,500 meters at the Mt. SAC Relays, running 3:40.06 in a race loaded with professionals. That time is No. 4 in both the NCAA this season and on OSU’s all-time list.
* Run 800 meters in 1:48.62 at the Arkansas Invite, good for third place in that race and No. 2 all-time at OSU.
And then came Sunday in Lubbock, where Noelle was 1,500-meter champion and OSU a program-best third in Big 12 Outdoor Championships. In fact, he headed a 1-2-3-5-6 finish by Cowboy runners in the 1,500.
The author of this expanding resume allows himself a bit of pride, but he will not dwell on any of the above.
“I try not to let myself get too up or too down, because you have bad races and you have great races,” he said. “If you get too up then you’re not hungry, get too down on yourself then you lose your confidence. But I use it as a confidence booster, knowing that I can hang with anyone, there’s no one that I can’t beat in college.”
While in high school, Noelle ran to success unprecedented by a Section 4 male. He established sectional records at 1,500 meters, 1,600, the mile and 3,200. He captured titles in the Loucks Games and Milrose Games, was runner-up in the Penn Relays and placed fifth in New Balance Outdoor Nationals.
His stay in Oregon’s program brought, among other progressive steps, an eighth-place Pac-12 finish at 1,500 meters as a freshman, and as a sophomore he fell just short of a berth in the NCAA 1,500 final. However, Noelle said, “I just wasn’t very happy there, it wasn’t a great fit. It was a combination of factors, but the biggest thing was the coaching change.”
Vin Lananna, the revered running sage whom Noelle said was largely responsible for his recruitment, vacated the head coaching position following Noelle’s freshman season but remained as associate athletic director.
“It just worked out best for both,” said Robb Munro, presently track and cross country coach at SUNY Delhi and the man who unlocked the wunderkind’s potential while overseeing his training in high school.
Munro attributes Noelle’s emergence in part to favorable results from a shift in training philosophy.
“He’s just so much stronger aerobically than he was when he was at Oregon. It’s definitely a different approach, different training,” Munro said. “Oklahoma State does a lot more aerobic work. His speed has always kind of been natural, kind of been there, he just really didn’t have the background behind it. Now he’s got so much more mileage under his belt, he’s been so much more consistent with his training, he’s stayed healthy for like a year-and-a-half, so he’s just been able to be very consistent.”
Munro cited the mid-April 3:40.06 at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., as a prime example of the new-look Noelle.
“Whereas in the last year or two he was running among the best in the NCAA but in the last 250 meters he could never hand with them, he was only a second or two behind but he could never run that last 400 the way he needed to. Now he’s doing that, now he’s the guy who’s coming into the straightaway in seventh or eighth place and finishing in first or second.”
Indeed, that win came from a runner who sat in about eighth position with 100 meters remaining and who had to swing out to Lane 5 to pass those ahead — “I kind of shocked myself at how well I was able to run the last 100,” he said.
The immediate future will bring Noelle to the NCAA Championships, June 11-14 in — Yep! — Eugene, Ore., to be followed by USA Track & Field Championships in Sacramento. Beyond that, he has an eye on a couple of events in Canada before he heads to Colorado. There, Step 1 will be a break from running to allow the body and mind recovery time, and then resumption of intense training.
He and four teammates have rented a condo for six weeks, and will do their workouts at about 11,000 feet above sea level, at which point the average Joe will get winded ascending a flight of stairs.
Down the road the goals include a team and individual NCAA title, a shift to the professional running ranks, and a desire to represent the USA in Worlds and Olympics.
“Just see how far can I take it. See if I can run world-class times in the mile, break 3:50 in the mile eventually, stuff like that,” he said.