PG South: Mt. Lebanon runner advances to nationals

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After finishing second to North Penn's Brad Miles at the PIAA Class AAA cross country championships, Mt. Lebanon senior Rad Gunzenhauser said he needed a rest.

He planned to take some time off before gearing up for the indoor track season. Gunzenhauser had no intention of competing in the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.

Then he got to talking to former Mt. Lebanon runners Miles Becker and Jim O'Toole. It's interesting what a conversation with guys who have been-there, done-that will do for someone.

"They convinced me to give it a try, so I started training again," Gunzenhauser said.

Today he is glad he listened to his older friends. Gunzenhauser was to leave this morning for San Diego and the Foot Locker national finals. The championship race is Saturday at Morley Field in Balboa Park.

He earned the trip to the left coast by finishing fifth in the boys' race at the Northeast Regional Nov. 28 at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, N.Y.

The top 10 finishers in the boys' and girls' races at each of the Foot Locker's four regionals -- Northeast, Midwest, South and West -- earn a spot in the national finals.

"I really wasn't sure how I'd do," said Gunzenhauser, who also finished second at the WPIAL Class AAA championships this year. "I was on a three-week taper going into the [PIAA] meet. I didn't know how well my body would be.

"I said I wasn't going to do [the Foot Locker race]. Then a lot of people talked to me about it and I decided to give it a shot."

The PIAA championships took place Nov. 7 and after running hard in Hershey, he took only a 30-minute jog the following day. Once he decided to run the Foot Locker regional, he was back in training that Wednesday and went for an 8-mile run.

He wasn't the only Western Pennsylvania runner to qualify for the Foot Locker nationals. North Allegheny junior Ryan Gil, who edged Gunzenhauser at the WPIAL championships, finished eighth at the regional. Miles won the 5-kilometer regional race in 15 minutes, 52 seconds.

"I'm happy we have three Pennsylvania guys who qualified for the finals," Gunzenhauser said. "I'm happy the state is being represented well. Hopefully we can show we have some quality runners in Pennsylvania."

Gunzenhauser didn't set out to place first at the regional race. His goal was simply to finish in the top 10.

"My mindset was completely different," he said. "I didn't want to risk going out too fast, so my pace was a little slower than normal at the beginning."

He has never been a quick starter in races, preferring to get stronger as the race progresses and passing people down the stretch. The course at Sunken Meadow Park was two loops that included a steep hill. The first part of the course was on sandy ground.

"I talked to Jim O'Toole and he said that if I was somewhere around 40th place after the first mile I'd be in good shape," Gunzenhauser said. "That's about where I was and then coming down the hill I probably passed 10 to 15 runners.

"I don't think anybody passed me after I sort of settled in and I was passing people the whole second half of the race. In the final 800 yards or so I passed one or two people."

He finished with a time of 16:05 and was pleased with his effort and being just 13 seconds behind Miles. Gil finished in 16:10. The only Pennsylvania runner in the girls' race to place in the top 10 was Sara Sargent of Pennsbury High, who was eighth.

Gunzenhauser's race strategy will change for Saturday's race.

First of all, he would like to make a good showing. That might not be as easy as it sounds, considering the field will consist of many of the top high school distance runners in the country.

His goal is to place in the top 15, which would earn him All-America status.

A strong finish would also help with the recruiting process. Gunzenhauser, who missed the end of last season with an injury, has not decided on a college. He has talked to coaches at Duquesne University and Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia. He is interested in visiting North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia.

'I don't even know what field [of study] I want to go into, so everything is still pretty broad," he said. "But I'm looking forward to running Saturday and seeing what I can do."


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