By Anthony Sandstrom
PUEBLO, Colo. - Competitive runners across the world employ
different training strategies to get in shape for marathons and
races. Some run until their toes bleed, while others enter into
high-nutrition regimens that ensure the most optimum health for
long distance races.
CSU-Pueblo senior cross country standout Lauren Dunsmoor prefers to watch "Rachael Ray."
It sounds wacky, but right now, it's the training regimen of a possible champion.
Dunsmoor is among the favorites to claim a regional championship Saturday at the NCAA North Central Regional Championships, to be held at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, S.D.
"My training is very, well, non-traditional," Dunsmoor quipped.
Weekly, Dunsmoor gets on the treadmill or the elliptical machine, sets it up right in front of the television, and runs no more than 35 miles per week. At the same time, she is even able to learn good techniques to cook a kid-friendly fish stick parmesan or a perhaps some chorizo and shrimp quesadillas with smoky guacamole dip.
Or maybe not.
"Right now, I'm a much better runner than I am a cook," Dunsmoor said.
Dunsmoor adopted the at-home training schedule before this season. It has worked, to say the least. In the four meets in which she has competed this season, she has won three of them, and finished second at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships on Oct. 20. She crossed the finish line just .46 seconds behind the champion, Adams State's Brittany Somers, the beneficiary of a late surge. Dunsmoor had led practically the entire race. The race was so close, CSU-Pueblo cross country coach Chad Perry was giddy for about ten minutes after the race, thinking Lauren had won, until she revealed the dire news to her coach.
"It was funny, because he had no idea," Dunsmoor said. "But it's not that important to me anyway. I'm not really running to win titles or anything. I run because it's fun, and I feel like I have an opportunity of a lifetime, and I'm just going to give it my best shot."
Fun or not, Dunsmoor is making the lives of her competitors not so enjoyable. The cross country landscape in the RMAC is ruled by Adams State and Western State, who are annually considered the top two Division II programs in the entire country, let alone the conference. The runners at those schools aren't used to runners from CSU-Pueblo giving them a run for their money.
On Oct. 18, Dunsmoor accomplished something that was unheard of for a CSU-Pueblo runner - she was named RMAC's Runner of the Week, an honor that seemed to be permanently bequeathed to an Adams State runner. At the conference championships, Dunsmoor proved that the award was no fluke, winning nearly every step of the race except for the final few.
The kicker - she was battling a violent respiratory infection that was at its apex during that race.
Now, with the confidence - and the health - that she can beat the best in the RMAC, which are also considered the best in the region, as well, she feels a regional title isn't out of the question. Despite her performance, she does wear "CSU-Pueblo" on her jersey, and is therefore considered an underdog.
"I have this wonderful opportunity to do something that has never been done at CSU-Pueblo," Dunsmoor said. "We are not an established program, and everybody expects Adams and Western to have the top runners. But it's one of those things where I'm not putting pressure on myself. I like being the underdog, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Dunsmoor's achievements this season, though, shouldn't be taken lightly. The CSU-Pueblo cross country program is only in its third season of existence, and even that fact is a bit of a small miracle. The program's coach during its maiden season, Craig Binkley, left abruptly before the beginning of the 2006 season. CSU-Pueblo professor George Dallam held the program together as the interim coach during Dunsmoor's first season on the team. This year, the program now has a chance to flourish thanks to the efforts of Perry, who also will serve as the women's track and field coach next season when that program restarts. Perry has gotten help from local distance-running guru, Joe Arrazola, who kept the chief's seat warm before Perry's hire in mid-September. But the current coaching staff is working, especially for Dunsmoor.
"Joe and Chad are positive and encouraging," Dunsmoor said. "They aren't the type of coaches who say you have to win this race, to pick up your time or anything. They just show support for what training works for me. It's unlike any other coaching experience I've had."
Her current training style has been an evolution, one that has withstood a variety of bumps in the road, to say the least. In fact, her journey to her current status as a top runner was more than just a simple ‘bump in the road' - it was nearly a miracle.
A graduate of Pueblo West High School, Dunsmoor had gone on to play volleyball and basketball at the University of New Mexico. That opportunity, though, was eaten up by her own competitive drive, resulting in being diagnosed with the ‘female athlete triad,' a competitive disorder that arrives from pushing too hard to achieve athletic success, resulting in disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis.
At UNM, her workouts weakened her body instead of strengthening it, resulting in a herniated and fragmented disc in her back. Stubborn, she got on with the University of Northern Colorado to run on their track team, but suffered stress fractures in her legs as a result of the disorder.
"I had gotten down to 103 pounds, and I would be running at 2 a.m. or 5 a.m., pretty much all day long," Dunsmoor said. "I wanted to be an elite athlete, I watched what I ate, and worked out all the time. And it wasn't good for me."
In 2006, she came back home to Pueblo to finish her education and be closer with her family, paying extra close attention to offsetting the effects of the female athlete triad. But she still kept up a training regimen that was normal to her at the time - running up to 80 miles a week, and pushing herself to her athletic limit. Though she finished high - often in the top 10, and a 24th place finish at the conference championships - she felt something was missing and something had to change.
Coming into this season, she was planning on running, but she was more focused on her health, not wins. But she had read a story in Runners' World magazine that stuck to the principle that "less is more." She googled more about the story's author, studying the philosophy and methodology, and came up with her own regimen. Sticking to that, she worked out on machines with the incline set very steep, and has not run more than 35 miles a week this season, doing all her training indoors. The results are obvious.
"It has been wonderful," Dunsmoor said, happy as she has ever been. "This whole season has been really eye-opening for me. It has helped me to realize and stay focused and count my blessings that I'm here, let alone able to run."