Nov. 20, 2008
By Larry Watts
Racheal Marchand is coming back home to Indiana. After logging miles upon miles of training and competition in the Hoosier State, then spending four-plus years competing for the University of Iowa, the Valparaiso native returns home Monday to close out her collegiate running career.
"It's only fitting Racheal should end her (Iowa) career in her home state," Iowa coach Layne Anderson says of the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute. "This will be her sixth race on this course (at Wabash Valley Family Sports Center) and she has never had a bad one."
Marchand will be one of the Big Ten's top threats for the national individual title. Six weeks ago at the Pre-Nationals, on the same course, she finished 11th (20:27.9) while Michigan State's Nicole Bush ran sixth (20:19.1) and Wisconsin's Gwen Jorgensen took seventh (20:19.3). At the Big Ten meet in Ann Arbor, Mich., Bush claimed the title in 20:15.8 while Jorgensen held off Marchand for second, 20:27.6-20:28.5.
While Bush and Jorgensen headed off to West Lafayette, Ind. for the Great Lakes Regional, Marchand was dominating the Midwest Regional in Stillwater, Okla. Her time of 20:32.5 in the 30-degree wind chill bested Angela Bizzari of Illinois by over seven seconds. And both Anderson and Marchand believe she is hitting the NCAA Championships in peak form, despite the fact came down sick early this week.
"I've been taking antibiotics and hope to shake this thing before we head out," Marchand says. "The deeper I go into a season, the stronger I get. It's been over four weeks since the Big Ten meet, so we'll see how much I have improved. I like the competition and it's going to be a real fight with all the best runners in the nation."
"Racheal is a blood and guts type of person, a real game day competitor,"' Anderson says. "She has a lot of fight in her. When she won the regional, she had plenty left in reserve, so she still has a better race left in her.'
"If the conditions are right and the stars line up, Racheal can run with anyone in Division I. Getting her motivated has never been a problem, she just keeps getting stronger deeper into the season."
Marchand gained All-American honors when she took 30th in the NCAA Championships two years ago, but Anderson convinced her to sit out the 2007 cross country campaign.
"The program was going to lose Meghan (Armstrong) and Diane (Nukuri) plus two other seniors at the end of the year, so coach Anderson talked to me about how I should sit out, get stronger, build my base and come back and have an even bigger year this time around. And the team would need the senior leadership this year.
"It all worked out for the better because I would have had to take some pretty heavy loads in order to graduate on time. Because I was able to stretch things out there has been less stress on me."
"Racheal earned this opportunity to come back and have the limelight all to herself," Anderson says. "She was one of my first recruits, coming in here late because she had already signed with Colorado, and I have really grown close to her and her family. I wanted her to go out on a high note."
Less than a month before she was to report to Colorado, Marchand changed her mind about her college destination. After getting her release, she was looking at Wisconsin, Baylor and Florida State before her mother (Debbie) convinced her to take a trip to Iowa.
"My mother had been talking to coach Armstrong and really liked him, but when we drove in I saw nothing but cornfields," Marchand said with a laugh. "I thought there was no way I was going to be coming here, but I was so wrong about this place. This has turned out to be a great city and I didn't realize how cool this town was. When I met coach Armstrong, our personalities just clicked."
After skipping the cross country season last fall and the indoor track campaign, Marchand battled back through a hip injury plus bruised ribs from an auto accident to compete for the Hawkeyes in her final outdoor track campaign. She was fourth in the 10,000 meters at the Big Ten Championships, qualified for the NCAA Championships with a time of 34:11.98 at the regional and then claimed All-American honors with an eighth place time (sixth best in Iowa history) of 34:05.87 at the NCAA Championships. Teammate Armstrong took sixth while Nukuri, who was running second, had to bow out with stomach cramps.
"I was pretty pleased with how I competed in the 10K because there were a lot of girls in there I knew from cross country," Marchand says. "They really went out fast and kept it up, which I wasn't used to. I kept sitting back, then all of a sudden I felt my body relax and I started pushing it. I think I must have passed five or six girls in that last half mile (she ran 2:30.97). I felt like I did what I could."
Although she can still compete again during the indoor season, Marchand is convinced Monday's race will be her last in a Hawkeyes' uniform. Majoring in interdisciplinary studies, she has already applied for graduation in December.
"I'm still working on her," Anderson says. "The indoor seasons haven't gone well for her, so maybe that opportunity will be the motivation she needs to give it one more try."
"I'll sit down with my parents after Thanksgiving, but I haven't registered for any classes,"' Marchand says. "I guess a lot of it will depend on job opportunities. I'm not going to stress out about it now, but if I get a job, I'll go."
But that doesn't mean the end of Marchand's running career. She is thinking about competing in the 2012 Olympics in either the 10K or marathon.
"My body feels a lot better in the longer races," says Marchand, who estimates she runs 70--75 miles per week during her training periods. "And I don't have any problem training on my own. I did it during my senior year of high school and I did it again all of this year."
"Racheal is the type of runner who will keep getting better over time," says Anderson. "There are very few female runners who reach their peak at 22, so she can keep going into her 30s if she gets with the right training group. But in the post-college world, where you have to worry about work, it can be very stressful. I'd love to see her in the Olympics because the talent is there.
"It's been a long journey for her, but a very rewarding one because of all the hard work she puts in. I never worry about her training on her own because she has a remarkable ability to push herself. She just puts her head down and runs against the clock and her own body. She doesn't need a training partner. If I had five girls like her, we'd be NCAA champions!"