When NAZ Elite runners are fit, they can expect their head coach to fit a race into the schedule for them.
Nick Hauger and Sid Vaughn will start a weekend of racing for NAZ Elite in the Lone Star State when they compete at the Texas Qualifiers meet Friday in the 10,000-meter run on the outdoor track. On Saturday, their teammates, Rory Linkletter and Ryan Hill, will lace up for some speedy outings at the same meet, with the former running a 10,000m and the latter taking on the 5000m.
NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario said that for some time he knew about the meet, which was organized as a way to help runners take on the task of beating Olympic standards, but wasn't sure he'd send four runners to it. But he saw that he had some runners on his roster ready to go and wanted to take advantage their fitness levels.
Rosario said Hauger and Vaughn have been training hard and are good competitors, so making the race plan for Friday was as simple as telling his athletes to leave "every ounce of fitness on the track that evening."
NAZ Elite hopes to see some wins and some PRs from Hauger and Vaughn, whose starts with the team have both been bumpy.
Hauger, who joined the team in July of 2019 out of college, can still count on both hands the amount of races he's had under NAZ Elite.
He was injured when he initially joined NAZ Elite, but once he started getting in more races, he showed progress. Hauger finished fifth at the 2020 USATF Cross Country Championships to get his professional career going early that year. In February a year ago, he recorded a ninth-place finish at the Pan Am Cross Country Championships.
Then the pandemic hit, limiting race chances for NAZ Elite's runners overall.
“It was a little bit of an interruption on a nice trajectory there, but we’re back on a good one again and he’s training great,” Rosario said of Hauger, who will have the benefit of the added distance Friday.
It will be the first 10,000m race with NAZ Elite for Hauger, who is coming of a layoff from the late summer that began not long after he set a PR of 13:56.47 at 5,000 meters.
“He’s really more of a 10,000-meter man, or road race or cross country runner," Rosario said, "and so the 10,000 on the track is really the only distance on the track that suits him well. So I am glad we are finally getting a chance to run one.”
Rosario added: “He’s a rhythm runner, he thrives on locking into a pace and running that pace for along time.”
The goal Friday is for Vaughn and Hauger to try to win the session, which is seeking to run as close to 28 minutes or faster. Hauger enters the event with a 10,000m PR of 29:16.34 he set in 2018. Vaughn, meanwhile, takes a personal best of 28:32.06 into the weekend.
Vaughn struggled out of the gates for NAZ Elite back in 2019, but has continued to show quiet improvement. He tallied just one top-10 finish in 2019 after joining NAZ Elite, but went on to impress in 2020, setting PRs in the 5000m, half marathon and marathon.
“He’s really clicking right now. I think they both are," Rosario said.
While Hauger and Vaughn are clicking, Hill and Linkletter are firing on nearly all cylinders.
“He’s very focused on having an incredible season," Rosario said of Linkletter, whose last outing was in December at The Marathon Project, where he set a 2:12:54 PR.
Linkletter took a break physically to recover after the marathon, but, according to Rosario, "his mind just kept going."
Linkletter's race Saturday will be the other session of the 10,000m, which will consist of a field seeking to run as close to 27:28 or better.
Hill will also be in a fast race against a challenging field.
“It’s as good of a field as you’re going to get in the United States, really," Rosario said. "And that’s what we live for, let’s do it.”
Hill is coming off his NAZ Elite debut, which saw him win a 3000m in the Valley two weeks ago while shaking off rust.
Rosario said Hill's debut resulted in a fitness boost.
That boost flowed into Hill's practices.
“He’s honestly looked like a million bucks in practice since that race,” Rosario said.
Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.