Oct. 6, 2014
For immediate release

Elite local training group offers structure, support

Talented distance runners find the competitive landscape shifts dramatically after college, a sudden uncertainty bringing unsettling questions.

Who’s my coach? Where do I find the right training partners? And how do I pay for it all?

Drew Wartenburg hopes the NorCal Distance Project answers those questions for top local runners.

The former UC Davis track and cross country coach guided Kim Conley to a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team and the 10,000-meter title at the 2014 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. He hopes his new group, which has taken shape over the past year, can provide camaraderie and support and help others reach their potential.

“At the core a big part of our premise is to have some of that cohesive and dynamic of people feeding off each other,” Wartenburg said. “There is some degree of joining forces, bonding together and sharing successes … misery loves company on your worst day.”

Conley, a 2009 UC Davis graduate, headlines the group. She’s joined by three other Aggies – Alycia Cridebring (class of 2014), Sarah Sumpter (2013) and Lauren Wallace (2013). Rachel Mitchell (Sacramento State, 2014) adds a Causeway feel to the group.

Sumpter, a four-time Big West champion and the UC Davis 10,000-meter record holder (33:18:51), is balancing competitive running with a personal battle with brain cancer. Cridebring won two Big West Conference individual titles and holds the UC Davis school record in the 5,000 meters (15:49:05). Wallace holds the UCD school record in the 800 (2:02.91) and qualified for the USA Championships the past two years. Mitchell is the fastest woman at 5,000 meters in Sacramento State history (15:49.05).

“At this level, it’s really trying to focus on what a specific individual needs,” Wartenburg said. “Having had Kim go first and kind of blaze a trail … that model shows what is possible.”

Financial support from the Sacramento Running Association helped Conley step back from her coaching duties at UC Davis and focus more on training, a move that led to a third-place finish in the 5,000 meters at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and a trip to London for the Olympic Games.

The SRA is supporting the NorCal Distance Project by providing similar training grants to individuals.

“We’re happy to support them,” SRA Executive Director Scott Abbott said. “Drew is trying to create that structure in our sport, trying to create that team environment.

“There is a general lack of support and structure for the sport of distance running professionally in the United States. It is a serious issue for our sport that not only holds the sport of running back as a piece of the larger American sporting landscape, but also why, historically, the United States has struggled internationally in long-distance running.

“It is our hope that with our support and community support for the NorCal Distance Project and other SRA elite athlete development efforts, we can be leaders in helping improve the sport professionally in the United States, as well as continue to make Sacramento one of the top running communities in the country.”

Conley said the NorCal Distance Project was about “individuals trying to reach the highest level.” She also credited Wartenburg with giving other local runners a chance to develop into top runners on the national stage just like she did.

“He’s kind of developed this plan that worked really well for me,” she said. “It’s trying to take this model that worked for me and individualize it and help build athletes.”

Wartenburg is directing high-altitude workouts for Conley, Cridebring, Mitchell and Wallace this month in Flagstaff, Ariz. Sumpter, meanwhile, is scheduled to compete in the Healdsburg Half Marathon later this month after undergoing a second surgery in January.

“She’s been cleared for running,” Wartenburg said. “She’s committed to balancing her cancer battle with running as competitively as she is capable of … As long as she’s cleared, I’ll help in any way I can.”

The Sacramento Running Association, which puts on the California International Marathon, is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding new ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.