Runner on track to be best athlete

Jessalyn Castro

Ashley Flores has a knack for running as she competes in cross country and track, both indoor and outdoor, all while keeping a handle on her education.

Flores, sociology senior,  has qualified for five national championships over the five years that she has ran for MSU including cross country nationals in 2010, 2011 and 2012, outdoor track in 2014 and making history as MSU’s first indoor track national qualifier in 2015. She holds the second fastest times in school history in the 800 and 5K races, and holds the school record in the mile, 1,500 and 1,000 meter races.

“She has the fastest times in school history in all those races,” head coach Koby Styles said. “To be able to accomplish all of that and have a 3.75 grade point average and never miss a practice in five years, that’s pretty special.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association rules give athletes 10 semesters of eligibility to compete in a sport for four seasons. Styles said the late addition of track Flores’ sophomore year allowed her to compete in each sport as she ran cross country starting her freshman year and ending last year. Already competing in cross country for four years Flores wasn’t able to this past season, only running track her last year at MSU.

Flores’ time at the indoor mile preliminaries of the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships sat at a 5:00.56, her personal best but just barely shy of her goal to break five minutes. Moving to outdoor competition, Flores will run in races slightly different than what she ran for indoor.

 “The difference is in indoor, they don’t have the 1,500, it’s just the mile. And then outdoor, they don’t have the mile, it’s converted into the metric system so that’s where you go to the 1,500,” Styles said. “And so you’re looking at the time comparisons; Ashley has ran a sub-five-minute mile based off her 1,500 time. That’s kind of one of the barriers that we were trying to break in indoor, was to have something with a four in front of it. She’s ran below 4:30 and then you add 100 meters to that, yeah she’s well under five minutes in outdoor.”

The immediate transition from indoor to outdoor Flores said is a nicer one unlike going from running cross country in the fall to track in the spring.

“Right now since we’re going into outdoor we’re focusing more on the 1,500 which is just 100 meters less than the mile so the times are a little bit different for that but the goal still applies,” Flores said. “To qualify for nationals, to do better than I did last year, to knock down my time a lot, and to hopefully be able to achieve those times without a conversion needed.”

Running at altitude, Styles said, whether it be in West Texas or Colorado, because the air is a little thinner it’s harder to race in a longer distance than it is to run at sea level, and based off a runners time at altitude in distance events, time is taken off. Flores qualified for nationals last year because of a conversion where she ran a 4:36 mile at altitude which converted to 4:33 at sea level.
“You’re running fast enough to get that time anyways, but I’d like to be able to do it without having a conversion, being able to solidly run that time at sea level,” Flores said.

In training for the outdoor season Flores said her focus right now is on speed.

“The first part of training is to really build up your strength,” she said. “You know your endurance is there, you know you can last an entire 1,500 meter race at a good pace, now we’re just trying to build that speed up a little bit so I can do it faster.”

Styles said the main goal is for Flores to be running at a faster pace than the times from last year at this point.

“We’re going to know very quickly where we stand,” he said. “As long as she runs faster this time as she did last time then we know we’re in a good spot because we still have seven weeks until conference.”

In order to be able to accomplish these goals Flores said she likes to take a relaxed approach to her races.

“I’ve had races in the past where I stress too much about those races,” Flores said. “You try to analyze and think and think and think so when you get up to the starting line all you are doing is panicking about your race and it’s not going to do you any good when you are wasting all that time and energy worrying about your race instead of just kind of taking a breath.”

Flores said her strategy in a race is to break it down more, making it easier and more manageable.

“It’s almost like it happens in stages,” Flores said. “You’re at the starting line and you’re thinking about the first stage of the race. You go, ‘Okay I want to get in good position, I want to focus on not getting caught up in a pack, not getting trapped, you need to put yourself in a good position to run the rest of the race.’ So that’s the first step. You focus your first lap on not going out too slow, not going out too fast, hitting your first mark, and getting in a good position.”
Flores said on the second lap she’s hopefully got herself in a good position to where she can start working the race to her advantage, focusing on keeping on track and keeping on pace.
“If there’s a group of girls that start to separate themselves from another pack you’ve got to stay with that pack and you work your way around for that race,” she said.
The third lap for Flores is pretty much to hang on. “I have a lot of issues with staying with it on on the third lap, for some reason that’s my achilles heel,” she said. “So for me I have to really focus on staying consistent and staying with the pack. I have to make myself fight through it, I have to push myself and motivate myself, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ because I know as soon as I get to that last 400 or that last 300 I can move because I’m stubborn enough to want to race other people on that strong finish, that’s really what the last lap is focusing on, trying to pass as many people as you can, or you really want to hit that under 70 for the last lap.”

Styles said going into the race they have a game-plan on breaking it down by each lap trying to beat a certain time so the only thing in a runners head is what time they need to be at for each lap.

“If you don’t think of it as a whole, you think of it as little races in between, it’s a little more manageable mentally,” Styles said. “One second in a race like hers separates, at the national level, tenth place to fifteenth place, so hitting those splits is very crucial.”

Styles said Flores has potential to leave MSU as one of the best athletes to pass through given her record the five years she has been here.

“The consistency you see from Ashley being here over a five year span is remarkable being able to accomplish what she’s accomplished,” Styles said. “One of her former teammates Brissia Montalvo is still up there that’s pretty high and we both think highly of her and her running ability.”

Montalvo was the first one to go to outdoor nationals in steeplechase and make the finals, she was All-American in cross country, conference champion in cross country, runner of the year in conference, and third at regionals.

“She’s got some very high accolades, but the one thing that Ashley’s got over her is Brissia was only here for two years,” Styles said. “If I could label it, Brissia is the best JUCO transfer to come in, and Ashley is the best career. She’s been to three national championships, she’s been to indoor national championships and she’s been to outdoor. That’s five national championships where she’s been ranked in the top 20 nationally in five years. Brissia wasn’t able to do that, she went to two cross’ and one outdoor, and that’s where Ashley has got a foot on her, that’s where she starts separating herself.”

Flores still has an entire season ahead of her to reach her goals. When the season comes to an end so will her competitive running career which began in middle school even though she had been running for fun with her dad before that.

“Now that I’m a senior it’s hard to think that I won’t be running competitively anymore,” she said. “It’s really hard to think about what will occupy all of my time in the future.”