After 10 years on the track, Ryan Edwardson is getting things figured out.
The senior distance runner from Spencer, Iowa has come into his own in his final season for the Storm. He is posting some of the fastest times of his life, placing him among the best runners in the Iowa Conference and the nation.
"He's grown up and figured out what it takes – on and off the track – to compete at an elite level," head coach Dave Cleveland said. "Now that he's figured that out, it has all come together."
A two-time cross country national qualifier, Edwardson posted career-bests in the 10,000-meter run and 5,000-meter run during the month of April.
But he's not just improving upon his previous top performances. He's blowing them out of the water.
Does that mean he was holding back early in his career?
"I don't think I've been slacking the past three years," Edwardson said with a chuckle. "Honestly, I was probably working too hard and not recovering well. I was willing to run myself in the ground."
A new training regimen implemented by first-year cross country and distance coach Heath Moenck focuses on strength, which is paying dividends for Edwardson.
"I'm doing higher mileage and more strength mileage," he said. "I'm a much stronger runner than I have been in years past and I can hold my maximum pace for longer because I'm stronger all-around."
Edwardson put that added strength on display last Thursday at the Drake Relays, running a 30:50.88 in the 10,000 meters to place 18th in a stacked field. That effort crushed his previous best time by 42 seconds and ranks second in school history. It marked the fastest 10K by a Simpson runner since 1990 and put him at No. 31 in Division III.
His big run at Drake came less than a month after he shattered his personal record in the 5,000 meters at the Loras Midweek Invitational on April 4. That evening he set a Rock Bowl stadium record when he posted the then-No. 4 time in the nation at 14:46.88, surpassing his previous fastest time by 27 seconds.
Competing in his first 5K of the season, Edwardson went into the race with an open mind.
"I really went into that meet with no expectations and not much of a plan," he said. "It was more of a let's go out and run this and see what I can do."
The defending conference champion in the 10,000 and fourth-place finisher in the 5,000, Edwardson owns the Iowa Conference's second-fastest time in both events this season.
Come time for the IIAC Championships on May 11-12 in Dubuque, Edwardson has his sights set on the elusive double-title.
"Those events are ridiculously competitive," Cleveland said. "Any time you run 15,000 meters in two days in a competitive situation, it's one of the toughest things to accomplish at the conference meet. But we have a lot of faith in him."
Looking beyond the conference championships, the senior wants to add a third trip to nationals to his resume, which would be his first on the track.
For the first time this year, national qualifiers are taken from the top-20 times in the nation. Since both of Edwardson's races are very physically demanding, the odds are against qualifying in both. So, he will have to decide which race to focus on at a last-chance meet.
"It's really difficult to run a 5K/10K double one week and try to come back and run a 10K at a last chance meet," Edwardson said of his upcoming schedule, which features the Iowa Conference Championships the weekend of May 11 and another meet just six days later. "I love the 10K, that race is my baby. But what it's looking like right now is that I'll run a 5K at the last chance meet."
Despite his veteran status on the roster, Edwardson approaches every opportunity with the open mind of an underclassman.
"Each and every time he goes out there he's learning something, learning how to race," Cleveland said. "It's exciting to know he hasn't yet reached his potential."
Two trips to cross country nationals provided somewhat disappointing results for Edwardson, who hasn't always felt comfortable performing on a big stage.
Now, his mentality is simple.
"You have to realize that it's just running," he said. "It's just another race. If you build it up … you're going to make yourself tired just worrying about it. All you can do is realize that it's just another race and make it seem as small as you can."
Edwardson hopes his next "small" meet has an All-America certificate on the line.