Oct. 23, 2007
By Mathew Franck
With just over 1,200 meters to go in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase prelims at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Husky distance runner Carl Moe tucked into third place and held on as the leaders threw down a 63-second quarter, emphatically stringing out the field. Still in third and feeling strong, Moe took a brief glance to the rear and was surprised to discover the competition struggling to keep up.
In that brief moment, a euphoric thought raced through his head, "I'm back!"
After several years plagued by injury, Moe was finally back among the nation's elite distance runners.
"That race was the first time as a college athlete I have entered a meet and felt 100 percent confident that I was ready to run," explains the senior. "In the past, I was either tired from training, or bothered by some injury problem. In the weeks leading up to the meet, I had run some great workouts, and I knew I was ready."
Coming out of Auburn-Riverside High School, Moe was one of the most heralded recruits in Washington state history. A state champion in both cross country and track and field, and the state record-holder in the 3,200-meter run, Moe was primed for success as a Husky distance runner.
In his freshman season at Washington, Moe made good on his potential, helping the cross country team reach its first NCAA Championship in 10 years, and setting freshman records in the 1,500-meter and indoor 3,000-meter runs. Despite his success, Moe was bothered much of the time by injuries, a difficulty that would rear its head many times in the coming years.
Moe's sophomore and junior campaigns were plagued by injuries. Dealing with a severe case of plantar fasciitis, Moe was forced to redshirt his entire 2004-05 season. The following summer, he took a fall during a training run and sustained nerve damage to one of his knees. While he managed to endure the pain and race several times during the 2005 cross country season, Moe was forced to shut it down after the Pac-10 Championships and was unable to compete as the Huskies went to Nationals for the second time in three years.
"Coming into my first season at Washington, I knew all the other runners in my class," says Moe, who attributed much of his difficulties to being over-competitive. "It was hard to see guys who I had competed with on the national scene do really well in college, while I was struggling with injury problems. I was always focusing on getting back to where those guys were, and I wasn't concentrating on my own progression and improvement. It took some time for me to realize that I had to focus on my own goals, my own improvements."
With this realization, Moe turned his focus to staying healthy and training consistently. Over the next two years, he displayed steady improvement, twice receiving All-American honors as a member of Washington's distance medley relay team and placing 86th at the 2006 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Moe's biggest breakthrough came at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where he placed fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase prelims with a personal best of 8:41.45, well below the "B" qualifying standard for the USA Track and Field Championships. Unfortunately, his phenomenal performance would result in heartbreak as he was disqualified for contact that occurred in the final straightaway.
Undeterred by the tough situation, Moe used his strong showing to petition his way into the USA Track and Field Championships, where he would get the chance to compete against the best runners in the country.
Moe was grateful for the experience, "It was an awesome opportunity, getting to hang out and talk to Olympians. I didn't run all that well at the meet, but I learned a lot about what it takes to compete at that level."
Now in his final cross country season at Washington, Moe hopes to lead the Huskies to their fourth appearance at the National Championship meet in five years. More than that, the team hopes to improve on last year's 12th-place finish, their most successful showing in over a decade.
"Last year we had a breakthrough year," says Moe, "To be 12th in the country was a shock to all of us, but at the same time we didn't run all that great at Nationals. This year we are super young, and we lost a couple of our top guys to injury, but we are also a much deeper team. If our three, four and five guys run solid, I think we can better our 12th-place finish from a year ago."
Qualifying for the National Championship meet will prove to be a tall order after the team's rough 16th-place showing at the NCAA Pre-National meet. The Huskies will likely enter the final stretch of the season without enough at-large points to qualify for the National Championships, meaning they will have to place amongst the upper echelon in the deep and talented West Regional meet.
Moe believes the strength of the region could work in the team's favor, "I think it really helps us because we always come on strong in the end. A lot of the teams usually have picked up quite a few points to become at-large qualifiers and when we beat those teams, it pushes us in."
Individually, Moe hopes to stay healthy, and improve on strong performances from last year. The difficulties of past years have toughened his resolve and shown him what it takes to be successful.
Reflecting on his career as a Husky, Moe was grateful for the lessons he learned, "I think the injuries and the success helped me all around. If I just ran fast every single meet, I'd have all these titles, but I wouldn't have known how to get through all the low times. I was fortunate to able to see both sides and I have grown up a lot through those experiences."