As young as the 25th-ranked Husky men’s cross country team is this season, Meron Simon is a wily veteran even with just a season and a half of cross country under his belt. Simon, a Federal Way product, was the No. 2 Husky finisher at last weekend’s Wisconsin Invitational, finishing 84th overall. With just a week to go before the Pac-12 Championships, Simon and the Huskies are looking to make noise in the postseason. Simon talked to GoHuskies.com about his summer of training in Boulder, coming back from a redshirt year, and the impact Jean Licari had on his career.
GoHuskies.com: How do you think you and the team have progressed this fall?
Meron Simon: I think the guys are very solid this year. We trained really hard this summer and it’s starting to really show. We got some strong pieces that came in this year, like Sumner and Gardner. They are great help, great freshmen. They are doing everything they possibly can, and we have great veterans like Tyler and Aaron Beattie that are leading the way right now.
GH: What was the reaction to getting the first team ranking since 2009?
MS: It was really exciting when we came back from Wisconsin and we found out we were ranked for the first time. Just looking back at what the team did in 2009, we kind of want to do what they did and just keep progressing from there and make history here at UW. We are a really young team, which is super awesome.
GH: Did the Wisconsin race play out how you were planning or wanted?
MS: The way I run, it’s really funny. A lot of the guys on the team joke about “classic Meron racing tactics” I suppose would be going out hard and hanging with the pack then fading back, then realizing I have a lot more in the tank so I start sprinting and kicking. I went out with Aaron and Tyler as a group. Then I faded to around 80th or 90th and just held there for a good amount of time, then went back to 120th, then with 3k to go I just started sprinting and trying to pick off as many bodies as I could. I finished 84th overall.
GH: It had been two years since you first ran at Wisconsin, and obviously you’ve come a long way since then but did you think about how you were outside the top 200 back then?
MS: It’s always funny to see the progress because as a freshman I was this knucklehead that didn’t really follow what any of the coaches were really saying. Like when they say you get the day off on Wednesday to run on your own, I would take it as a “day off”. So when I went to Wisconsin as my first actual big college meet I just faded in the pack and didn’t know what I was doing. But now it’s nice to come back as a veteran and lay it out on the line with the team.
GH: What were you guys thinking when Aaron took fourth? Was there something you saw in him this summer or fall that showed he might be heading for this kind of breakout year?
MS: I was in Boulder, Colorado for two months this summer and just trained there. Aaron was actually in Colorado as well, just north of Boulder. One weekend he came down and ran a long run with us, which was awesome. I think it was at that point when I noticed that he was going to be a stud this year. I’ve been living with him this year and I noticed that his nutrition is different, he sleeps way better. He just has his stuff together. He’s a guy who leads by example and he doesn’t have to say much. We’re all glad that he’s here with us.
GH: Do you think his example is rubbing off on the rest of the team?
MS: Our team was a lot different two years ago and last year. This year it’s so much more structured. All the guys are running the same routes together. I feel like we’re a closer, more tight-knit team. And that makes it a lot easier to follow Aaron. We know what he’s doing is right, so we just follow what he does.
GH: So after a great freshman season, you have to take a redshirt year and battle through some injuries. What all did you have to deal with?
MS: Last year—the redshirt season—was probably the worst year of my life. I think I had six different injuries, even though it was probably perceived to be one injury all year long. I was out with a post tibial tendonitis injury at the beginning of the year that happened over the summer. I got really excited after running so well my freshman year and I think I just ran myself into the ground over the summer. So I’m out all summer and come back for the cross season, and in two weeks my achilles starts to hurt. Then I’m back out and my knee starts to hurt. There were all these injuries back and forth. The progression was really hard because I thought I was down and out—I even wanted to quit at some points. But I’d always go to Metcalf’s office and J.D.’s office and they’d always talk me through it all and tell me to be patient. I think them telling me to be patient helped me the most. But I’m not the most patient guy in the world, so I’d always be wanting to run 90 miles a week with my friends. These are my best friends, so it’s always tough to see them compete and run so fast while I’m just sitting on my butt.
GH: How were you able to get the different injuries sorted out?
MS: We went to a lot of different doctors and physicians. At first I was in orthotics and I thought that was going to help. It actually helped for a month and a half or so, but then it just gave me other injuries. But I finally came across Doctor Barry, who had helped some older runners like Carl Moe back in the day and Katie Follett. They told me that he was the reason they were able to get healthy. So I went and saw him for the first time around February or March of this year and he and his staff just put me back piece by piece. I’d go see him three times a week.
GH: Was there a moment when your comeback felt complete?
MS: In February or March I was coming back into things for the sixth time, just trying to build. And this time it was different because I’d decided to lower my expectations. I’d always had these high hopes that I was going to come back and break four-minutes (in the mile), or that I was going to make the travel team in cross, and then I’d get injured. This time I already knew that I was redshirting for the outdoor season, so I decided to be patient. The next race I was going to run was Sundodger in September, so I told myself I was going to just take a break. When I finally got back into running, everything was going really well, and I raced at the Ken Shannon Invitational. I ran 3:48 in the 1500, which was a PR. I won the race, and it was kind of an eye-opener. I realized that I could be a seasoned veteran on the team eventually. That was the reason that I went to train in Boulder. That high-altitude training is what helps all distance runners. I know that I really want to be good, so I sacrificed my whole summer and went there for two months. I met some really cool friends down there—met the whole CU team—and just trained as hard as I could. I ran 90 miles a week, didn’t get injured once, and now I’m back here with a solid base.
GH: Some people may not know the role that (assistant coach) Pat Licari’s wife Jean Licari played in your career before she lost a battle with cancer early last year.
MS: I didn’t really run very much in middle school. Coming into high school Jean was the cross country coach and she was recruiting at the nearby school trying to get kids for the cross country team. So at the time I had no idea what cross country was, and it was actually funny because I thought it was cross country skiing. I looked it up on Wikipedia and thought “there’s no snow in Federal Way.” Then I thought it was going to be running through forests and over logs. But Jean was the most fun. All the workouts were fun. The team atmosphere was strong, she brought us over to her house for a barbecue, and Pat has a volleyball court in their front yard; I thought it was the coolest thing. But I didn’t love it at first, and there weren’t very many fast runners at Federal Way so I was immediately one of the fastest. I decided I was going to take a year off and play football with my friends. With the little success I had I decided I needed to come back to running, and Jean said something that really stuck with me, saying “Would you rather come out and make a career out of running, or would you rather be just another helmet on the field?” That was when I realized that I needed to get my priorities straight. I decided that running could get me into college and take me far in life. She still had so much support, with open arms she let me back in. Pat was working at UW, so my freshman year Jean brought me to run at the Dempsey for one of the indoor meets, I ran a mile and ran like 4:52 and got obliterated. Freshman college girls were running as fast as that, but I still had fun and she was always there for support. Pat told Greg and JD so that kind of got the connection going in the first place, so that’s kind of how I joined the team here. The reason I’m running mainly is because of her.