Jarrod Ottman has set some big goals for himself entering his junior year for the Thomas College cross country team. Contributed photo by Thomas College Athletics

He’s become one of the best cross country runners in the North Atlantic Conference, and this fall is hoping to claim that distinction all for himself.

So how has Thomas College’s Jarrod Ottman done it? Long, grueling runs over and over again, right?

Not exactly.

“My training is at its best when I’m doing lower, mediocre mileage, not pounding and crushing out mileage,” Ottman said. “If I’m going and I need to be at a certain pace and I’m killing my body to do it, that’s not doing anything for me. That’s just exhausting me.

“I’ve just trained smarter by knowing how my body feels on a run.”

The new approach has paid off for Ottman and the Terriers. The junior from Merrimack, New Hampshire is coming off a breakthrough season that saw him record four top-five finishes, including a first-place finish at St. Joseph’s College and a fifth-place result at the NAC championships, and a first-team all-NAC selection. The runners that finished ahead of him at the NAC meet have left, and Ottman said he’s felt the urgency to take another step forward this year.

“I feel a lot of pressure, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s mostly the pressure I put on myself. (Since) people aged out and moved out of the NAC, technically speaking, from last year’s NAC, I’m seeded first.”

He may feel the pressure, but he hasn’t let it affect him as he’s begun that championship chase. Ottman won the season’s first race at Presque Isle, an accomplishment that netted him the conference’s Runner of the Week distinction.

“He’s just matured. He’s matured as a runner, he’s matured as a person,” coach Kerry Smart said. “He wants to be the best that he can be, and he’s willing to do whatever he needs to do to be the best. … He gets it. He gets what it takes to be the best in the conference.”

It took a while for him to find out, however. Ottman showed plenty of promise as a freshman but was too ambitious in his training, piling on too many miles at too fast a pace and depleting the energy he had left for late-season races.

“By the time we got to the end of the season, his legs were tired,” Smart said. “Making the jump from a 5K to a 5-mile was just tough freshman year. He overtrained in the summer, and we overtrained that first year. … He should have been Rookie of the Year, and by the time we got to the conference (meet) he was just tired.”

“I was getting good and getting faster,” Ottman said. “I wanted to get even faster, and I just put too much on my plate.”

Ottman tweaked his approach for his sophomore season, doing more mileage at a gentler pace, but knew a further adjustment was needed for his junior season. He’s relaxed on the mileage amount as well, choosing to focus instead on how he handles the miles he runs and how his body holds up.

“I’ve been focusing more on my body while I’m running, other than ‘Oh my gosh, I’m only going 6:30 pace, I’ve got to pick it up,’ ” he said. “I’ll just be running and say ‘Okay, how do I feel right now?’ … I’ve flipped the switch, knowing when I need to be like ‘Look, you’re doing too much, you need to slow it down before you break yourself down.’ ”

Smart said she’s been impressed with Ottman’s perspective and approach.

“He’s just training smarter, not necessarily harder, because he’s always been a hard worker,” she said. “We’re not necessarily pounding miles at him, we’re not just throwing stuff at him just to throw it. He knows what sweet spot he needs to be in, mileage-wise.”

As Presque Isle proved, the strategy is working.

“I talked to my coach about it and we were going to run for place,” Ottman said. “I wasn’t really focusing on my time, I was just going to go in and try to secure first and see where my fitness was.” It’s just the first step to a larger goal.

“I want to win the NAC. That’s a huge goal and that’d be a huge accomplishment for me,” Ottman said. “Not only that, we’ve got young kids and freshmen that came in, and I’m really liking the look of my team this year. … I just want to, as myself and a team, perform well at the NACs and just show everyone what we did this year.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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