By Joe Naiman
Before Chelsey Cortez graduated from Ramona High School in 2010, she was on the Bulldogs’ cross country team and ran distance races on Ramona’s track and field team. During those years Cortez decided that she eventually wanted to run a marathon.
“I did a lot of mileage as a high schooler, so that’s sort of where I found my love for longer distances,” she said.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championships track and field meet will take place May 23-25 in Indiana, and Cortez has qualified to run the marathon at the NAIA nationals.
“I’m finally getting to do that,” she said.
After her graduation from Ramona High School, Cortez enrolled at Cal State University San Marcos and began her running career for the Cougars. During her sophomore year in 2012, she ran 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races. She is now a junior at CSUSM, and on Feb. 3, she ran the Surf City Half-Marathon in Huntington Beach.
A time of 1:31 in a half-marathon will qualify an NAIA runner for the marathon at the NAIA nationals. Cortez posted a time of 1:24.19, which not only qualified her for the national meet but also placed ninth among all women at the Surf City Half-Marathon.
The half-marathon was her first race ever at that 13.1-mile distance.
“It was quite an experience,” she said.
That experience wasn’t entirely positive.
“A lot of things went wrong that morning,” said. Cortez. “I had the wrong shoes and didn’t eat the right breakfast and went out too hard.”
The failure to pace herself caught up with her by the end of the race.
“If you go out too hard there’s no turning back,” Cortez said. “You put yourself in oxygen deficit.”
Cortez attributed her excessive early pace to inexperience at that distance.
“I think I was just really nervous,” she said. “I wasn’t in my own comfort zone.”
Her time of 18:40 after three miles equated to a 6:14 per-mile pace while her six-mile time of 37:32 was a 6:16 pace. She had a 6:19 pace 11 miles into the race with a time of 1:09.19 before taking 15:00 to run the final 2.1 miles to give her a 6:26 pace for the entire race.
“In my mind it wasn’t a good finish,” she said.
She still finished ninth among the 8,858 women who ran the half-marathon, including second among the 638 women ages 18-24 who competed.
“I wasn’t very happy with it,” she said of her performance. “I’m okay with it, but I definitely expected to do better.”
Last year Cortez trained by running between 65 and 70 miles per week. She is running approximately 70 miles per week this year, but her long runs of about 12 miles as a sophomore have turned into runs of 16 to 20 miles.
“My long runs are longer,” she said. “That’s something else I had to change.”
The Surf City Half-Marathon opened the 2013 season for the CSUSM track and field team.
“I live for the long runs every week that we do and I’m definitely not blessed with any speed, so endurance is more my thing,” Cortez said.
This year’s NAIA nationals will be held at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion.
“It will be hot in Indiana, so I have to definitely do the right things for that race,” Cortez said.