While many runners enjoy taking a break after their season is over, a handful of runners from the Goshen cross-country teams chose to extend their season, and race distance, this past Saturday. In all there were 13 runners and three coaches that participated in the half and full marathon distances at the  second annual Veterans Marathon in Columbia City, Ind.

While it is still the middle of November and four months before the first outdoor track meet, Goshen has already booked three tickets to the 2011 outdoor national track and field meet. Sophomore Jake GunderKline, freshmen Alli Bietler and Andrew Witkowski all ran their half-marathon fast enough to qualify them for the full marathon this coming June at the NAIA national meet.

Both GunderKline and Witkowski needed to cover the 13.1-mile course in a time of at least 1:16:40 while Bietler needed a time of 1:36:00.  All three were well under the standards as GunderKline and Witkowski finished in 1:15:30 and 1:15:45 respectively, and Bietler finished with a time of 1:33:58.

This was the first time racing at this distance for the trio of underclassman. Witkowski said, “I was actually pretty nervous going into the race, I didn’t know what I was getting into since I had never raced this far before.” Thankfully a pair of marathon veterans also happened to be in the race.

Assistant cross-country coaches and former NAIA All-Americans in the marathon, Justin and Melissa Gillette helped pace the runners during the race. Bietler’s goal was “to maintain a 7:15 [per mile] pace, and to not fall too far behind Melissa,” who also happens to be Bietler’s cousin.

GunderKline had a similar strategy, “I just tried my best to follow Justin the whole way, and it paid off.” GunderKline, who has competed at nationals in the 5k race-walk, was very happy to have qualified, as it was a goal of his coming into the school year. “I witnessed the marathon race [at nationals] last year and it seemed like such an exciting atmosphere. I am looking forward to being a part of it,” he said.

For the freshmen, this will be their first time competing at the national level. After missing qualifying for nationals in cross-country by a mere five seconds a week before, Witkowiski was glad to make up for it. “I’m really excited to compete at nationals. Not many freshmen get the opportunity right out of the gate to compete at the national level.”

Additional Goshen athletes may be able to join them once the season starts in the spring. Both Dave Horst and Jenica Corbett were within a minute and a half from their respective qualifying times.