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Interval Session #7 - Luke Puskedra

Despite not qualifying for the Foot Locker National race last fall, Judge Memorial UT senior Luke Puskedra has landed on many people's short lists of top contenders this year. The groundwork for that ascension was laid with a series of strong performances on the track last spring, including a win in the Arcadia 2 mile and a high profile place in the indelible Nike Outdoor National deuce. This fall, Puskedra is among a handful of undefeated runners setting course records left and right, perhaps most impressively at the Bob Firman Invitational, where he simply ran away from a stacked field at the gun, en route to a 14:49 CR on the 5k layout.

DyeStat assistant editor Dave Devine heads to the land of the Great Salt Lake and tackles one of the toughest tasks in prep running this fall: catching up with Luke Puskedra.

1) It seems like you've really upped your game this season, dropping fast times and beating very good course records en route to an undefeated senior campaign. Can you point to any one thing, or handful of things, that helped you step up to a higher level? Physical maturity? Change of mindset? Different workouts? More mileage?

This year I have changed the whole way I look at my workouts. Instead of just grinding them out and trying just to finish them up, I've been enjoying the sport a lot more and enjoying my workouts as a result. I look forward to races just to see what my body can really put out there. I have to give a lot of credit to my coaches who help to make my racing success what it is today. And support from family and friends and motivation from everybody around me.

2) Last year you earned a reputation as a guy who would go hard from the gun, so much so that when it came to the two-mile at Nike Outdoor Nationals, it was almost a given you'd lead that race through the first mile. Obviously, that race turned into one for the ages, and you played a role in it, but what's your recollection of that night? Did you learn anything or come away with with a different perspective from being in a high school race where the winner ran 8:41?

I like to start off races fast because then you don't ask yourself the question, 'What more could I have done?' When I put my toe on the line I like to race. I want to give all I've got; this is just a way to respect the sport, in my mind. It was definitely a great experience to go out and run in that race and run against those big names in that race. The finish didn't go as planned but I set my goal mile pace, I hit that, so I was glad about that but I just couldn't finish.

3) You're a talented individual on a team with state championship hopes. How do you balance the commitment to your team with your own aspirations for success beyond the Utah high school season?

I am a captain for our boy's team, and I enjoy this leadership role. I don't think that there's any sacrifice at all that I have to make to be part of the team. If anything, my team works together and just helps to inspire and influence my workouts and races. We have a very fun group of kids that give me a good laugh every day.

4) When we talked after your victory at Bob Firman, it sounded like you viewed the Foot Locker West race last fall as a sort of turning point, or at least a reality check. Can you talk about what happened in that race, and how you might be approaching the regional qualifier differently this year?

Last year before regionals I sort of psyched myself out, just thinking about what everybody else was doing in the race instead of thinking about what I needed to do. As I said before, this year I've just been having a lot more fun with the sport. I ended up dropping out of that [FL West] race because of dehydration and nutritional issues. This was a very humbling experience, just to see that some days you've got it and other days you don't.

5) Speaking of the race at Bob Firman, that's one that folks are still buzzing about. You were pretty far out on a quality field, even by the first mile. When you're leading a race like that, and it becomes a solo affair, what's going on for you internally? Are you shooting for splits...visualizing places to attack the course...just trying to finish? What's going on in your head during an effort like that?

When I'm in a race I don't like to think about what I'm going to do the next mile or later in the race. I like to think about just relaxing and think about what's happening in the race at that time. Focusing on the obstacles or miles later in the race take away from the concentration needed at that moment in the race.

6) I was reading about your cross country team's drive to collect shoes for South Africa-- how you've collected far more than you ever imagined, and even got the Utah Jazz involved. Can you briefly describe that project and what it means for your team to be involved?

The McMillians, who are parents of recent graduate Sam [Samantha McMillan, now attending Georgetown University] and varsity runner runner Elli, are in charge of this shoe drive. The shoes are donated, then given to the less fortunate in South Africa who canot afford shoes, so they have something to run in. This is a way to reach out and really give people a chance to experience the beauty of our sport--running--and to excel at it, when they otherwise wouldn't have that chance.

7) With your first name being Luke, do people ever shout lines from Star Wars at you while you're running? "Luuuuke, use the Force!" or "Luuuuke, I am your father" or just the standard "Luuuuke"? Are there other variations/nicknames we should know about?

I used to get a lot of the standard "Luuuke, use the Force," when I was younger and playing baseball, but that ended very quickly. I don't really have any nicknames. I just go by the classic Luke Puskedra.

8) You seem like a pretty laid-back guy, even when you're racing. Is there anything that gets you riled up?

I'd like to think I am a very mellow down-to-earth guy who enjoys long walks by the beach (hmmm....hmmmm..), but I am very competitive, especially with my brothers. I'm a middle child, so I am always competing in everything imaginable with my brothers. I'm very competitive in a game we play at my school that is non-dominate handball. But I like to just relax and have a good time. Yoga is also a big part of my life. Namaste.

Photo by John Dye

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