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Interval Session #81 - Derek Storkel

By SteveU - November 13, 2008

It certainly isn’t always possible to predict who will win a state title and be the best overall in a state based on the previous year or even the previous season.  Yes, Tomah WI senior Derek Storkel had finished 2nd in the 2007 Wisconsin D1 state meet and 2nd best overall.  In track, he had been one of the top juniors in the state, running 4:19 and 9:24, but not the best.  Storkel had a chance to win this year, for sure, but would have you thought an unbeaten season?  Or a time second only in course history at state to Wisconsin legend Chris Solinsky?

But Storkel has found sources of confidence, grasped this season and made it his time to shine.  He won all 13 times he toed the line this fall and made sure no one could stay with him at The Ridges November 1st.  The senior has quietly developed the heart of a champion, while still being a great teammate and making sure his fellow Timberwolves know he hasn’t forgotten them.  While his team didn’t qualify for state, those same teammates were there wildly cheering him home.  Perhaps they’ll also be there November 29 in Kenosha as Storkel tries to fulfill his dream of making Foot Locker Finals.

DyeStat senior editor SteveU catches up with someone who Wisconsin fans won't soon forget.
1) Congrats on winning your state meet on Nov. 1, Derek.  I’ve read where you said you felt “capable” of winning, but didn’t actually think you could do it (even though you were second last year?)  Tell us in more detail about your thoughts going in and how the race unfolded for you.  And what was it like when you crossed the line?

Well, before the race I was very nervous. My tent was kitty-corner from Mike Brice's, so we talked a little and ended up doing a warm-up run together.  We were both very confident and believed we would do pretty good.  At the line, I was in Box 18, which is near the middle of the line.  So I knew that I had to get out before all of the runners suctioned in towards me.

I started out in the lead pack, and at about the 800-1000m mark, I decided to pick up the pace.  No one went with me, probably hoping that I would burn out before the end of the race.  I went through the mile mark in about 4:48-50, about 2-3 seconds ahead of second place.  The two mile was about 9:45 and I was 7-9 seconds in front of second place.  And then the rest of the race was just trying to hang on to what I had and finishing in 15:26, 12 seconds in front of Brett Kelly of Madison West.

2)  A lot of what I’ve read about your performance is how it’s second only to Chris Solinsky on that course over the last 20 years.  How familiar are you with Solinsky’s accomplishments?  Does that comparison mean a lot to you and what have things been like, in general, in the days since you won?

Every high school runner in Wisconsin knows who Solinsky is, and everyone knows that he was a beast of a runner.  To be second to him is like finishing second to Prefontaine.  Solinsky is just as much an inspiration for me as Pre is and it is an honor to know that I am second to him.

3) I’ve heard one of the things you’ve had to overcome to get to this level is improving your pacing, that you used to go out like a rocket in every race.  Talk about that and other things you’ve done to raise your physical (summer training, etc.) and mental game?

When I was a sophomore, I was determined to get in the lead from the very start and push as hard as I could for the whole race.  Now, I still push as hard as I can, but I do it in a more consistent pattern.  I try to make sure my mile splits are more consistent, but I also want to push the pace as much as I need to.  Since my sophomore year, I have upped my mileage and am focused more on eating healthier and training smarter.

4) Can you tell us some about your season leading up to state?  What were the biggest highlights?  Tell us about the races and workouts that helped get you in position, mentally and physically, to battle for the state title?

Well, my whole season I went undefeated and that sort of got me in the mindset that I couldn't be beaten.  Also, I looked at last year’s results, and the results from the year before, and what I found was that I had not once lost to any of my main competitors in cross country.  One of the races that got me in the mindset that I was going to win was my conference meet.  I won with a career PR of 15:39 on a course where I ran above 16:10 earlier in the season.

And as far as workouts before the state meet, I have one workout that I did last year and this year that was phenomenal in terms of getting me pumped up and yielding results.  What I did was run eight 400s at my race pace (this year was 71 sec/lap) and then 2 more as fast as I could.  They both worked very well and gave me the results I was seeking.

5) I’ve read that you are the first state champion from Tomah … so let’s talk about Tomah the town and Tomah the XC team.  Can you tell us about the town, where it is, and what it’s like to live and train there?  Then tell us about the XC program.  I get the impression that Coach Luebke and you have worked close together … and that it’s very important for you to be a good teammate.  Sounds like they came out and really supported you at state.  Has that been a really big part of being a senior in this program this fall?

The town of Tomah lies about 1-1/2 hrs north of Madison and 1/2 hr east of LaCrosse.  The location offers easy access to some of the running trails in LaCrosse that Tomah does not have.  When I work out in Tomah, I am stuck mainly to paved paths.  If I go to LaCrosse, my options are much wider. 

But Tomah does a great job of supporting the team and I … which brings me to the team.  Our guys’ team consists of about 10-15 runners.  We don't have good depth, but we get along no matter what.  We were last at conference and 2nd to last at Merrill.  But the way I see it, no matter what times a guy runs, he needs just as much support as the guy winning the race.  He's running the same race and the same distance, so he's going to need people to cheer him on just as the winner does. 

I think the guys realize that that's what I believe and in return I get some of the best teammates a guy could ask for.  Almost all of them came out to the Rapids and yes, they all painted their bodies to spell out GO DEREK!  There were also a few girls intertwined in the making of the painted bodies!

6) Rumor has it that you started in high school with soccer and a few hard times with that helped lead you into this sport you’ve so excelled at.  Can you give us the story on your athletic background and how running came into your life?

In middle school, everyone runs the mile for Phys. Ed.  I was determined to run faster than anyone else in the mile.  It was the first time I had ever run and I ended up beating everyone that ran it that day. 

So, after football was over in the fall and the winter passed, I signed up for track in the spring.  I ended up losing only one race (an 800) and running 4:53 for the mile.  But for some reason, I went out for soccer in the fall not realizing my potential in cross country. After sitting on the bench more than I had hoped to, I got it together and went out for XC in the fall.  I ended up getting 13th in the state as a sophomore.  My sophomore achievements cemented my future in running.

7) Now there’s Foot Locker coming up in a few weeks.  How have your goals for that race evolved during the season and since your state meet?  Would it be true to say Wisconsin has had a bit of a dry spell for Foot Locker since the Solinsky days and is it important for you to play a part in changing that?

I guess you might be able to say that … we could use a few guys to make it to FLCC this year.  And making it there is my main goal.  For one, last year I just ran the race because everyone did.  Now this year to be competing fiercely for that top 10 finish is really going to change my training a lot.  I am going to need to step it up another notch if I want to make it because the competition at FLCC is greater than almost any runner can imagine.  I think Wisconsin needs another runner to step up to the plate and I am ready to take that position.

8) I’ve heard that when you aren’t racing or studying, you like to put on the camo and head out into the woods and fields.  Tell us about Derek the hunter.  Are there any things in hunting that help you as a runner … and vice versa?

It is true that hunting plays a big part in my family.  Every fall we go out deer hunting as a way for the guys to get together.  And when it's not deer season I'm either chasing squirrels or hauling in bass from the local cranberry marshes.  I don't know if there is anything that I can relate to the two except that I love them both.  But they both are a form of meditation for me and give me a chance to get away from everything.

Photos of Storkel from 2008 WI State by (from top) Paul Oman, Bruce Luebke, and Erik Daly (LAX Tribune)

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