Be on the lookout for the blue and yellow racing singlets of the CU Racing Team at the Freedom Celebration 5K on July 4.
The CU Racing Team is a new group of runners who aim to improve their performance — and to be some of the top competitors at local races.
The team grew out of speedwork sessions organized by Stephen Ostwinkle of Urbana last summer that attracted several dozen runners. Ostwinkle and Jeff Kelly of Urbana — who helped with the speed workouts — saw an interest among the runners in improving their running. They also saw an increase in confidence.
“I think that’s what these speed workouts last year brought out in a lot of people,” Ostwinkle said. “(They felt), ‘I think I’m running pretty good. I feel like I could race a little bit faster.’”
“It’s more of a team atmosphere where you go and race each other and push each other. Part of the appeal to racing to me is you try to improve every time you compete,” Kelly said. “Our goal is to get a group of like-minded runners and, when we get together, we can push each other and excite each other to run personal bests.”
They emphasized the team is open to everyone and a runner does not need to hit a certain speed to join. He or she just needs to be serious about improvement and willing to follow a training program to improve. There are almost a dozen team members now.
The group ran its first race as a team this past weekend, at Saturday’s Steamboat Classic in Peoria.
Team organizers hope to find sponsors to support it and help pay for travel to races and entry fees, Kelly said. They also hope to eventually add some races in the area.
Membership on the team includes a training plan created by Ostwinkle or Kelly. The two of them and Smith are current or former USA Track & Field certified coaches and have raced competitively at various levels. Ostwinkle is creating training plans for runners who want to race a 5K or 10K, while Kelly is helping runners with half-marathons and marathons.
“I think all three of us who started this team have a passion for running, but more specifically, for running and racing as a sport,” Kelly said. “We also have a great deal of knowledge and experience that, hopefully, can be put to use by the team members. I believe strongly that anyone who joins this team will improve his or her racing performance, due mainly to the information we can share with each other but also to the camaraderie and team-racing environment.”
Tom Gelsthorpe of Urbana said one of the appeals of being on the team is training with people who are faster than him.
“Here’s where the guys who regularly beat me are located. If I want to get faster, they are the guys I want to train with,” he said. “Continuing to improve is definitely a big aspect of it.”
Niki Lake of Savoy participated in the speedwork sessions last summer, something she said she wouldn’t have the discipline to do on her own.
“The speedwork definitely tests my ability,” she said. “It helped me push myself. I could definitely feel it helped me get better with speed. In almost every race I ran last year, I had a (personal record), and lot of encouragement from the other people there.”
Lake said she is already running faster this year than she was at the same point last year. She came to be friends with many of the speedwork group members and wanted to continue training with them. She also wanted to work with Kelly on training for a November half-marathon.
One challenge for the team: Because everyone has an individual training schedule and is running different workouts and paces, the team hasn’t held group sessions.
“You don’t want to go out and do a workout just because someone else is doing it. You want to have a purpose,” Kelly said.
Smith has organized Tuesday and Thursday morning workouts at Meadowbrook Park. But he acknowledged that accommodating the different paces of the runners is still a challenge.
“A lot of people may be intimidated or don’t want to come out to that because they don’t want to run by themselves or don’t know anybody at their pace,” he said.
Even when he’s running alone, though, Smith said being part of the team motivates him.
“My times have gotten much better, and I’m learning lot more about what I need to be doing. The pressure of the group gets me out the door and gets me doing things on my own because if I don’t, I know other people will be doing all those things,” he said.
He’s also benefited from following a specific training plan, rather than deciding day by day what he wants to run.
“Before I would just go out and run as hard as I could. There wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to that,” Smith said. “Knowing what I’m going to do every day and why I’m doing that has improved my body and helped me run a lot faster.
“I think running with people dedicated to improving themselves and getting better — just that attitude — is contagious and makes everybody want to get better. That just breeds success.”
On the Web
For more information about the CU Racing Team, visit the team’s website at www.curacingteam.com.
Photo: CU Racing Team members, from left, Jeff Kelly, Valeria Rohde, Stephen Ostwinkle, Niki Lake and Tom Gelsthorpe run at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. Photo by Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette