After helping the USA to their first team medal since 2001 at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships two years ago, Chris Derrick hopes those championships in Poland marked, “an upswing, rather than a peak” of his country’s current purple patch at cross country.
Derrick also finished 10th individually on the snow and slush in Bydgoszcz and he credits that team performance – where the USA stunningly just edged out cross-country superpower Kenya for the team silver medal – as an important step in his development as a professional runner.
“When I grew up, I was a running nerd,” said Derrick at the traditional pre-event press conference ahead of the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Guiyang 2015.
“I watched a lot of sport and there was a question in my mind as to whether or not I could get to the top of the sport. I think it was very gratifying (to beat the Kenyans) because I felt like I had been in a situation when I was younger where I was looking for something like that to inspire me.”
Derrick, who improved his 5000m best from 13:29.74 to 13:08.04 in 2013, acknowledged that the team might be weakened by the absence of Ben True, the sixth-place finisher from Bydgoszcz who only finished 11th at the trials, “but a second team medal from successive championships remains the goal.”
“With team expectations, to simply get a medal is a huge achievement. Ben [True] didn’t qualify for the team which I think hurts our chances. We still have Ryan Vail who was in the top 20 last time and he’s very experienced.
“It’s going to be tough to replicate what we did last time simply because so many things went well. I think it’s rare for things to go so well two times in a row, but I think the team is still strong.”
Derrick’s individual racing form doesn’t suggest he has a preference as far as underfoot conditions and temperatures are concerned.
Since running so well in Bydgoszcz at the last championships, Derrick has claimed the past two US domestic titles in warm conditions at altitude in Boulder.
He started 2015 with a clear-cut win on an archetypal European-style cross-country course in Edinburgh, an IAAF Cross Country Permit Race, at the start of the year.
“I like whatever Geoffrey doesn’t like!” he joked on his preference, referring to Kenya’s 2011 junior champion Geoffrey Kamworor, who was sitting to his right at the press conference and who is tipped to be one of the favourites for a medal.
If he could choose, a churned-up course not too dissimilar to Bydgoszcz would be his course of choice as an individual, plus to the strengths of the US team as a collective.
“I feel pretty strong on soft surfaces, and anything that makes it more of a strength race. I think the US team overall prefers muddier tougher courses rather than a firm, flat course,” said Derrick, which he believed was a key factor in why they performed so well in 2013.
“By the time the senior men’s race rolls around, I think the course might be to our advantage.”
With rain forecast for the Guizhou provincial capital on Saturday, Derrick and the US team might get their wish.
As an individual, Derrick didn’t outline any specific goals but he has put together a good block of training since the start of the year, and believes he is in better shape than he was two years ago.
“My current fitness is really good,” remarked Derrick, whose best time over 10,000m of 27:31.38 dates back to 2012. “Training has gone well and (I’ve had) a lot of good workouts. I’ve probably jumped up in fitness from previous years, and I think I’ve benefited from staying healthy. I think I’m at a time in my career where each year I train healthy, I am set to make another jump.
“I’d say my confidence is pretty high. I think in Edinburgh, I wasn’t very fit because I had some injuries, but by the time I ran at the US Championships, I felt I was very strong and I am hoping to test myself against a very good field tomorrow.”
Steven Mills for the IAAF