When Joe Waskom lined up at NCAA Regionals, his 3:40.33 personal best was the 26th seeded time in the West. His outdoor season began with three progressively slower steeplechases: 8:47 – 8:55 – 9:15 (his PB is 8:35), two DNFs, and finally a 3:45 1500m. But then things turned around and he won Pac-12s, qualified for Nationals and ultimately this weekend, the Seattle-native won the NCAA title in 3:45.58 to cap off his sophomore season. Enjoy this brief conversation about his season and the Washington Huskies!
THE LAP COUNT: A lot of people were surprised by your victory, but were you? Did you think this was possible – especially when things started slow in the beginning of the race?
JOE WASKOM: I wouldn’t say my entire goal was to win that day. I was talking with my coach and we both said it’d be great to finish in the top five. So I wasn’t really looking to win, but more to execute the race plan. It just kind of worked out in my favor that the race went a little slower — I was ready for anything — I was ready for it to be fast. I expected Garcia-Romo to go to the front and slow it down and so I was excited for that last lap.
THE LAP COUNT: Well you closed in 53.2! You haven’t run an 800 in college, but clearly, you have speed.
JOE WASKOM: I could probably run 1:47 or 1:48, like, before the final. We’ve done some workouts where we run a 52-second 400 at the end of the workout. I’ll have to do an 800 next year.
THE LAP COUNT: Well now you have a 1:52 closing out that 1500! After running 3:56 indoors you had a really rough March and April – what exactly was going on and what turned it around?
JOE WASKOM: I was pretty sick after Mt. SAC relays and then really, really sick, but I was trying to train through it. My legs weren’t under me and I wasn’t racing well. I knew I’d come around by Pac-12s and have a shot to run a regional qualifier there in the 1500. Winning that race was probably more surprising than the national title. When I got healthy, things started clicking. It’s nice to have two training partners in Luke Houser and Nathan Green who have both run 3:37 — I do all my runs with them and so their success helps my confidence.
THE LAP COUNT: Washington has certainly been a middle-distance powerhouse. As someone whose friends are training or have been trained by Powell, I have an idea of why I think he’s good, but I’d be curious what you’d say.
JOE WASKOM: I think the biggest thing about our program is the culture — we’re all best friends and want the best for each other. We’re not competing in workouts, but encouraging each other. It’s amazing when we’re all running a 1:21 600 in the pouring rain to close out a workout together. After that we knew we could make some noise at nationals.
THE LAP COUNT: Is that cultivated by Andy?
JOE WASKOM: I think it all comes down to who we recruit. He makes sure that we’re a good fit for the program and it just goes from there. We all hang out all the time and are friends outside of running.
THE LAP COUNT: Being from Seattle, did you grow up knowing that you wanted to go to Washington?
JOE WASKOM: My sister was on the UW team before I got here so I knew a bunch of my teammates previously. Right when Andy came I thought it’d be the place I go to become successful.
THE LAP COUNT: Generally, an NCAA champ can go on to USAs and be competitive with the pros. Are you doing that? Are you in?
JOE WASKOM: I don’t have a time for it, so I probably won’t get in. I’m pacing one of my teammates later this week in the steeplechase and will probably call it after that. I’m honestly looking at the season as some kind of miracle. I think I expected this to happen at some point – I wanted to be a national champion. I just didn’t know how early it would come. I believe in Andy and I believe in Chris and the stuff they tell us to do — Nathan would tell you the same thing. We follow what they tell us and it usually works out.
THE LAP COUNT: Would you ever return to the steeplechase or are you a 1500 guy forever now?
JOE WASKOM: I’m going to do whatever Andy tells me to do. If he wants me to do it, then I’ll do the 1500. If he tells me he thinks I have the best chance in the steeplechase, then I’ll listen to him.
THE LAP COUNT: Sounds like you’re a dream athlete – I’m sure he loves coaching you!
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