Updated June 6, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Good decisions, like bad decisions, aren't always thought out or planned. Sometimes they just happen. They could be instinct, luck or maybe a notion.
Chris Barnicle's fantastic career as a runner began on a whim -- a quick and random decision by a 12-year-old to do something 12-year-old boys don't always do: Run the "gym mile" with full effort.
The gym mile is something most products of public school can relate to. It's when your physical education teacher needs a few minutes of quiet time, so he or she sends the gathered flock on a mile run around the track. It's a nice five-, ten-minute break for the teach.
Usually, a runner will fall in with his buddies, complain a bit about the jog, and let the track or soccer guys and gals take the lead. Maybe you hide in that handy ditch that runs along the track and then slip into the pack on the last lap.
On this long ago day in Massachusetts, Barnicle decided to take the lead. He blew the field away.
"I was in about the seventh grade," said Barnicle. "The gym mile was mandatory and for some reason I decided to hammer it. I ran better than anyone else, came in around 5:17, in that area, and my middle school coach recruited me."
Yes, you can now throw out the cliché about how Barnicle has been running ever since.
As a youth/high school runner, Barnicle was pretty much All-Everything. He was Nike Athlete of the Year while attending Newton (Mass.) North High. He made the All-USA Track and Field team and was wooed by a number of colleges before heading to Arkansas.
He fought through a variety of setbacks as a Razorback (injuries, mononucleosis), missed the 2008 cross country season and the 2007 and 2008 outdoor seasons, but was still an accomplished All-SEC runner.
He came to New Mexico for graduate school and more running. Lobo coach Joe Franklin says he thinks the injury-free, All-MWC, All-Region, All-American Lobo is about to achieve a new level of success on the track.
Barnicle agrees. "I was a little inconsistent because of injuries and mono," he said. "I've been injury free for quite a while and I think I've turned over a new leaf."
He also says the success is due, in part, to being diary free and not turning over so many sheets of paper. He no longer stays up late at night jotting down all the details of his runs.
"I stopped recording a training log, which I used to do all the time," he said. "It got to be tedious. I would write in in every night before I went to bed. I think that caused me to over think things.
"I'm more relaxed now, not thinking about so many things, and it has made me a better runner. I take things more day-to-day now. I think if you take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself. I've been worrying about things less and just letting things flow."
So far, the flow has been good for Barnicle this spring semester. The 2010 NCAA Indoor was Barnicle's third indoor meet as a Lobo. He took All-America honors in the 5,000 meters, smashing the UNM record with a 13:43.20 clocking.
At a meet held at Stanford earlier this track season, Barnicle set a personal best at 10,000 meters with a 28:10.59 time and was named Mountain West Conference Male Track and Field Athlete of the Week.
At the 2010 MWC Outdoor Championships held in May at UNM, the Lobo senior won the gold at 5,000 meters with a stadium-record time of 14:18.20.
On May 27 at the NCAA West Regionals, he punched his ticket to the NCAA finals in Eugene, Ore., with a 10,000 meter run of 29:40.45.
Baricle said at the tail end of the 2010 outdoor season, he was toying with the idea of running the 1,500, so he could put the chase on teammate and roommate Lee Emanuel -- the NCAA Indoor champ at 1,500 meters.
"I would love to run it," said Barnicle. "My mile PR (personal best) and 1,500 are from my freshman year and I'm faster now."
So, do you think you could beat the NCAA Indoor champion and one of the top milers in the nation? "Probably not," said Barnicle. "But I'd give it a go."
At the NCAA finals, Barnicle wouldn't mind repeating as an NCAA All-American. After that, Barnicle might try the pro circuit and work on picking up a third language to add to English and Spanish.
If Barnicle gets really bored, he might try picking up a hockey stick again. His first love - remember this is a Massachusetts kid -- was hockey.
"That was pretty much my sport from five to 14," he said. "Then I quit to run. I thought I was over it, but I watched the Olympics this year and it got me reminiscing about hockey. I was on a pretty good team and I starting missing it again.
"But I'm probably doing better in running than I would be doing in hockey."
The injury-free Barnicle could ask coach Franklin if it was OK to put on the hockey pads and skates, and get knocked around on the hard ice. Maybe take a few body checks into the glass. Of course, the answer surely would be the same as running the mile: "No."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.