Updated June 7, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Lobo Ruth Senior has a simple and obvious strategy in mind for the NCAA Championship steeplechase run: don't get wet in Oregon.
It was the same strategy she took with her for the NCAA West Regionals in Austin, Texas, where she qualified for the national finals in Eugene, Ore.
"I've had a nightmare with the water before," said the UNM junior. "But I seem to have figured it out."
What senior has figured out about this water hazard/jump/barrier is that it's not a swimming leg of the race. You don't go into the water headfirst. You don't swim your way to the end. You jump, land on your feet, stay on your feet, and run to dry turf.
Senior seems to have really figured out her specialty this year. "I used to fall quite often," she said. "I would put my hands down and fall. I've fallen a lot of times, but not in quite a while. I haven`t fallen this year."
The steeplechase is a 3,000-meter run where athletes circle the track and leap over four 30-inch hurdles/barriers and over another hurdle, which has 12-feet (length, not depth) of water on the other side. The water is a splash over two feet at the deep end and about a foot at the shallow end.
The run has a competitor clearing the dry hurdles 28 times and going over the water barrier seven times. It is a race that places a premium on endurance and strength. Since it's a race, speed never hurts. Since it's a footrace, it helps to stay on your feet.
The race originated in England. So did Senior. She was born in Norwich, England and came to New Mexico out of Loughborough University.
Keeping the wet stuff on her running shoes and ankles -- and out of her face -- has worked out well for Senior. She was ranked No. 2 in her NCAA West heat, No. 6 in the region, and No. 8 in the nation.
"In theory, I should advance," said Senior, prior to the West Regionals. "I'm not worried about times. I just want to run well and get to Oregon (NCAA finals). The event is very stacked, so I need to run well. It`s an unpredictable race."
The Top 12 out of Austin advanced to the NCAA Championships. That dozen consisted of the top three finishers in each of the three heats, plus the next three best times. Senior finished third in her heat with a time of 10:15.46. She was second in the 2010 MWC Championships held at UNM in May.
The race, to a point, is "unpredictable" as Senior says. This race tends to pack runners together as they leap over 35 obstacles. The falling part isn't limited to the water traps. If you fall, you can be stepped on.
Senior said she began running the steeplechase seriously when she was around 17. She was a good distance runner, but thought she could put up some numbers on the clock that would qualify her for World Juniors.
She was right. She also was the two-time British university champion. Her times got the attention of Lobo coach Joe Franklin, who loves to stomp around the English countryside looking for track talent. Senior said she had already struck up a deal to come to UNM prior to Franklin showing up on English soil to watch his prize recruit do her steeplechase thing.
"I did very badly, " said Senior. "We had already agreed I would (come to UNM). I was just hoping he wouldn't regret it."
So, did you fall in the water that day with your future coach watching? "Probably," said Senior. "I just remember being awful."
Franklin obviously didn't pass Senior over to Lobo swim coach Tracy Ljone. Which is a good thing. Senior has performed at a high level for Franklin and the Lobos.
She took All-MWC First Team honors in cross country with a runner-up finish. She is ranked No. 8 in the NCAA in the 5K. She holds UNM's record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at 10:09.14 and in the 5K at 15:57.32.
Senior is good at the steeplechase because she has a nice combination of strength and endurance. "You have to be strong and I've never been a skinny, little athlete," she said.
Senior said she also likes the diversions that come in the steeplechase. "The jumps are challenging and you aren't just out there running in circles," she said. "You aren't out there counting the laps."
The Lobo said her decision to come to New Mexico has been "unbelievable." "I just had two friends visit from back home and they couldn't get over what I have here," she said. "I'm so glad, so fortunate, to be here. I'm living in America. I'm a student. I'm doing what I love to do. It's such a great life for me."
Senior says the altitude training at UNM has made her better in her specialty.
"The steeplechase drains you," she said. "The last couple of barriers can be a nightmare. You have to run hard into the barriers and run hard out of them.
"I'm stronger at the end now than I used to be. I think it's the altitude training. I don't want to wait until the last 100 meters to beat anyone, but I am more confident in my finish than I was before."
Senior also said she doesn't mind the dryness of New Mexico. This week, she hopes to stay dry in Oregon.
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.