Wichita State junior Aliphine Tuliamuk is a veteran of NCAA meets and those experiences allow her to frankly assess her strengths and weaknesses.
She can run long distances with the best in the nation. If those distance runs turn into sprints, however, she is at a disadvantage.
“I’m not good at that,” she said. “I am not real good at finishing.”
Tuliamuk will make her fourth appearance at the NCAA championships (indoor and outdoor) this week in Des Moines, trying to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish in the 5,000 and fifth-place finish in the 10,000. She plans for the lead pack to proceed slowly for most of the race. She wants to make the race about her strengths. Tuliamuk runs in the 10,000 at 8:45 p.m. Thursday and the 5,000 at 12:19 p.m. Saturday at Drake Stadium.
The 10,000 is her strongest race and her time of 32 minutes, 39.35 seconds ranks fourth nationally. In the 5,000, she ranks fifth with a time of 15:26.07.
“The races go really slow at the national level,” she said. “What I’m going to try to do is break away earlier. If I can break away early enough and put pressure on, by the time the last lap comes, I can be way too far for them to catch up with me.”
Tuliamuk worked with that strategy during cross country and track seasons. While Villanova’s Sheila Reid, the defending champion, is a strong favorite in the 5,000, Tuliamuk enters the 10,000 with a better chance to win an NCAA title. The conditions may help — weather reports call for sunny skies and temperature in the 80s this week in Des Moines — and distance coach Kirk Hunter believes she is ready to execute her strategy if the pace is right. Tuliamuk, from Kenya, doesn’t want to let a finishing kick late in the race determine the winner.
“This year, I’ve been telling her to learn from different places in the race,” he said. “Instead of just running fast, actually learn how to win the races. We’re hoping she has a strategy in mind that will play to her strengths, which is just the fact she’s a very fast, strong runner.”
Tuliamuk won the NCAA Midwest Regional cross country meet last fall and won the NCAA West Preliminary Round 10,000 meters in late May, with a time of 33:31.54. In both, she pushed the pace earlier in the race.
She took off with 2 to 2 1/2 miles to go, and just broke away from the pack,” Hunter said. “She feels like if she can get away from them, she’ll be OK. But it’s a lot different trying to break away from a regional group of girls than it is an elite group of girls.”
Only two Shockers have won NCAA titles, Harold Manning in the 1930 indoor two-mile and Einars Tupuritis in the 1996 indoor and outdoor 800. Tuliamuk, with five All-America finishes (indoor and outdoor) is already the program’s most decorated female. She would like to add NCAA champion to that list.
“I’m going to do anything it takes to win,” she said. “I want this program to have a winner to call its own.”