The greatest distance runner in the history of Wichita State track and field runs her final college race on Friday night.
Now her male training partners can finally take a break.
Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, a 12-time NCAA All-American in track and cross country, competes in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. Coach Steve Rainbolt considers her the top track athlete, male or female, to ever compete for WSU. If pushed, he might say no Shocker in any sport can match her success.
“Every single season she’s been here she’s gotten faster,” distance coach Kirk Hunter said. “Sometimes athletes stay at a level for awhile. Things can get in the way. There’s life. There’s sickness, there’s injury. She gets faster.”
Tuliamuk-Bolton, a senior from Kenya, is so driven that WSU doesn’t have a female runner — even former All-American Tonya Nero — who can pace her in practice. Coaches learned they needed male distance runners to keep up. Former Shocker Scott Reed had the knack and provided her a partner until he graduated.
“She is so tough,” Rainbolt said. “We’ve had guys that have not been able to train with her. She discards that guy and goes to another one. She and Coach Hunter are in constant search of training partners.”
Tuliamuk-Bolton will remember those training partners fondly, as she will remember almost everything about WSU. She transferred from Iowa State in the middle of her sophomore season so she could major in nursing. Rainbolt said it took her time to fit into the team-first atmosphere at WSU. Once she did, she loved it. She took on a heavy load in conference meets to score points and won 11 MVC conference races. When more Shockers joined her at the NCAA meets, she remarked how happy it made her not to travel alone.
Hunter’s flexibility to set her schedule and his encouragement will be missed.
“I don’t know how I will live without these people,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful four years.”
Her training partners are definitely on that list. Recently, runners such as Brady Johnson and Sterling Spencer ran intervals with her at Cessna Stadium, sometimes doing five or six 1,000-meter runs with a two-minute break in between. Other times the interval training might consist of 20 400s.
“They were so nice to me,” she said. “I don’t think I would have got that anywhere else. Even during finals, people will just volunteer to come help me.”
At the NCAA indoor championships, she finished third in the 5,000 (15 minutes, 38 seconds) and sixth in the 3,000 (9:08.83). Bad weather limited her training early in the spring for the outdoor season. Finishing her final 15 hours (she changed her major to Health Services Management) made for a tough semester.
“I had a ton of graduate-level classes,” she said. “By taking those classes, I had to stay up late and I’m not getting so much rest.”
Nothing, however, seems to slow Tuliamuk-Bolton. In April, she ran the fifth-fastest 10,000 meters in NCAA history (32:07.20) at a meet in California.
On Wednesday, she finished second in the NCAA meet with a time of 33:14.12, about six seconds behind friend and former teammate Betsy Saina of Iowa State. In 2012, she also finished second, with a time of 32:45.43, four seconds behind Texas A&M’s Natosha Rogers.
The 10,000 is her strongest event. It plays to her ability to hit her top speed and maintain it for long periods of time. She wanted to tire Saina early and take away her kicking advantage on Wednesday.
“She tried to gap her,” Rainbolt said. “You’re just not going to leave Betsy Saina in the dust.”
Tuliamuk-Bolton finished fifth in the 5,000 (16:11.34) a year ago. On Friday, she gives Hunter and Rainbolt one final taste of her world-class endurance.
“I’ve been spoiled,” Hunter said. “We’re looking for the next one. It’s nearly impossible to find the next Aliphine. There’s only three or four girls in history to beat her.”
Tuliamuk-Bolton wants to run professionally and will train in New Mexico this summer. In November, she will return to Kenya for the first time since coming to college to see family and train at high altitude.
Rainbolt sees her as a marathon runner in the future, one with Olympic potential. In the interim, she is well-suited to make money on the road-racing circuit.
“To watch her be so consistent and so tough, what a special athlete,” he said.