Kodie Artner is in a race against time.

Kodie Artner is in a race against time.

That would seem obvious, since the former South Medford athlete runs track for Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

But it's more complicated than that.

Artner, who was one of the state's top track and field performers a year ago as a senior for the Panthers, has hardly skipped a beat in making the transition to NCAA Division III competition.

As a 400-meter hurdler in the Northwest Conference, he has not been beaten by a league foe this spring and recently captured the NWC championship.

But his goal is to get to nationals, and to do that, he likely must improve on his best time as the season winds down.

He'll get the opportunity today in the Pacific Twilight Invitational at Forest Grove, and a couple other chances await before the national championships May 23-25 at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse.

Artner was ranked 18th nationally entering today with a 53.99-second clocking during the Oregon Preview meet in March at Hayward Field in Eugene. It takes a top-20 time to make nationals.

"People are pretty close to my time," said Artner. "The East Coast schools are getting going. They all have their conference meets coming up. Most of the Division III schools are on the East Coast."

To illustrate the pressing need for Artner to lower his time, only a week earlier, he ranked 10th.

Today's meet sets up nicely for him. There is stiffer competition than he usually sees — a couple of entrants have better times than he does — and the weather will be warm.

Artner believes a time of 53.50 will do the trick, and knocking a half-second off his best appears doable.

"It'll take more effort on my part, and I have to have the right mindset going into the race," he said. "I haven't always had the right mindset. I had it for Oregon. But when you go into meets knowing that you have the fastest time by a couple of seconds, it's not real motivating. It's more about getting the win than actually running fast."

In the Oregon Preview, Artner was the underdog, a freshman at the nonscholarship Division III level competing against older athletes from schools that offer athletic aid.

That was just what he needed to goad him to victory.

He beat runner-up Ryan Endresen, a senior from Seattle Pacific, by nearly half a second. Junior Kody Rhodes of Western Oregon was third in 54.90. Among those who didn't make it out of the preliminaries was an Oregon State freshman.

"I was not expecting to win," said Artner. "I went in hoping to get in the top three. Halfway through the race, I was confused because I was in front. I was like, 'Where is everyone?'

"It was a good feeling. After seeing my time, I was pretty happy."

The time is the fourth best in history for the Pioneers, and for his effort, Artner, a mathematics major, was named Northwest Conference runner of the week.

The long hurdles are Artner's specialty, but he's also competed in the 200 and 400 sprints and the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

In high school last year, he had a more rigorous load with the 300 hurdles and 400 and both relays. He made it to state in all four — including the second-fastest Class 6A time in the intermediate hurdles — but the grind of those events on back-to-back days might have been too much.

At state, he labored to fourth place in the 300 hurdle finals, banging into several hurdles.

"I wasn't that strong," he said.

This year, he is.

Unlike in high school, when he played soccer in the fall, Artner devoted autumn and winter to working specifically for track. He didn't compete in any indoor meets, opting to train through the winter.

It was tedious, and he considered the ice bath in the training complex his second home.

But the results are showing.

It has been an adjustment adding another 100 yards to the race in which he must clear 10, 3-foot hurdles.

"It's a long process," said Artner. "The 400 hurdles are pretty tough to learn. It's more about control. Your steps between hurdles really have to be timed right. There's more of a rhythm than in the 300 hurdles."

He wouldn't mind it if there was one less hurdle.

"It's definitely hard getting over that last hurdle," he said. "It's a tough one, and there are very few times that I have (cleared it cleanly). That barrier shouldn't be there, in my opinion. It's cruel."

Should Artner improve his time, he doesn't want to just make it to nationals. He wants to be one of the eight who make it all the way to the finals.

"That will take some work, though," he said.

And that's something to which he is not opposed.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com