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Julian seeks 10,000 title at USA meet

Pete Julian is in the best shape of his life.

At age 28, he's in his prime as a distance runner.

And when he takes the starting line for the 10,000-meter run at the USA Mobil Championships Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hayward Field in Eugene, he'll be competing at one of his favorite venues.

In other words, Julian has everything going for him that he could possibly hope for. With a little luck, the former Ashland High and University of Portland standout will dash to the finish line ahead of the pack and claim his first national championship.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going there to win this race, Julian says. I don't have any excuses any more.

With a top-three finish, Julian will secure a berth on the U.S. team that will compete in the World Games Aug. 21-29 in Seville, Spain.

Julian, who finished third in the 5,000 meters at the USA Championships last year and third in the 10,000 in 1997, is coming off a lifetime best performance in the 10,000. He covered the distance in 28 minutes, 5.4 seconds in a meet at Stanford University on May 7, shattering his previous best by 15 seconds.

It was one of those nights that was perfect for running, says Julian, who finished fourth in the race behind American record-holder Bob Kennedy, Alan Culpepper and Abdi Abdirahman, an Ethiopian native who runs for the University of Arizona and has gained his American citizenship. No wind, 55 degrees, an excellent crowd and probably the most competitive 10K field since the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

It was just magical.

Even more important than his personal record time was the fact that Julian ducked under the World Games qualifying standard of 28:10. Two years ago, he missed out on a trip to the World Games in Athens, Greece, because he failed to meet the standard.

I vowed back then that I won't go into a World Games qualifying meet or an Olympic qualifier without having met that standard, Julian says. Finishing in the top three isn't enough to get you to the World Games or the Olympics. But now that I've met the standard I can breath a sigh of relief. It's like having a security blanket.

Julian heads into Thursday's race as the No. — rated 10,000-meter runner, trailing only Kennedy and Culpepper. And since Kennedy is entered in the 5,000 and not the 10,000, Julian's chances at winning are enhanced.

The quality of runners, however, is superb. Culpepper, Abdirahman, Chris Graff and Stanford star Brad Hauser have all been under the World Games qualifying standard.

Then there is Todd Williams, a veteran runner who blazed to a time of 27:30 in 1997 but is somewhat of a mystery after not having run on a track since last year.

Williams is the Michael Jordan of this sport, Julian says. He does his best when the pressure is on. He's the guy who will push the pace and make everyone else hurt.

Track and Field News, regarded by many as the No. — authority on running, picks Culpepper to win Thursday's race with Williams taking second and Julian third.

Julian has lived in Boulder, Colo., for the past few years and in recent weeks has been residing in Nederland, a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains 30 miles east of Boulder. Nederland is situated at 9,000 feet.

It's an experiment, says Julian of living at high altitude. It's not about the training, it's about the living and sleeping at high altitude.

A recent study conducted at the University of Indiana suggests that living at high altitude for three to four weeks can help runners, Julian says.

The move to higher ground -- referred to as an altitude spike -- increases red blood cell counts, allowing runners to carry oxygen into their bloodstreams more quickly, Julian says.

Our sport is getting so dirty as far as drug use, he says. A lot of runners are using human growth hormones. This (living at high altitude) is a legal way for me to try to increase my red blood cell count. This is the fair way to do it.

I've made a commitment to do everything possible to prepare myself so that when I step on the track I'm not already behind.

Julian says athletes in other aerobic sports such as cycling are doing the same thing.

The study came back with some pretty positive results, Julian says. If you want to continue to improve, you've got to accept new training methods.

Julian has made another change in his workout habits, namely cutting back on his race schedule. Other than the red-letter race at Stanford, his only other time on the track this year was a 1,500-meter race at Victoria, B.C., on June 10. He was clocked in 3:42, the equivalent of a 3:59 mile.

Running a hard 10K on the track can really take it out of you, Julian says. It can burn you up mentally as well as physically. It takes an awful lot of effort to run 67-second laps for more than six miles.

But when the gun goes off at Hayward Field Thursday, Julian won't hesitate to exhaust every bit of effort -- and every red blood cell -- from his body.