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The road back not easy for Jespersen

Commentary

If you've ever watched Lauren Jespersen run, you are mindful of his graceful, effortless stride.

You have watched him glide through a distance race, seemingly toying with his fellow runners, and then outkick them at the end, as if a booster rocket were attached to his back.

— This is Jespersen's senior track season at Klamath Union High, and those who follow distance running in Oregon could hardly wait for the Class 4A state meet, when he would match up against the best group of distance runners in state history.

The state meet is nearly upon us ' it runs Friday and Saturday at Eugene's Hayward Field ' and Jespersen will be there, competing in the 1,500-meters and the 4x400-meter relay for the Pelicans.

But we won't be seeing the same Lauren Jespersen who set a state-meet record of 3:50.49 a year ago when he outran Lincoln's Mike McGrath, teammate Jacob Gomez and Grant's Joaquin Chapa in a run for the ages.

Or the same Lauren Jespersen who ran the 800 in 1:52.87 that same day in finishing second to Mountain View's Ryan Flaherty.

Jespersen is a shadow of his former self these days due to a knee injury ' specifically, patella tendinitis ' he incurred in February while pounding the streets, roads and hills in Klamath Falls.

He resumed training early this month and qualified for the state meet while winning the 1,500 at the Southern Oregon Conference district meet Saturday in Ashland.

But Jespersen's time of 4:00.94 was a telltale sign that he's not in the shape he'd like to be at this time of year.

How could he be? Until May 3, Jespersen's only training since February had come in a swimming pool. His injury wouldn't even allow him to get on a stationary bike, let alone go on a 10-mile run or zip through some interval work.

That was pretty hard, Jespersen said a few minutes after holding off teammate Kevin Pellegrino and Ashland's Jeff Olsen in the 1,500 Saturday. I'm a raw runner right now.

Despite the dozens of races Jespersen has run during his career, he said he had no sense of pace Saturday.

It's amazing how fast you lose your basic instincts, he said. The only advantage I had in this field today was that no one had ever beaten me.

Jespersen has come under scrutiny this spring for his high-mileage workout routine that reached 70 per week. Most high school coaches won't allow their distance runners to log more than 40 to 50 miles per week for fear of the exact type of stress-related injury that befell Jespersen.

But Jespersen is a national caliber runner who has a full ride to Stanford. He wanted to keep his edge over the state's other elite runners, some of whom were running higher mileage totals than him.

He wanted to break 1:50 in the 800 ' something only two prep runners in state history have ever accomplished ' and he had his eyes on the all-time state best of 3:47.06 in the 1,500.

There's a fine line in how many miles a kid runs, Klamath Union distance coach Rob Coffman says. It has to be an individual thing, and Lauren said he wanted to bump up his mileage.

Maybe 70 was too much, but the kids up north are running more than that.

Jespersen believes it wasn't so much the total miles that nailed him as it was the extensive hill work he was doing.

He first suffered a torn quadriceps muscle and that in turn led to the tendinitis in his knee.

I took some time off but it (the quadriceps injury) didn't heal like it was supposed to and that's when the tendinitis started, Jespersen says.

The debilitating injury left Jespersen with no aerobic options other than the pool. The pool work kept him from losing all of his conditioning but it also added muscle to his back and caused him to gain 10 pounds.

That's not what a distance runner wants, says Jespersen, who weighed 147 last year but now tips the scales at 157.

Jespersen is realistic about the state meet. He knows he'll have to run the 1,500 in well under four minutes just to place, and his chances of repeating are slim, given his lack of conditioning.

As for the 800, he didn't even run it at district, knowing he doesn't have the speed for that race nor the endurance for a double at the state level at this point in time.

But more than anything, Jespersen is happy to simply be back running ' even if it's only a few miles a week.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail