University of Richmond rising senior Andrew Benford raced to a spot on the U.S. Mountain Running team on Sunday, qualifying he and five American teammates for the World Championships in Campodolcino, Italy, on Sept. 6.
Benford, 21, finished second during the Cheyenne Canon Mountain Race in Colorado Springs, Colo., behind 27-year-old Tim Parr of Gunnison, Colo. Benford spent his entire summer in Colorado Springs training for the event -- one of the races used as a qualifier for the U.S. Mountain Running Team. Only the top two finishers in the race were eligible for the team.
During the time leading to the race, Benford trained daily at 6,500 feet of elevation, which helped him prepare for the lower oxygen levels and the increased difficulty that come with running at altitude.
"The first couple of weeks I was out here, I had to adjust," Benford said. "You're not getting as much oxygen so you have to adjust your attitude and your workouts."
The course covered 12 kilometers -- with elevations varying between 6,000 and 7,000 feet -- and included steep climbs. Benford had trained on the same course throughout the summer and said that doing so gave him an advantage during the race.
"I knew every little rock of the course," he said. "I knew where to make my move and where I could recover."
Benford became the first runner in U.S. Mountain team history to make both the junior and senior mountain teams. For the junior event, runners are selected based on an application rather than a qualifier, Benford said. Benford made that team as a replacement after another runner backed out because of injury right before the 2006 race.
"A lot of juniors will go out for the senior team and not make it," Benford said. "When I was on the [junior] team, I had a goal for myself that I would like to run for the senior team at some point."
Initially, Benford thought he would try to run for the senior mountain team after his Richmond career had ended, but he has decided to redshirt during the coming cross country season. After talking with cross country coach Steve Taylor, Benford decided this summer would be a good time to try to make the senior team.
Benford said that he and other teammates wanted to redshirt the fall cross country season to save eligibility for the 2010 cross country season, when the team's younger runners will have more experience -- something he said would increase the team's success.
"It was tough in terms of just being patient," Benford said of the decision to sit out this fall. "With a whole extra year of running miles, the same for the younger guys, when next year rolls around we'll be even fitter, so it's not really a tough decision when you look at it that way. We can be the best as a team and individually."
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For now, Benford's focus is on succeeding during the Mountain Running World Championships in September. He will spend the next month preparing, specifically working on his downhill technique, which he said was his biggest weakness on the mountain course.
"I'm going to keep hitting the hills and working on my downhill running," Benford said. "I would catch the first place runner (during the race) on every climb, and he would run away on the downhills."
Benford said he hoped success would come at the World Championships for his team and himself. The top three runners on each team count as the scoring members. Last year, the U.S. team finished third at the championships to earn the bronze medal.
"I'd like to be a scoring member of the team," Benford said. "In terms of team goals, we'd like to medal again and get on the podium."
Dan Petty contributed reporting from Colorado Springs, Colo.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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