March 8, 2012
Fifth-year senior Elliott Heath will wrap up his storied Stanford career this weekend in Nampa, Idaho at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The Winona, Minn., native will look to defend his NCAA title in the 3,000 meters and may also run the distance medley relay.
Heath, who redshirted the 2008 indoor season, only has the winter season remaining in a Stanford jersey. He will continue to run this spring as a professional with hopes of making the U.S. Olympic Team.
It will be a difficult decision for men's distance coach Jason Dunn, as the DMR will be run Friday night and the 3,000 meters on Saturday. Heath, could potentially anchor the Cardinal in the relay or save his legs for Saturday. It should be noted that last season, Heath ran the open 5,000 meters on Friday night and then came back on "tired" legs to win the 3,000 meters against one of the best fields ever assembled in an NCAA race.
"My main goal for the weekend is to bring home as much hardware as possible," said Heath. "We have a really talented DMR team, so I think we can do well there, then I really will do my best to defend my 3K title."
The weekend will surely be bittersweet for Heath as it is his last in a Stanford jersey. He has been a key cog in the resurgence of the men's distance program returning to the nation's elite. He has earned eight All-America honors in addition to the individual NCAA title. He has also helped Stanford to a pair of Pac-12 cross-country titles, a MPSF title on the indoor track and several top-10 NCAA team finishes in both cross country and track.
"I haven't really had time to think about this weekend as my last time competing for Stanford," said Heath. "Indoor season always goes by so fast. I think that once the races are over this weekend I will really start to reflect on my time here and what a blast it has been. Right now, I am just excited to compete, but I would not be surprised to have some extra emotions once we get to the meet or after the races are over."
Heath is also proud of how he has helped build the team and left it to continue its success in future seasons.
"One thing I'm very proud of during my career at Stanford is being elected captain by my teammates in track and cross country," said Heath. "Knowing that my teammates saw me as a leader of this team is very meaningful to me. I am proud of the way our team has grown and become a more cohesive unit. I know we are graduating a lot of people this year, but I think there are a lot of younger guys that have huge potential in these coming years."
The men's distance program has long been known as "the Machine", which refers to how Stanford continues to move forward each year competing at the highest level. The idea is that the parts of the machine change, but each part is interchangeable and the sum of all parts is greater than any individual piece.
"While a lot of us are graduating this year, we are not irreplaceable," said Heath. "Some guys are going to have to step up and become the leaders of this team, but that is the whole idea of The Machine. The Machine is made up of a group of interchangeable parts."
Along with Heath, Jake Riley will also be completing his Stanford career this weekend. Riley is a seven-time All-American and will be competing in the 5,000 meters on Friday night. Chris Derrick will run both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, but still has outdoor eligibility before completing his historic career that already includes 11 All-America honors.
Heath's fondest memories have to do with his time with teammates and the success they enjoyed.
"A lot of my favorite memories are from the many long hours spent with my teammates training hard for a common goal," said Heath. "Training camp at the end of summer has been my favorite part of the year for the last five years. I will never forget winning the 3k indoors last year, but experiencing that with the team is what made it so special. Another memorable experience for me was going 1-2-3 with Jake and Chris in the 10k at Pac-10s and again in the fall in cross country."
After the weekend, Heath will change his focus to the outdoor season. He will begin his professional career and attempt to make the U.S. Olympic Team. The process should be eased by the fact that Elliott's brother, Garrett Heath, made the same transition after the 2009 season and still trains at Stanford. Garrett will be looking to make the Olympic Team in the 1,500 meters where he is one of top Americans in the event.
"After indoors is over, all of my focus will be quickly switched to the outdoor season and the Olympic Trials at the end of June," said Heath. "Olympic years always bring out the best competition across the country, so there will be a lot of great racing to look forward to. My goal is to give it my best shot at making the Olympic team this year and try to take the next step into the professional running scene."
Of course, Stanford gives Heath plenty to fall back on as well. He graduated last spring with a degree in biomechanical engineering and is about halfway through a master's degree in mechanical engineering.
The future is bright for Elliott Heath, but he is staying in the moment.
"I just want to enjoy my last opportunity to be a part of this team and race with these guys."