Forest Grove native Tyler Shipley improves by leaps and bounds in his second year at Pacific

COURTESY PHOTO: HANOVER COLLEGE - Pacific University sophomore and Forest Grove High School graduate Tyler Shipley (727) competes at the 2013 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships on Nov. 23 in Hanover, Ind.Tyler Shipley isn’t even close to satisfied.

Eleven days ago, the Pacific University sophomore and Forest Grove native tested himself against some of the fastest college runners in the country.

Competing in the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships meet — Shipley’s second consecutive appearance — he acquitted himself well, finishing 164th on the 8,000-meter course at the L. S. Ayers Athletic Complex in Hanover, Ind. A 26 minute, 21.3-second effort put Shipley in the middle of the pack of 275 finishers and was a considerable improvement of 89 places compared with his freshman outing at the national championships.

But middle of the pack is not good enough for Shipley, who started fast his freshman year at Pacific and just keeps getting faster.

“To be completely honest, it was pretty disappointing,” Shipley candidly admitted last week, a couple days after returning from Indiana with Pacific cross-country coach Tim Boyce. “I had pretty high expectations to be in the top 35 or around there, and the race obviously didn’t go as planned.”

A top-35 finish would have resulted in a first All-American honor for Shipley. He set himself up well to achieve that, getting out among the top 50 runners about a mile and a half into the race. But he drifted back from there over the final three-plus miles to his final placement.

Connecticut College senior Michael LeDuc won the race in 24:29.3.

Though the national meet was undoubtedly the biggest competition of the season for Shipley, one race does not an entire season make. Shipley experienced nothing like a sophomore slump this fall. In fact, he ran better and more consistently this season than he had as a freshman, taking second place to reigning champion Parker Bennett of Willamette at the Northwest Conference Championships in early November and seventh at the NCAA West Region Championships a few weeks ago to earn his national meet invitation.

He also moved from third to second on the Boxers’ all-time 8K list with a time of 24:49.29 at the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle in September and now trails only Roger Hansen, who ran 24:36.1 in 1976. For his multiple standout performances, Shipley earned four consecutive NWC Men’s Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Week honors.

“It’s showing,” Boyce said. “The quality and consistency of his season showed that the hard work is paying off.”

For reference, a year ago the 2012 Forest Grove High School grad finished ninth at the NWC meet and 16th in the NCAA west regional. At nationals, a 253rd-place result left him wanting more, mirroring his experience this time around in Hanover.

“I think that’s still something he has to learn to deal with at the biggest meets, is just understanding that there’s going to be a lot of other guys there, and it’s just a matter of maintaining your composure and understanding that you’ve done the work necessary to be there and that you’re capable of hanging there,” Boyce said.

“But it’s hard when most of the year everybody kind of drops off after the first couple miles and at nationals, you look around, there’s still 60 guys ... in the lead pack with you.”

But if Shipley can use his disappointment as a springboard rather than a stumbling block, he could be ready to turn in another amazing track season this coming spring.

That would undoubtedly be impressive, as Shipley was arguably better on the oval as a freshman than he was on the cross-country course. He eclipsed the 15-minute barrier in the 5,000 meters and won both the 5,000 and 10,000 at the NWC championships to lead the Boxers to a third-place team finish, heights the program had not seen since 1977. The precocious freshman was selected as the male track athlete of the meet for his double titles.

“By the time the conference meet came around, we thought there would be a decent chance that I could accomplish it, but of course, running 37 laps in two days is a difficult thing to do,” Shipley said of his two titles, which came less than 24 hours apart. “I never had done it before and only ran one 10K before, so I didn’t really know how I was going to do, but I thought it was possible.”

Before Shipley started setting the trails on fire at Pacific, when he was at Forest Grove, as Boyce described, he was “a good high school runner, but he wasn’t a superstar. The improvement he’s made over the past couple years has been really cool to be a part of.”

And it makes his results at Pacific all the more impressive. After three solid years at Forest Grove, Shipley started to break out as a senior, winning the Pacific Conference cross-country title. Even though he was hampered somewhat that spring by a stress fracture in his left hip, he still managed to qualify for the state meet in the 3,000.

The transition to the college scene has clearly suited him, though. The longer the race, the better Shipley runs. He has bolstered his training by running more miles per week — hitting up to about 100 this past summer, he said — and adding volume in his workouts. He improved so much from spring to spring that his pace per kilometer for his 5,000 personal best (2:59) is faster than his pace per kilometer for his high school 3,000 PR (3:05)

To that strength, Boyce wants to add speed that will allow Shipley to kick with other top-flight runners, something he will need to do to beat the best.

In addition to the increased mileage and quality, contributors to Shipley’s college success have been his ability to avoid injury and his attention to detail. He has remained healthy through consistency and by doing the little things, aspects that can make all the difference for a college long distance runner, such as diet, living at home instead of in the dorms, hydration, icing, stretching and getting enough sleep – about 11 hours per night, he said.

“He’s the most coachable athlete that I’ve worked with in that time,” Boyce said about his 20-year coaching career. “He does a lot of the things that you would want an athlete to do without even being asked. That’s rare to find somebody like that that’s so young.”

Shipley and the Boxers will participate in a few indoor meets this winter before cranking up for the outdoor season. Shipley’s hunch is that he will focus most on the 10K.

Given his track record of making the special appear routine, more good results — and strides forward — certainly will not come as a surprise.

Shipley said: “I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, and then with another good winter of training, I assume it will only continue that way.”

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