By Ken Goe
John Moore might be the state's best college distance runner this side of Galen Rupp, but Moore has more on his mind than split times and workout schedules.
The University of Portland sophomore juggles training around upper-level Spanish courses, UP's pre-nursing curriculum, the private lessons he takes to hone his technique on the saxophone and jamming with friends on the electric guitar.
"I try to do a lot of stuff and not focus only on running," Moore said last week. "I might go crazy if running was all I did."
Somehow, Moore finds time to make it all work. He was an academic all-America selection last fall during the cross country season and placed 30th individually at the NCAA championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
He led the Pilots to ninth place overall, which meant they finished in front of a host of more high-profile programs, including Oregon. The Ducks didn't get out of the West Regionals.
Rupp, the brilliant Oregon sophomore, was the story of the 10,000 meters at the 2005 NCAA Track and Field Championships when he forced the pace in a bold attempt to win the race as a freshman.
Rupp eventually finished second to Arizona's Robert Cheseret. But with attention focused on the front, most missed Moore's gutty run to 10th place and all-America status.
UP coach Rob Conner and Moore huddled before the race and made two decisions. If somebody went out hard, Moore was to let him go and stay on pace. If an opportunity arose late to make all-America, he would go for it then.
Track and field athletes become all-Americans either by a top-eight finish, or by being one of the top eight U.S. runners. As the race spread out, Conner counted heads and saw Moore had a chance.
About two-thirds of the way through the race, Conner shouted at Moore to begin picking people off. He needed to pass three runners, then two and then one.
As Conner remembered the story: "I told him, 'You're in 11th, the guy ahead of you is the last all-American. Go get him.' Moore took after him and he got him."
People who knew Moore weren't surprised. He might be easygoing and friendly away from competition, apt to have his nose in a textbook or to be riffing on the guitar with, say, teammate Michael Kilburg.
But when he approaches the start line, he's all business.
"He has more intensity than any runner I've known," Kilburg said. "He's not the hardest trainer on the team. But he knows how to step it up."
Conner discovered Moore as an undertrained senior at Olympia High School.
"He's a very natural talent," Conner said. "He's built somewhat similar to Galen Rupp, tall and thin. You see him and you think, 'national-level runner.' I asked him how many miles he was running, and he said four miles a day. Most elite high school runners are running 70 to 80 miles a week."
The UP coach never has had the luxury of recruiting from the Foot Locker prep all-America lists. He runs a low-budget program at a school without a track.
He looks for distance runners he can develop into a cross country team, then use in the longer races during the indoor and outdoor track seasons. After checking Moore's transcript, Conner saw he fit the profile.
"We got him like we get everybody," Conner said. "With an academic scholarship and some athletic money."
Moore faced a steep learning curve on the college level. He redshirted as a freshman, allowing Conner to increase his training level slowly while Moore worked through an iron deficiency problem.
Conner liked what he saw, especially once Moore got the low-iron problem under control and turned in a time of 8 minutes, 7.01 seconds in the 3,000 on Washington's indoor track.
In the fall of 2004, Moore was ready to hold his own in cross country. He qualified for the NCAA championships, finishing seventh at the regional meet and beating Oregon upperclassmen Ryan Andrus and Eric Logsdon. The most surprised guy on the course might have been Moore himself.
"I really didn't see it coming," he said. "I was still so new to everything."
Moore followed that, in order, with his 10th place at the NCAA outdoor meet, the Pilots' top-10 finish at the 2005 cross country nationals and his run to the UP record in the 10,000 last month at Stanford.
Moore clocked a time of 28:43.19 in the 10,000, comfortably under the qualifying standard for the NCAA meet and more than five seconds better than Joe Driscoll's 2002 time of 28:48.42, which had been the school record.
Driscoll set the record as a senior. Moore still has two seasons of eligibility. Who knows what he might do if he can fit in time to train? The nursing program starts in earnest next school year, and Moore has a spot in the school jazz band.
But Conner isn't worried. Moore always has handled his class load, played the sax since grade school and, if nothing else, proved he can bear down.
"Some guys are good in the big ones and some guys aren't," Conner said. "That's where this guy's strength is. He is mentally tough. If a big race is on the line, I can almost guarantee he'll have a good race."