Allie Buchalski ’18 didn’t mince words when asked about the final run of her remarkable Furman athletic career.
“It is going to be the hardest race I’ve ever been in,” she said. “Just to do what I did last year, I’ll have to PR (personal record) by a good bit.”
What the John’s Creek, Georgia, native did last year was finish sixth in the 5,000-meter run at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships to become Furman’s first first-team All-American in women’s outdoor track, a year after she finished 14thin the event to become Furman’s first second-team All-American. Throw in first-team All-America honors in cross-country and two more in indoor track, and Buchalski is without question the greatest runner in school history and a certain future member of the Furman Athletic Hall of Fame.
Saturday night at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, however, Buchalski will line up against the strongest field she’s ever faced. Nine of her competitors have clocked lower marks this season than Buchalski’s career best time of 15:35.33, which she recorded in 2017, and she knows it will take the best performance of her life to stay in the hunt.
“It’s the fastest it’s (been) run in a really long time,” Buchalski said. “There’s usually one or two girls who can run that, and now there’s a whole squad of people.”
Buchalski heads the largest group of Furman athletes to ever participate in the NCAA outdoor championships, which run June 6-9. Joining her across the country in Paladin purple will be Savannah Carnahan’20, also in the 5000, and Gabrielle Jennings’20 and Kristlin Gear’21 as the first Furman representatives ever in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase.
On the men’s side, Frank Lara’18 will go for the win in the 10,000-meter run for the second straight year after finishing 19th in 2017. The five emerged from a group of 11 Furman runners, also the most ever, who took part in the East Preliminary meet May 24-26 in Tampa, Florida.
As daunting as Buchalski’s task may seem, there’s reason to believe she is capable of challenging for the national championship. Buchalski ran only three 5000s all spring, focusing instead on the 1,500-meter run to work on what Furman coach Robert Gary thinks is her biggest weakness in the 5000 – closing speed.
Judging from the results – a time of 4:19.44 in the Southern Conference Championships that shattered by more than four seconds a meet record that had stood since 2006 and a 4:17.73 earlier in the season that broke the school record – the mission was accomplished.
“She has really improved on her closing speed, and that’s something she has really lacked,” he said.
“I’m in much better shape than I was (last season),” Buchalski, a business administration and art double major, added. “I felt like I was holding on last year … whereas this year I feel that I’m building.”
Lara will race first for Furman, at 10:08 p.m. EST on Wednesday, June 6, followed by Jennings and Gear in the steeplechase semifinals at 7:32 p.m. on Thursday, June 7. The top five in each semifinal as well as the next two best times will advance to Saturday’s final, scheduled for 7:54 p.m. EST.
Jennings set a Furman steeplechase record with 10:02.67 in her heat at the East prelims before Gear broke it minutes later with a 9:52.71 in her heat that was a PR by 20 seconds.
Buchalski and Carnahan wrap things up for Furman at 8:25 p.m. EST on Saturday in the second-to-last event of the meet. Carnahan’s best 5000 time is a 15:49.89 she ran at the Raleigh Relays in March.
ESPN2 will televise the meet beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Thursday, and coverage moves to ESPN at 8:30 p.m. Friday and 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The entire competition can be streamed online on ESPN3.
Visit FurmanPaladins.com for more on the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.