GVSU's May shrugs off running demons with breakthrough meet
Laker runner poised to make national appearance after earlier letdowns
In order to appreciate success, the trials that come along the way must be embraced. Grand Valley State’s Chris May understands this all too well.
Heading into his second year at GVSU, the budding cross country and track star had high hopes for himself. The indoor 5,000-meter run seemed like a plausible event for May to push for nationals in. Outdoors, an appearance at nationals in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter runs didn’t seem too lofty of a goal, either.
Had those hopes and dreams come to a screeching halt, it actually may have been less emotionally painful for May. Instead, all three events dragged May out until the last moment, and each time, one by one, he fell just short of the national cutoff.
“I trained all the way through until the lists came out,” he said. “Past conference, past the Last Chance Meet, and it just didn’t happen. I was just that short.”
May finished four seconds short in the indoor 5,000-meter race. The margin became even slimmer in the outdoor 5,000 when he came up just one half of a second shy of the national meet. And in the outdoor 10,000, he missed by only three spots.
“I just came up short again and again and again, three times in a row,” he said. “It was disappointing and it was really hard mentally. Especially outdoors, to come back from that. I ran a good time early in the season at Raleigh that year and it just wasn’t quite enough.”
One year later, a good performance has transformed into a great performance at the Raleigh Relays. May has finally achieved the breakthrough he has been training for.
He shattered his old personal record in the 5,000 by cruising across the finish line in 14:05.86 on March 25. His time fell just seconds short of both an automatic qualifying mark to the national meet and the GVSU record.
“It was such a mental shift because I surprised myself,” May said. “I have to completely redefine how I see myself as a runner. The guys I looked up to before and said, ‘Wow, I could never run as fast as them,’ I’m now running as fast as them. Being able to surprise yourself and being able to redefine who you see yourself as, in relation to other people, is really rewarding.”
The GVSU coaching staff is happy that May has finally beaten his demons.
“It’s great to see that breakthrough,” said GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. “For the last three times, he has been stuck on the outside looking in at nationals, so this was a great performance.”
Teammates such as Chad Cini were elated with May’s breakthrough.
“That was a stellar performance and it will get him in to nationals,” Cini said. “He’s going to be running fast races from now on. We were happy for him because we finally got another guy for our team that can score points for us too.”
Even without the automatic mark, May is virtually guaranteed a spot at the national meet. A time that fast has never not made the cut. In all likelihood, May will hold one of the top times in Division II when nationals roll around.
“It does take a lot of the pressure off,” May said. “It’s nice to know I’m in for sure and not have to worry all season that I’m going to be the first one out again.”
The heartbreak of falling short so many times has fueled May in his training.
“I’ve just been putting in all the work that needs to be done,” May said. “I knew, like a lot of things with running, it doesn’t pay off right away, but eventually you get those big, breakthrough races that really come through for you and you run times you never thought you could run.”
May’s humble attitude allowed him to be motivated by something greater than himself. With teammates to hold him accountable, he was able to push through the struggles.
“I’m very loyal to the team,” he said. “I want to give the team everything that I can. It’s not all about me, it’s about my team. That’s why I came here. Grand Valley has such a big team that’s really quite close together. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”
One past member of the team in particular helped guide May on the path to success. May considers GVSU cross country and track alumnus Alan Peterson as his mentor.
“I don’t know how much he knows he has filled that void for me,” May said. “Not only from the running aspect, but he is just such an amazing person that I want to emulate that side too.”
May and Peterson’s relationship is far from one-sided.
“One thing about running is that you have a lot of time to talk and get to know each other,” Peterson said. “Chris and I ran quite a few miles together and I learned a lot about him and what kind of person he is. We had a mutual respect for each other and came to practice every day with the same goals, which helped us both get better. Our relationship now is still fairly similar. I’m not around as much as I was or I want to be, but if he ever needs anything he knows that I’ll do my best to help him out.”
May said Peterson is the guy he goes to when he isn’t feeling confident, but that is a rare event because confidence is one of May’s strong suits.
“No matter the race or competition, Chris isn’t afraid to mix it up,” Peterson said. “Another strength is his toughness. Running can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. Chris pushes through that on a consistent basis and that’s what makes him better.”
With Peterson graduated from the GVSU team, Cini has emerged as May’s training partner and inspiration.
“He’s a great teammate,” May said. “He’s always there for anyone that needs it. Honestly, he’s one of the hardest workers on the team. You can really look up to the fact that he’s always working hard and trying to be the best person he can be. Me and him share a lot of world views that we can talk to each other about on runs. When you’re running for two hours straight, he’s just a really good person to talk to.”
Cini continues to push May in training every day and believes May has even greater potential.
“He likes to be a leader,” Cini said. “He likes to be out front. He can really jump out of the gate and get after it when he’s feeling good.
“The doors are open for Chris. He can do anything he puts his mind to. He finally caught his break (at Raleigh) and I think there are going to be more performances in the future.”
Despite May’s recent exploits in the 5,000-meter race at the Raleigh Relays, Peterson thinks even greater things will come in his other event.
“Chris ran a great 5K, but I think he has the potential to be even better at the 10K,” he said. “Even though he hasn’t run one yet this season, I think that he will qualify for nationals in that, and eventually help the team by placing in the top eight.”