Tom Sederquist and Ben Sathre
Part 1 – Introduction –
Normally, you can taste the excitement of running in the air during this part of the late-summer and early fall. Teams sweat out long, hard intervals on humid days and relocate their longsleeves as the leaves begin to turn. It is the time of year that evokes tradition, competitions, friendships, and all of the other great things that make up our memories in the sport. Stuck in 2020, none of this quite feels like it is happening the same way this year. Teams have been cut, seasons have been cancelled, and races look a lot different, if they’re even happening at all. And so, the Seder-Skier Team is bringing you some written reflections to get you back in the harrier spirit.
To kick it off, a multi-part series looking back at one of the most fun rivalries in recent MIAC memory. Two bold, driven, gutsy frontrunners who shared a belief that they belonged with the top group of any heat sheet, and were willing to put their money where their mouths were on the matter. I enjoyed learning about these two during a sit-down interview and podcast show this June – I hope to have the full audio up sometime. Enjoy.
It is the 2010 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Outdoor Track and Field championships in Northfield, MN. Ben Sathre of St. Thomas and Tom Sederquist of Concordia College step to the line of the Carleton College track as relative unknowns. Just a year ago, it was an accomplishment for Sederquist to prove his pre-race seeding false, as he placed 9th (seeded 12th) in 15:15, a respectable finish after doubling back from the 10,000 meters. Meanwhile at that race, the first year Chaska product, Sathre, ran 15:39, which wouldn’t scream much of anything to anyone unless you were aware it was only his third year in the sport – ever. During the indoor season, he posted a 15:20 at the conference meet, a signaling of things to come.
Up to this point, neither athlete has won a MIAC title, though Ben came close in the fall. At Como Park, the daring St. Thomas sophomore chased the lead pack down to the wire, ultimately finishing just six-tenths of a second out of second place in 25:55.7. Observers have a difficult time knowing exactly where Tom stacks up at this point, since he sat out the year’s cross country season, a strategic move made in order to create a “5th” year of athletic eligibility. Suffice to say, compared to Dan Greeno, Ian Bauer, and a few of the other MIAC regulars in the field at Carleton, the young Cobber is, relatively speaking, a nobody on the track at worst, and unproven at best.
The gun fires.
Sederquist takes off hard. Guns are ‘a blazing’ as they motor through 400 meters. He maintains his full throttle effort through the second lap as well. It is 2:10 at the 800. On pace for 13:33, the field has been prematurely dropped. All that is, except Sathre, who is sitting right in the draft of the 6’3, 145 pound Cobber, waiting to pounce, almost acting like this pace is too slow. Sathre rips by Sederquist to make a statement. For Tom, it comes as a complete shock then, and for both, the hilariousness of the strategy is cause for laughter as they reminisce in 2020.
“All out from the gun,” is probably the rarest of all race strategies to be employed by long distance runners on a regular basis. More rare, perhaps, is when these types are comfortably ranked #1 in their field. It is the most supreme display of dominance – one which requires no strategical complications, but simply states, “Today, I know I’m so much better than you, if I do what I do and you do what you do, I’ll always win.” Timothy Cheruiyot, Eliud Kipchoge, and David Rudisha are some names that come to mind of people who fit the bill.
Most rare, and yet, most rewarding for fans (and maybe even other competitors who benefit from a time trial atmosphere), is having two such athletes collide in the same event, in the same place, at the same time. From 2009-2012, this is just what a small, private school conference in the Midwest was given in Ben Sathre and Tom Sederquist.
Few can scoff at their credentials -multiple MIAC championships, an NCAA title, and countless duels and 1-2 finishes in some big races isn’t a paltry resume – and yet, the pulse of this story is pumped by a heart living on more than medals and victories. After all, even those sorts of accomplishments have been replicated by dozens of athletes, even in the last 20 years. Their story is worth telling for two reasons: First, it simply was unique to have two runners adopt such an analogous approach to running and racing. Second, this approach represents a deeper truth we all love about running: life lessons abound when we put ourselves on the line and find out what is really there. Character building, character revealing, and character shaping are all inevitable consequences to a Steve Prefontaine approach to the sport, and many of these lessons can be absorbed and understood by people who may not even intend to run a step in their lives.
As the brother of one of the subjects, I am keenly aware of Tom’s mentality when it comes to competition and racing tactics. As I spent a weekend rock climbing, hiking, running, and shooting our podcast episode with both, I fully expected to have Ben describe himself and his front running attitude in a similar way. Even though they appear to be carbon copies of one another on the track, apparently their front running coats are made of slightly different fabrics. It was fascinating to trace the tapestry of each and derive some sort of meaning from it all. In the end, as far as running goes, these two are united in the shared belief that dreaming big, ignoring limits, and placing the sport’s ultimate value in its platform for all to equitably see just what they are capable of, is what keeps them pushing. Keeps them chasing … even today.
“I figured, ‘well, at least no one is going to pass me,’” Tom jokingly recalls his state of mind after that first half mile. His start was brash, even by his standards. He even figured out a way to make coach Garrick Larson, the most even keeled coach in MIAC history, upset. Larson, who coaches in a collected, almost placid manner when he is track-side – sort of the antithesis to that screaming BYU coach at 2019 NCAA’s – is usually about as vocally threatening as a bouquet of lady slippers, so when Tom mentions the former MIAC javelin champion’s displeasure at his own distance pupil’s race strategy, there is some weight to the statement, recognized with humor by this writer (also coached by Larson for four years).
“The most shocking thing was going through the eight and Ben made a surge and passed me!” he laughs, remembering the incident. Ben can’t help but chuckle when thinking about the race, too.
“By the 5th lap, I was dead last,” he says in a comical moment of self-mockery. “Thankfully, Pete, my coach, had to leave and didn’t see the race.” Pete Wareham, head coach at his alma mater, was an elite runner himself who competed against Dave Sederquist, Tom’s dad in the 80’s. I’ve been privileged myself to get to know him and run with his son, Nicholas, a stud miler for Georgetown, on a few trips with Eagle Eye, the Minnesota-based video review squad that works NCAA and USATF events in the spring and summer. Even through our surface level relationship, the ultra-competitive and intense demeanor is evident enough for me to realize that it’s worth laughing at the fact, along with Ben, that it was a good thing Coach wasn’t around to see the race that day!
Tom ended up finishing 6th in 15:13, a pretty miraculous recovery after his start. The painful final mile was feasible partially due to the fact Tom realized his golden opportunity to beat Ben, whom he assumed was still trailing, but had actually dropped out. Broadly speaking, this race painted into existence the idea that though they hadn’t won anything, they were not scared of anything or anyone.
Not scared about their competition.
Not scared of their own limits…
…..or at least finding out where they were.
There were no podiums reached in that race. Most watching wouldn’t have pinned this moment as the birth of the next MIAC giants as Tom likely staggered around the infield on a cool down and Ben maybe laid on his back, licking the wounds of defeat – both performances were destined to live in anonymity. In the scope of their rivalry and its history, however, this event contained a fair amount of foreshadowing and symbolism. We were sure to see more epic duels with punches being traded at the lead, even early on in long races. It encapsulated the idea of both adopting the signature front running tactic and eschew the socially accepted norms of ‘who was the top dog’ at the start.
It symbolized, ultimately, how both would race fearing no one.
And eventually, they wouldn’t need much convincing they even should.
Part 2 – “Beginning in the sport” – coming next week –