Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Running has not always been the main focus for Iowa State junior Alex Dillenbeck. More of a hobby, running began as an afterthought behind basketball and soccer. It wasn’t until getting cut from his high school basketball team that he decided to devote more time to the sport.
Upon being cut, the high school track coach suggested that he try out indoor track. The Aurora, Colo., native immediately showed talent in the sport, setting the Cherokee Trail High School freshman records in the mile and 800-meter run. The following year, Dillenbeck was the school’s fastest 800-meter runner. From then on, it was full speed ahead for the future Cyclone.
“I originally thought soccer was going to be my focus and running would be something fun on the side,” Dillenbeck said. “That ended up switching pretty rapidly to pure track and cross country after my freshman year.”
Dillenbeck gained recognition as one of the top runners in the state during his junior and senior seasons. Dillenbeck drew the attention of former Iowa State head track and cross country coach Corey Ihmels after earning fifth-place finishes in both the 1600-meter and 800-meter runs at the Colorado High School State Track and Field Championships.
When Dillenbeck committed to run for the Cyclones, he took the same training discipline he developed in high school and applied it at the next level.
“I was in a very tough high school class of runners,” Dillenbeck said. “There was a lot of competition with multiple guys continuing on at the Division I level. If you wanted to make a name for yourself at the state meet, you had to train as hard as or harder than everyone around you.”
After redshirting his initial cross country season in Ames, Dillenbeck made an impact on the course, running as one of Iowa State’s top-seven runners at the Big 12 Championship. He would only improve as a redshirt sophomore. Dillenbeck was the Cyclones’ second finisher at the Big 12 Championship in 2012, placing 29th overall in 24:45.
Many runners have superstitions about racing, whether it is a pre-race meal, a lucky charm or a handshake shared with a teammate. Dillenbeck, however, has never bought into luck-based antics.
“I’m not very superstitious,” Dillenbeck said. “Every race is different and your strategy is going to be different every time you step up to the starting line. I just try to prepare for the race ahead and be as relaxed as possible. The biggest thing is being ready for change in a race and I think having superstitions or routines would get in the way of that for me. You have to be ready for anything that could come up.”
This season, under a new coaching staff, team leaders were a key component to keeping focused on the goal. Multiple runners stepped into the role, including Dillenbeck.
“I do whatever I can to be a good teammate,” Dillenbeck said. “It’s hard to point out one person as a leader because we’re all very good at different things. If I feel something needs to be said, I’m not afraid to step up and say it. We made sure everyone on the team was all in. No program can be successful without all of its parts working towards the same goal.”
Dillenbeck’s growing role on the team has certainly caught the eye of Iowa State director of men’s and women’s track and cross country Martin Smith.
“Alex has really emerged this year as a team leader,” Smith said. “He does a great job of leading by example. He worked very hard over the summer months to enter the fall in the best shape he’s ever been in. That, paired with his leadership ability, he has made the transition to a new coaching staff very smooth and positive.”
Assistant coach Jeremy Sudbury is quick to echo Smith’s sentiments.
“Alex is one of our major role players on the team this season,” Sudbury said. “He’s a strong runner and we’ve seen a major commitment from him. He’s really stepped up his game both on and off the track. He’s been a real leader for the guys with the new coaching staff and has really bought into what we’re trying to do as a program.”
Dillenbeck’s accomplishments in the classroom are equally as impressive as those achieved on the course. The redshirt junior has garnered Academic All-Big 12 accolades three times in his collegiate career while majoring in kinesiology, a field he hopes to use in his future endeavors.
“I have always liked trying to understand the human body,” Dillenbeck said. “I like learning about what makes us run as fast as we do and what helps a basketball player hit a shot from beyond the arc. I really like both the science and mental aspects of it. I want to coach at the collegiate level when I finish school, and those fields should really help me.”
Dillenbeck and the Cyclones are in action Oct. 5 in Bethlehem, Pa. at the Lehigh Paul Short Run.