By Tom Kroeschell
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Katy Moen has been running for a long time. A real long time. The Iowa State distance runner and cross country regular is making the transition from promising collegiate hopeful to proven veteran. Now one of the top seven competitors on Iowa State's fifth-ranked women's cross country team, the Iowa native began running long before she ever reached junior high school.
"I started running when I was little and just grew up with it," Moen said. "I remember running the junior Bix race. I remember doing the seven-year-old race and remember doing the five-year-old race too."
Moen had an in. Her father was a middle school cross country coach.
"My dad snuck me into his home meet when I was in fifth grade," Moen said. "He snuck me into a middle school race of boys and girls combined. It was 1.7 miles. I ran it, of course oblivious to competition and just for the fun of it. I actually got a medal in the race so I had to give it up to an older teammate. That's when I started to realize that I wasn't too bad."
Moen was a veritable old hand by the time she entered Wapsie Valley-Fairbank High School. Her love of running was still innocent.
"At first I saw it as fun and games and didn't know how to push myself," Moen said. "I slowly began to learn what it meant to compete. I progressed as a runner throughout high school every year."
As a senior at the 2009 Iowa state cross country meet, Moen out-distanced a field of 131 runners, winning the Class 1-A individual prep title by 25 seconds over her nearest competitor. At the 2010 state track meet, Moen won the 3,000-meters.
There was no question that Moen was going compete in college. It was in her blood. Her older brother Josh raced professionally on the road courses after graduating from Wartburg. Despite her determination to compete on the next level, her choice of Iowa State went down to the wire.
"I think it was a whim decision," Moen said. "Josh always referred to some Division I programs as puppy mills. They bring in as many recruits as they can and don't quite give them as much care."
Moen was resistant at first to listening to a pitch from the Cyclone coaching staff.
"(Iowa State associate head coach) Travis Hartke contacted my dad," Moen said. "My dad wanted me to take an official visit and told me 'you can say no after that.'"
Iowa State head coach Corey Ihmels helped turn the tide, along with Cyclones who would be her future teammates.
"I met Coach Ihmels and the girls on the team," Moen said. "It gave me a better idea of what was expected."
Once on board, Moen agreed to redshirt and use the fall of 2010 as an educational experience in the classroom and as a runner.
"I learned that I would better contribute to the team if I were to wait a year," Moen said. "I got some good training under my belt. I didn't realize my mileage was so low compared to everyone else and that I hadn't done workouts comparable to anyone."
There was an adjustment to collegiate training.
"I think in high school we had done some workouts but nothing of that intensity or distance," Moen said. "There was a month when I stopped doing workouts in the fall just to get adjusted."
Ihmels has always been bullish on Moen's future. The head coach told his recruit that she would thrive in Iowa State's cross country and track program from the get go.
"I think that he told me that within the first three minutes of our first meeting," Moen said.
Moen started the 2011 season with great anticipation but almost immediately was stopped in her tracks.
"The day before the Drake meet I found out I had mononucleosis," Moen said. "I had to take time off. My first day back was the day of the Griak meet. I was running around cheering for the team."
Mono is often a season-killer. Remarkably, Moen made a quick recovery and earned a spot on the team heading for the Big 12 meet in College Station, Texas. She placed 46th in a field of 86 runners as Iowa State won its first Big 12 cross country title and its first conference crown since 1990.
"I started very conservative because my goal was to finish the race and feel good doing it," Moen said. "Coach said as long as I could make to the 4k mark he'd be proud of me or happy with my results. But I started out pretty slow."
Moen went on to run at the Midwest Regional and then the NCAA Championships.
During the ensuing track season, Moen trained and competed in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs.
Moen had higher expectations for this cross country season. She had increased her mileage to 70 miles a week.
"I usually do a morning run and it's usually pretty early at like 5:30 a.m.," Moen said. "This morning I ran at 5:15 a.m., and then I'll run again at practice or on my own because I usually have class in the afternoon."
The mileage is paying off. Moen placed 47th in a field of 323 runners as Iowa State's fifth finisher overall as the Cyclones won the team title at a Wisconsin Adidas Invitational full of the nation's best teams. She is taking her success in stride.
"I think I'm pretty relaxed about it," Moen said. "I like to run within myself if that makes sense, but I'd like to think that I run pretty relaxed and I don't get too jumbled or worried about the results. I just concentrate on the moment."
Beyond Iowa State, Moen draws on personal experience for a future vision.
"My eighth grade year, my dad worked as support staff at Castle Hill School in Waterloo," Moen said. "One day he asked me if I wanted to come with him, just volunteer and sit in a class. I finished out the summer there volunteering and volunteered the next summer. I was hired and worked there for four more years in a classroom with students with behavior disorders. I just felt like it was the place for me and I fit in and I felt like it worked out pretty well."
With a vision for her future after graduation, Moen is running with her mind in the moment and it is paying dividends in one of the nation's top collegiate programs.