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'It's kind of what you dream of'

KU senior Chandler Gibbens to close out stellar college career in favorite events on national stage at historic venue

7 min read
KU senior Chandler Gibbens competes at the NCAA West Preliminary meet in Arkansas last month. Gibbens will conclude his KU career at Outdoor nationals this week. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Kansas senior Chandler Gibbens has two options after his final track meet as a Jayhawk this week in Eugene, Oregon.

Turn pro and continue with a running career that very well may take him around the world. Or move to Chicago, start his career in the accounting world at Ernst & Young and continue running as more of a hobby and habit.

Both options are within Gibbens’ reach. And the KU distance runner has a clear grasp on what will determine which path he takes.

“It kind of depends on how the races go,” Gibbens told R1S1 Sports during a recent conversation about his final runs at Outdoor nationals, where he’ll run in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs for his final act as a Jayhawk.

There’s that much on the line?

“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, I don’t really think of it in that way. And I have a job lined up after this to take some of the pressure off. It’s not like this is make-or-break for me.”

That mere fact should allow Gibbens the opportunity to take it all in as he competes in his last two races for the school he has come to love.

Appropriately, they’re also the two races he loves the most. And even better, he’ll be running them at one of the most historic track and field venues in the world — the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, site of this year’s NCAA Outdoor national meet.

Gibbens has been there before. But only to watch. At the recent World Championships a couple of years ago, he attended as a fan and remembers clearly walking around the place with KU track coach Stanley Redwine, who coached Team USA that year, and Jayhawk legend Bryce Hoppel, who has become one of the best middle-distance runners in the world.

“It was cool to have him show you around a little bit,” Gibbens said of Redwine. “I’m with the head coach of the U.S. team and Bryce Hoppel’s on the other side, and you’re just walking down the street. That was pretty cool.”

This will be cooler.

“I’ve been there, but I haven’t raced there,” he said of Hayward Field. “People talk about the Hayward Magic and just the incredible vibe you get there. For my first race at Hayward to be my last race at KU, it’s gonna be something special. It’s kind of what you picture and dream of.”

Fifth-year senior Chandler Gibbens is headed to Outdoor nationals in not one but two events this week in Eugene, Oregon. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Gibbens is one of 10 Jayhawks who qualified for the national meet that will cap off KU’s 2023-24 sports season. But he’s one of two who will be competing in two separate events in Eugene.

While the difference between sophomore Tayton Klein’s two events — the long jump and the decathlon — seems pretty drastic, Gibbens will be the first to tell you that the two events he runs are pretty different, as well. Even if they don’t appear to be on the outside looking in.

“The 5K goes by a lot faster than you kind of realize it will,” he said. “By the time everyone kind of settles down from the start, you get two more laps in and then it’s time to start getting ready to go for the finish. Whereas, with the 10K, it’s more about settling in and hunkering down for as long as you can. So, they do run pretty different.”

Gibbens, however, does not.

While the strategy he employs to make his way through both distances can differ, everything he does leading up the races is the same.

Thanks to him finishing his Masters degree in accounting earlier than a lot of programs, he’s been locked in on getting ready for this moment and these two races since the middle of April.

While he still had to run at the Big 12 Outdoor meet and the NCAA prelims 10 days ago, everything he has done while preparing for those meets — and even during them — has been with this finale in mind.

Gibbens got into running for one simple reason — he enjoyed it.

“It started off with me just wanting to do it,” he said. “I just had that in me. And, from there, it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You enjoy it, so you keep doing it and then you get a little bit better and the cycle continues. It’s one of those things where, once you start to see a result, it’s way easier to keep getting sucked in.”

At first, the Columbia, Missouri native was just happy to continue his passion at a place he was excited to call home. But as his talent progressed, in both track and field and cross country in the fall, he started to see and believe that big things could be waiting for him.

Even still, he never quite believed he would compete for national championships or have a chance to run at the U.S. Olympic trials, as he’ll do a couple of weeks from now as long as his times hold steady.

“I remember my freshman year, at our end-of-year meeting with my coach, he mentioned the trials and at that point it was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh; I can’t even imagine that,’” Gibbens said. “But, as you grow, you continue to see yourself there more and more, and then when your name comes up on that list, it’s really cool to see all of that pay off.”

Gibbens is currently ranked 21st in the nation in the 10,000 and there’s room at the trials for 24 competitors. He’ll have to improve his time in the 5,000 by a little, but he’s hoping to qualify for both.

“It’s definitely a point of pride,” he said of making it to the Olympic trials. “It’s something that I’ve dreamt of for so long.”

Fifth-year KU senior Chandler Gibbens tries to cool down after competing at the NCAA West Preliminary meet in Arkansas in late-May. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Before all of that, though, is his final collegiate run. The 10,000 will be first. At 9:08 p.m. central time on Wednesday. He’ll then close out his career with the 5,000-meter final at 9:55 p.m. central time on Friday.

The excitement and anticipation of these two races figure to reach and all-time high for Gibbens. There’s so much meaning behind all of it, and so much extra that comes with it.

But he’ll do whatever he can to make sure that everything that leads up to the starter firing the starting gun will be exactly what he’s used to and as close to what he’s always done as possible.

“It’s routine,” he said. “I’m gonna trust the things that got me here and all the work I’ve done for the last five years. I’m just waiting for it to payoff, I guess.”

One of the biggest keys to Gibbens running HIS race is finding a way to be as relaxed as possible at the start.

While that’s a little more important in the 5,000 than it is in the 10,000, — during the longer race, there’s a little more time to settle down and settle in — the process is equally important to Gibbens in both races.

To that end, three things come into play.

Breathing. Visualization. And techniques to relax his body and mind.

Gibbens’ preferred methods of reaching a relaxed state include heavy exhales with his lips flapping together and swinging his arms around by his sides.

“We’re not doing all the chest pounding and all that,” he said of distance runners in general. “A lot of my preparation is just trying to calm myself down. The more wired-up you are for the first lap of a 10K, the more the rest is gonna hurt. You’ve got 24 more after your first lap. The more uptight and rigid you are the more you’re going to tire yourself out.”

There’s one more part of Gibbens’ pre-race routine that seems to work. His choice of music.

He says there’s a fine line between intensity and tension when it comes to music, so he tends to pass on the rap and hip-hop songs and leans instead to things with a happy tempo.

“My go-to before races is Zach Bryan,” he said of the country singer from Oklahoma. “He has a lot of songs that are quick but he’s not yelling at you, and it creates that balance of I’m ready to run fast but stay calm while I’m doing it.”

Because he’s been doing this for so long and at such a high level, Gibbens has a pretty good feel for who he’ll be racing against this week.

In fact, Gibbens raced against one of the top-seeded runners, Habtom Samuel of New Mexico, at the prelims in Arkansas. While Samuel and others have posted faster times than Gibbens this season, he said the nature of this particular meet gives him confidence that he can compete on their level.

“I’ve always kind of said I don’t want to put myself on the line for a race I don’t want to win,” he said. “Sure, you can look at he ran this time and this other guy ran that time, but everyone still has to line up and run the race. What’s great about distance running is it brings in a lot of tactics that people don’t really see or get. Especially the 10K.”

It’s go-for-broke time for Gibbens now.

And while he admits that he’s envisioned this moment in his mind throughout his years at Kansas, it never looked quite this clear.

“On all the long, lonely runs and everything, you go through scenarios and stuff and you kind of picture it,” he said. “But for everything to align this way — my last meet, two events at a place like Hayward. I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything more.”

R1S1 features on 5 of the Jayhawks at Outdoor Nationals:

• 'I've had the record in my sights'

• KU's Yoveinny Mota off to nationals as record holder & future Olympian

• Devin Loudermilk's jam-packed path from hooper to high jumper

• 'It's kind of what you dream of'

• Clayton Simms' memorable streak

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