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KU runners find success through teamwork, superstition & faith

Jayhawks find bond in searching for ways to run as hard as they can to help the team

5 min read
KU junior Peter Walsdorf (155) receives a hug from teammate and friend Tanner Talley following a recent KU cross country race. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Puffin socks, headbands, and toe socks are little quirks that keep cross country teammates Peter Walsdorf and Tanner Talley going during the grueling races that they run.

The love for cross country for the runners had humble beginnings.

“I started running in sixth grade, I was enjoying it, you know. It’s a good way to hang out with friends and get some exercise,” said Walsdorf, “It kind of grew into something a little more competitive than that. That’s kind of how it all started.”

For Talley, his brother is the one that got him into running and he started to use his running as a base for his faith.

“I started running because my brother started running, he’s a year older than me. And I just started to fall in love with it and really get competitive with it and it became a passion of mine.” Talley said. “Recently, I’ve kind of started using it as a platform for my faith and to grow my relationships with others and just use that as a platform as well.”

Walsdorf and Talley had different routes to the University of Kansas but they took an instant liking to the campus and the team.

For Walsdorf, he had to navigate his recruitment during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everything was kind of a mess. We didn’t have any track times, coaches didn’t have spots to give.” Walsdorf said. “I took an unofficial visit to KU, and I really liked the campus and I really liked coach Whitt (Michael Whittlesey). I kind of knew once I got here it was the right spot and it all kind of fell into place.”

KU junior Peter Walsdorf (219) tries to pass a pack of runners at a recent meet. [Kansas Athletics photo]

During his freshman year, Walsdorf made his debut in Columbia at the Gans Creek Classic to set his personal best time in the 8k at 25:21.8, a personal best he would break at the same event the next year.

Talley had a much easier time during recruitment, and once he saw the team culture and overall vibe, his choice was that much easier.

“It was really the guys that really sold me on this program.” said Talley, “We started to kind of, you know, build something special with the younger guys and it's just really been good.”

During Talley’s freshman year, his debut race was the Bob Timmons Classic where he set his personal best in the 6k that stands now at 18:41.0.

With a sport like cross country, it’s as much about the team as it is about the individual. Walsdorf enjoys making it as much of a team sport as he can.

“I think one of my favorite parts is practicing with all these guys and racing with my teammates. And I don't know, it kind of makes me happy to see my teammates do well.” said Walsdorf. “And everything's always better when we're all succeeding together. So it really, it really doesn't seem like an individual sport to me. It seems like a full team thing.”

Talley shared a similar view adding that unlike track, everyone running cross country is running the same race.

“In cross everyone's in the same race, everyone's hurting just as bad as you are. It's just you and your boys in the same race. And it's like, how can I run as hard as I can to benefit the team?” said Talley. “You're never really thinking about yourself. You're just thinking about the boys next to you. Like you've been together in practice. You hurt in practice, you hurt in a race. It's like, how can I benefit the team, you know, you’re never really thinking about yourself.”

In recent races, both runners have setting personal best times. In the Joe Piane Invitational, both set a personal best in the five mile with Walsdorf finishing 72nd with a time of 24:31.3, while Talley finished 92nd with a time of 24:57.5.

KU's Tanner Talley (216) tries to outrun a competitor to the finish line at a recent meet. [Kansas Athletics photo]

To be willing to run that much, the runners have to be somewhat quirky, and just like any other athlete, they have superstitions.

For Talley, he has “a lot of superstitions” from the way he practices and warms up, to what he wears.

“One of the big ones is I have to wear a headband at all times, I always wear a headband when I run. In high school, I used to put my hair in a ponytail, but now it's just [a] headband.” Talley said. “And then I wear the same socks to run every race, and I only wear them to race. It's like a high sock with a bunch of birds on it, like a bunch of puffins and it says ‘stud puffin’ on the side.”

Walsdorf has a similar superstition with his socks, although to put it in Talley’s words, it’s a little weird.

“I wear toe socks, so it's like, like gloves for your feet. But they keep me go-ing, they keep me quick. So I don't know, I've been rolling with it.”

Along with their quirky superstitions, there’s another thing that keeps them running, their faith.

“We like to incorporate running as much as we can, you know, pray before races praying even daily doing whatever little thing you think during your race or when practice is tough to get you through it.” Walsdorf said. “I mean, it's always a reason to look to God and he'll help us get through it all.”

“It's going to end eventually. And so the thing is for me, I want to use this running as a platform.” added Talley. “So I believe God's given me this gift and he's given me a passion for it. And so to use that for his glory is the biggest thing for me.”

Talley and Walsdorf recently joined their teammates in helping the KU men take 6th place at the Big 12 Championship in Ames, Iowa.

Chandler Gibbens led the way for Kansas with an 11th-place finish, which earned him all-Big 12 honors. Walsdorf finished in 37th place and Talley took 44th. Cale Littrell finished 51st and Tanner Newkirk took 60th for the Jayhawks.

The KU women also finished in sixth place, with Lona Latema and Kenadi Krueger crossing the line as the Jayhawks' top female finishers in 35th and 36th place.

Next up, the KU cross country crew will head to Stillwater, Oklahoma on November 10 for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships, where a spot in the NCAA Championships will be on the line.

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