In 2017, star Eastwood distance runner Daniel Bernal did what so many good local distance runners do and left town. In his case, it was off to Furman to run and to earn his undergraduate degree.
After a career that saw him win a conference championship in cross country and qualify for nationals twice, he decided to transfer back home and run at UTEP for another native El Pasoan, assistant coach Alan Culpepper.
Culpepper is not with the program any more but Bernal still is and opens the indoor track season this weekend in Boston. He is finishing up his master’s degree in Industrial Engineering.
What led you to transfer to UTEP a year ago?
I didn’t know what I was going to do after Furman. I had a great experience there and was very thankful for the opportunities they gave me, the resources they gave me, but I knew it was time for me to go. I knew I would have two outdoors and two indoors left and I knew I needed a coach who knew how to maximize that. That’s when I had my conversation with coach Culpepper. I liked what he had to say. And also it was a warming feeling knowing I’d be back with my original support group of my mom, of my high school coaches, of friends who would also be here. I made a good decision coming back doing my master’s here.
What is the plan for indoors?
The 5K, 3K and I think I might run a mile. I’d love to run a mile. I think it’s good for anyone to be able to get that quick leg turnover at the end of those races. You really only have one move to give and you have to commit to it. Practicing that in the mile really comes in handy when you are racing 5K and 10K.
This fall you didn’t run cross country because you were out of eligibility. What was the fall like for you?
It was building up mileage, doing a lot of threshold work, doing a lot of tempo work. The more work you can do within that zone the better you are, the more of a base you have, the stronger you can be in those complex and harder workouts you do later on. It was building the miles.
I enjoyed the aspect of just getting to train. In summer I tried to extend my season, I extended it to July 9. I was doing hard workouts all through June. I didn’t feel like I needed races in the fall.
You’ve had three coaches in the past three years. What has that been like?
Working with (volunteer assistant) Paul Pearson is nice, I worked with him in high school at Eastwood. It’s a comfortable environment. He knows me, he’s known me for 11 years. I know how he works, he knows how I work so it’s been smooth. The change of Furman to here was very pleasant largely because it was back home in El Paso with a coach (Culpepper) I did gel a little better with. From Culpepper to here has also been pleasant. It was tough to lose coach Culpepper but it’s been pleasant.
What types of things are you working on now?
The focus for a 10K and 5K runner is, how can I continue increasing my VO2 max? How can I make myself more efficient diffusing as much lactic (acid) as builds up in my body? It’s that sort of work, that threshold work where there is an influx of lactate and you have to diffuse it. It doesn’t take a lot of lactic to teach your body how to control it. It’s very measured, very controlled, comfortable efforts.
What are your plans for the future after you get your master’s in Industrial Engineering?
If there’s an opportunity to extend my athletic career I’d take that in a heartbeat. I don’t want to come back at 40 years old and see how fast I can run a 5K. I want to be able to optimize what I can do right now.
Could you be the first of more El Pasoan distance runners at UTEP?
I would hope. Obviously it’s not up to me. But I think, from my graduating year of 2017 and onward, we’ve been producing so many good distance runners. It’s not that there isn’t talent here. Kids are competitive at the high school level, that can translate to the collegiate level. It has to do with who you want to add and contribute to the type of culture they are trying to build here at UTEP. If that aligns with the coaches, then they should continue to recruit El Paso kids. That’s not up to me, but that’s my vision.
What’s the goal this outdoor season?
Any time that can get me to regionals, then place-wise, get top 12. That’s the key to the NCAA berth. I’ve never had that in track season, I almost did it last year when I got 16th. Top 12 is all I’m focused on.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; firstname.lastname@example.org; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.