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Tales From The Track: Coming off COVID, Ketchikan’s Isaac Updike earns spot in Olympic Trials steeplechase final

by | Jun 22, 2024 | Cover Story, Running, Track and Field

Isaac Updike

The workouts Ketchikan pro steeplechaser Isaac Updike clocked the last few weeks were designed to be taxing – that’s how you build strength and sharpen speed – but he found them exhausting.

“It wasn’t like I couldn’t do them, but it took 100 percent effort to do them,’’ he said.

So, last week Updike underwent testing, which revealed the problem – results showed he endured COVID-19 within the last month, he said. That marked his third bout of COVID – two bouts in 2022 prevented him from racing at the national championships. This time around, the timing again barked – the Olympic Trials are underway.

Even so, Updike kept his five-ringed dreams alive Friday night, when he finished fourth in his heat, and 11th overall among 14 qualifiers for Sunday’s final, in the prelims at the University of Oregon’s storied Hayward Field in Eugene.

Updike, 32, clocked 8 minutes, 27.12 seconds for the 3,000-meter race over barriers and a water jump.

He raced conservatively for the first two-thirds of the race, generally sitting 10th in his heat’s field of 15 runners. Only the top five finishers in each of two heats were guaranteed a spot in the final, with four other slots available based on time.

Updike, who said he felt decent through 2,000 meters even with the temperature approaching 90 degrees, began moving into better position between 2,000 meters and 2,400 meters.

“The bear never jumped on my back, so to speak, so I thought, ‘You might as well get in position,’ “ Updike said.

His time of 1:05.91 for that lap was the fastest among all 29 racers Saturday. Updike’s 1:03.96 for the lap that took him from 2,400 meters to 2,800 meters tied for fourth-fastest and his closing 200-meter split of 30.16 ranked fifth.

Updike said he planned to spend most of Saturday resting and fueling for Sunday night’s final. He planned to do a couple of “shakeout’’ runs Saturday – 20-minute jogs, “flush all the junk out of the legs” – but mostly chill.

Updike said that in talking to other runners who also suffered COVID in the last month, he thinks he became infected at the Los Angeles Grand Prix in mid-May.

Updike, who is sponsored by Under Armour and trains with the Dark Sky Distance team at elevation in Flagstaff, Ariz., last summer finished third at the national championships for his first podium at nationals. That qualified him for the World Championships, where he made the final.

He said he hopes to be in good position again in the closing laps Sunday. The top three finishers, provided they own the Olympic standard or a qualifying world ranking, will head to Paris for the Summer Games.

“Odds are there’s going to be a pack of five or six of us with two (laps) to go, and it’s going to be messy,’’ Updike said.

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