On the list of entrants for the 3200 meters this Saturday past, at the Arcadia Invitation, was Daniel Vertiz. The Arcadia meet is the premier high school track invitational, and the 3200 (roughly 2 miles) contained all the best high distance runners in America. That included Tony Smoragiewicz, the other youth triathlete at the top of America's distance running depth chart (Smoragiewicz would lead the Arcadia race for several laps before fading near the end, but still posted a fantastic time of 8:57).
Vertiz ran 8:59 for 2 miles indoors while winning the Brooks PR Invitational in February. This meet is considered the premier gathering of preps indoors. Most of America's fastest high schoolers were there, including Smoragiewicz, who finished 5th in 9:04).
If the phenomenon of Lukas Verzbicas—America's premier high school runner who came from triathlon and who reached his zenith as a runner while continuing his tri training—seemed a one-off, it is no longer. Both Vertiz and Smoragiewicz are triathletes through and through. We recently interviewed Smoragiewicz, who finished 3rd, behind winner Verzbicas, in the junior World Triathlon Championships in Beijing last year.
Vertiz was not at the Arcadia meet—he's nursing an injured foot. While regrettable, that gave the running phenom a moment to talk to Slowtwitchers.
Slowtwitch: Since you're injured, are you lounging around watching MTV when you're not in school? Or are you swimming and/or cycling? Are you back running? What are injuries like for you, as a triathlete, versus what they're like for the pure runners that are on your team, or in your competitive set?
Daniel Vertiz: Well, with the typical triathlete personality I have a hard time just sitting around not doing anything besides feeling sorry for myself. I try to do as much as I can to keep active without making my injury any worse. I include plenty of cycling, swimming, and aqua jogging since those are such great ways to maintain aerobic shape without the pounding effect. I have been off running for about 5 days now and will have to wait for my upcoming doctor’s appointment to see when I can start back up again. This is actually my first injury ever, and I strongly believe that I’ve been so healthy due to the fact that I incorporate a lot of cross training during cross country and track season. Being a triathlete allows me to stay really fit even when I can’t run.
ST: Are you, like Tony Smoragiewicz and Lukas Verzbicas, a triathlete first and a runner second? Or did you come to triathlon through running?
Daniel: Yes, I too am a triathlete first and runner second. In fact my first triathlon was a local Teen 2 Tot—200m pool swim, 5mi bike, 1mi run—when I was 12. I ended up second and my competitiveness took off from there. My freshman year I used cross-country and track as a way to improve my running for triathlons. Eventually with running season taking up the bulk of my year, I discovered that I had potential as a pure runner and migrated in that direction.
ST: Do you stay, more or less, in triathlon shape year round, or do you go from pure runner during the cross-country and track to triathlete during the summer?
Daniel: Freshman and sophomore years I was able to stay more or less in triathlon shape year-round but starting junior year I needed to figure out what I was going to do in college. That’s when running became my priority and I would only train as a triathlete during the summer.
ST: You shot from middle of the pack of good runners to a top-5 national runner. This all seemed to happen near the end of cross country season last year, that is, you're only about 6 months into this new status of yours. Did you expect this progression, or are you surprised you shot up to this Spot?
Daniel: Well, it all started at my State track meet last May where I came second in the 3200 in 9-flat. That race changed my entire perspective and gave me a new level of confidence going into my senior year. At the beginning of cross-country season I sat down with my coach and set new goals for State, NXN [Nike Cross Nationals] and Footlocker [The premier race nationaly in prep cross country]. Unfortunately I was battling the flu going into my state meet and finished second. Luckily NXN and Footlocker went exactly the way I hoped and I got second and fifth respectively.
ST: Does your rapid rise as a runner cause you to go through the same angst as Lukas, wondering whether you should put triathlon on the back burner and give pure running a shot? Or, are you more like Tony, and you're a triathlete through and through, and that's going to be your approach going forward, including as you enter college?
Daniel: That has actually been one of the biggest decisions I have ever had to make. I had already verbally committed to the University of Texas, when the opportunity to attend the Elite Triathlon Academy came up around December. I knew I had to weigh both options equally so I headed to Clermont the first week of January to train with some of the ETA athletes. That camp completely revived the triathlete in me and at that point I was almost positive that’s what I was going to do. My family and I then took a trip out to visit UCCS and the OTC shortly after I returned from Clermont.
In the end, I chose UT because I wanted to see what I could do in running, and triathlon is something I can always go back to. I am fortunate that Coach Hayes will allow me to incorporate swimming and biking throughout the year. Additionally, getting the full college experience, as well as an excellent education, and wearing the burnt orange was something I had always looked forward to.
ST: So, it's Texas.
Daniel: I signed with the University of Texas in February. Hook 'Em!
ST: What about life outside of triathlon and running? Do you know what you want to do, career-wise?
Daniel: I’m not sure at this point. I will likely major in business and definitely want to end up working in the sports industry.
ST: You've got some family members who are triathletes, right?
Daniel: Yes, my sister, Tatiana, who’s actually the one I have to thank for getting me into triathlon and has been a huge inspiration. She has won her age group in Kona the past two years and has since turned pro.
ST: Are there specific triathletes who you admire, or think you'd like to emulate?
Daniel: Yes, Chris McCormack is someone I really look up to. He is just a class act and the guy has had tremendous success across all distances. Another athlete I look up to from the running world is Jordan McNamara, of the Oregon Track Club. I really admire his dedication to the details outside of running that make someone a champion.
ST: What are your eventual goals in triathlon? Are you purely an Olympic-format racer? Or are you more interested in 70.3, Ironman, and that sort of stuff?
Daniel: After college, I plan to pursue triathlon with the hopes of making the Olympic team. In the long run, I believe I will end up in 70.3 and Ironman. Having gone to Hawaii to watch my sister race several times, running down Alii Drive is something I have to do in my life.