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Editor’s note: Cal Poly senior Chris Frias broke a 31-year-old school record in the 10,000-meter run at the Stanford Invitational this season en route to being named Big West Conference Men’s Track Athlete of the Year on Wednesday. Frias finished in 28 minutes, 45 seconds in that April 4th meet — a time that ranks 11th nationally as of Wednesday. Last weekend, he won the Big West title in the 5,000-meter run for the second straight year and finished third in the 10,000. In doing so, he and the two runners ahead of him broke a 27-year-old championship meet record in the race. Frias will next compete in the 10,000 at the West Regional meet on May 29 at Arkansas.
The story below about the then-junior Frias was first published on May 22, 2013. He finished 28th in the 10,000 at the NCAA West Preliminary Round to end the season last year.
As junior runner Chris Frias toed the line for last weekend’s 10,000-meter run at the Big West Conference Championships in Northridge, there was one thing on his mind.
“I didn’t tell anyone, but I was feeling like dog shit,” Frias said with a smile and a laugh, remembering his thoughts. “We all kind of were, but we just didn’t want to say it.”
But for a long distance runner, that feeling is par for the course. And battling mid-80 degree temperatures for the 10 p.m. race on Friday, Frias went out and put together a stellar performance, winning the 10-kilometer race in 30 minutes, 46 seconds and capturing his first-ever Big West Conference title in track and field.
But it was Saturday’s 5,000 that Frias says he’d like to hang his hat on. He knew he had a shot at a podium finish entering the race, but another tight battle between him and fellow Cal Poly teammates ended the same way the 10,000 did: a win and another conference championship for Frias.
“I took the lead with three laps to go and I didn’t really know if I was going to regret that later on,” Frias said. “But my teammate Blake (Ahrold) passed me up with 300 meters to go, he just started taking off and I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to hang on with him. Luckily, I stuck with it and was able to out-kick him.”
Frias out-kicked everyone on the weekend — including the rest of his team, which finished right behind him in both events. The Mustangs finished first and second in the 10,000 and swept all three podium spots the next day in the 5,000 to continue their dominance in the distance events this season.
“It was very impressive for him to complete the double,” director of track and field/cross country Mark Conover said. “He really had good leg speed at the end of both races.
After this year, Frias is no stranger to conference titles. He also won the Big West crown in cross country in the fall, finishing with a time of 24:10 on the 8K championship course and helped the Cal Poly men’s team to its 12th Big West title in the past 15 years.
“He’s brought a great value to the whole team this year,” Conover said. “We took the top three spots in cross country, so all the guys are used to running with Chris in the workouts. We did the same in all of (last weekend’s) races too. It’s just like they do in training. (Running together up front) is something all the guys are familiar with.”
Like many runners, Frias found he had a knack for long distance when he joined the cross country team his freshman year at Buena High School in Ventura. Admittedly, he was just looking for a way to stay in shape for basketball season, but as his prep career rolled on, the three-sport athlete realized that at 5-foot-7, his chances of playing ball at the next level were slim to none.
Distance running, though, was a different story.
With personal records of 4:17 in the 1,600 and 9:13 in the 3200 by the end of his senior year, Frias said he knew running at a higher level could be an option for him. The only question was: What level could he reach?
For his former coach at Buena and closest mentor Wendy Dowler, it was obvious he could succeed at a West Coast distance powerhouse such as Cal Poly.
“Some people love to run, some love to race, but Chris really studied his sport,” Dowler said. “That was a little bit of a difference between him and other people.”
Another difference? Not many people have an award named after them either.
The cross country team coaching staff at Buena instituted the perpetual Chris Frias Award after he pieced together one of the greatest senior seasons Dowler has ever seen. Frias finished his final stint at Buena by securing a spot in the record books as a member of the all-time top 10 list in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at his school — a feat that is rarely achieved.
Because of that, his award is one of the most prestigious to earn at Buena, Dowler said. It isn’t handed out every year because it requires recipients to break school records just like Frias did in his time there.
“By that time, I had been coaching for 12 years and it was one of my favorite seasons ever,” Dowler said. “It was a joy to work with him all four years, but that year was particularly fun.”
Frias’ decision to attend Cal Poly had as much to do with the perennial championship nature of the cross country and the track and field teams as it did with Dowler’s influence on his mindset. He didn’t have an athletic scholarship entering his freshman year at Cal Poly, but, after talking to Conover, Frias realized the potential to be a top runner was there.
“Our class was so deep, and coach Conover had already recruited so many top guys in the state,” Frias said. “I contacted him and he said he was interested and that, ‘If you progress and hit certain times, you’re going to get more and more scholarship money every year.’”
Frias was lightly recruited throughout California and was even offered money to go to other schools, such as UC Santa Barbara, but ultimately chose the Mustangs.
And now, after a breakout season in his redshirt junior campaign, Frias has firmly proved that he belongs on the trails and the track at Cal Poly along with his now-partial scholarship.
Coming off back-to-back championship runs and qualifying with a time of 29:33 in the 10,000 at the Stanford Invitational on March 29, Frias will take to the track again Thursday in the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas. A top-12 finish gives him a spot in the NCAA Division I Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships held June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore.
Fellow junior distance runner Sean Davidson, along with six other athletes from the men’s track squad and Laura Hollander on the women’s side, will join Frias in Texas.
“I told him and the rest of the guys that there’s no pressure on him,” Conover said. “Just go out and compete, have fun with it and see what happens. The expectations are really on some other people to get the top spots, so go out do your best to see how high you can finish.”