Consistency runs Runge to the top of Augustana's record books
Alexandria’s Aaron Runge was a good high-school distance runner, but his career at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D. is a testament to the kind of gains an athlete can see year after year with the right mindset.
Runge went into college in 2015 fresh off of leading Alexandria to a sixth-place team finish in the cross country season the fall before. He took 24th individually at the Class AA state meet as a senior after finishing 46th as a junior in high school.
By that time, the ball was rolling on his commitment to training. Runge kept taking that a step further in college as he left the Vikings after this past indoor track and field season as one of the best distance runners in program history.
“For me, it was consistency. It was getting into a rhythm every day and just running every day,” Runge said. “There are seasons where I would only take one or two days off in a six-month period. People will tell you it’s about consistency, but you never really understand it until you find your own rhythm and really find your own consistency and what works for you.”
Runge finished his degree this past fall after studying business, accounting and finance. He’s currently working as a staff accountant at Design Tanks in Sioux Falls.
Runge wasn’t even sure he would take part in the spring season, but his coach talked with him about taking a small class load that would allow him to use his remaining athletic eligibility in track. He made the most of his final indoor season.
Runge finished first at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Championships in the 5,000-meter run (14:39.39) and second in the 3,000-meter run (8:33.11). He also set Augustana’s indoor record in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 14:18.76 in early December.
As a sophomore, Runge watched his then teammate Glen Ellingson of Moorhead set that school record in a time of 14:19.56.
“I didn’t have any expectations or goals of really having that record,” Runge said. “My goal was kind of the 10K record outdoor. I think we had 18 or something All Americans (in that December race) who were just coming off the national race (in cross country). It was a loaded field, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m just going to go run with the top guys as long as I can.’ It went all the way to the school record.”
The way things ended for Runge in cross country this past November sent him into the indoor track season with a lot of confidence. He led Augustana to a sixth-place finish as a team at the NCAA Division II championships. Runge ran the 10,000 meters in 30:14.5, good for 16th overall out of a field of more than 260 runners.
It was part of a decorated final season for Runge. As a senior in cross country, he racked up All American and All-Central Region honors, while being named the NSIC Athlete of the Year after a conference individual championship in the 8,000-meter race (25:03.98).
“Going into (college), I always had hopes, but I didn’t know what was actually realistic,” Runge said. “My first two years were just kind of riddled with injuries, and I didn’t do a whole lot. Then I got some consistency in the last few years, and really my last year was the most successful, which is what you want to end on. As far as me expecting that, I didn’t really go into this with any expectations. It was just, ‘I’m going to work hard and see what comes out of it.’”
Runge found the training that worked best for him and allowed him to take off. Some high-level college distance runners are putting in more than 100 miles a week.
“That just doesn’t work for me,” he said. “We kind of figured out for me that where I usually sit is between 75-85 (miles a week) is where I run the best.”
Runge and the rest of the athletes in the indoor track and field season saw their year come to an end when the NCAA Championships set for March 13 and 14 were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Athletes also lost out on their outdoor season, but Runge took everything in stride after thinking his career might be done after graduating in the fall.
“I kind of look at it as it was a bonus for me anyways, so to get an indoor season was a plus,” he said. “But I did want to try to get that 10K record (29:57), so that’s something that’s on my mind. I was not even 15 seconds away from it during cross country on a grass 10K. I feel like I could have broken that record.”
It would have been one more milestone in a career that ended with many for the Vikings. His college career is over, but he’s not quite ready to say goodbye to running competitively.
“I want to do at least a marathon or two here, and I still want to kind of run competitively,” Runge said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with that, whether it’s just road 5Ks here and there or joining a club somewhere. Definitely not quite done yet. I’m still young. Peak distance running age is like 27, so I’ve still got a couple years before I peak yet.”