Madera South’s Eduardo Herrera wins Pac-12 title
Courtesy of Howard Lao/Colorado University Athletics
A smiling Eduardo “Lalo” Herrera crosses the finish line to win the Pac-12 cross country championship on Friday in Tacoma, Washington. The former Madera South standout won the race by 11 seconds.
When former Madera South cross country standout Eduardo “Lalo” Herrera signed to run cross country and track at Colorado University in 2016, the furthest thing from his mind was winning a Pac-12 individual championship.
“When I came here, I was expecting it to be pretty hard,” he said. “It was an adjustment for me to transition from high school to college. I noticed everybody is good here. They are very competitive. I didn’t have any goals in my first two years. I just wanted to make a smooth transition. I just want to continue what I did in high school and move the momentum to college.”
Almost five years later, Herrera exploded from the pack in the final four kilometers and put space between him and the next competitor in the final two kilometers to capture the Pacific 12 Cross Country Championship for Colorado in Washington.
“It was a good weekend,” Herrera said. “It was a fun one, for sure. The conditions were a little terrible. It was good to run in conditions your opponent is complaining about.”
Herrera beat Stanford’s Charles Hicks by 11 seconds to win the championship. It also marked the first time Herrera finished in the top 10 at the conference meet. He helped the ninth ranked Buffaloes to a second place team finish behind fourth ranked Stanford.
“I think becoming the Big 12 champion helps me, in general,” Herrera said. “After the race, I was getting a bunch of text messages from Colorado University alumni. Jenny Simpson was one of them. Other alumni, friends from back home and some followers on Twitter and they were agents from some running agencies. I thought maybe we were on the good side, here. Moving forward, I can finish the season strong and move on to track to do good things there.”
Herrera said that training in the winter weather of Colorado helped him in Friday’s race.
“The conditions we have in Colorado is pretty insane, especially in the winter,” he said. “We’re getting snow three or four days a week. The bad part is the snow stays on the ground. Sometimes the dirt trail footing is slippery. The worst conditions that I hate is the wind. When there’s wind, it sucks. That is a good thing. It prepared me for the race. The conditions there were windy and muddy. I was used to running in the wind. About a week before the race, we did a long run and it was pretty windy. All of that gets you ready to for the race.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Herrera wasn’t too sure he was going to have a senior season. He ran a race in October before the season was put on hold. He moved his thinking to the track season, but was informed that there would be shortened cross country season.
“I wasn’t thinking about running cross country; I was having a self-reflection because I was contemplating what I was going to do post-collegiately,” he said. “I ended up telling myself to seek a professional contract after college. For me to do that, I needed to run some fast times on the track. My mind was focused on the track season in the spring rather than the fall. When they came out that there was going to be a cross country season and it was going to be short with a few races. I was okay with that. We’ll run cross country and focus on track. I want to put an emphasis on track season because that’s where you’re more likely to pick up a professional contract.”
Herrera continued a consistent rise through the Colorado University program. He arrived as a freshman and made the top team. He was the No. 4 or 5 runner that season and gradually ran his way to the top of the team despite some adversity along the way. He earned an All-American qualifying time as a freshman, but was hard pressed to duplicate that feat the next two years.
“I was putting myself to a higher standard,” he said. “I made the varsity team my freshman year and that was good. I’m that type of athlete that is looking for more than good. The following two years, I had a really rough time in terms of my health. In my sophomore year, I was sick and that screwed me up mentally. Coming off high school, I didn’t have a bad year. It was a mental game for me. My junior year, I was having lower back issues. I had this feeling of moving freely after so many kilometers in a race. My back would tighten up and couldn’t do anything about it. At a race in California when I made national for track, I was hurt in my Achilles. I was down bad. I was wondering what to do. It was a mental battle whether if I was good or if I was going to be good. Am I wasting my time here?”
Herrera buckled down mentally and worked to get himself ready for a shortened cross country season. He used the tough times as a way of strengthening his mental focus.
“Where I am now, I thought about those tough times,” he said. “I appreciated those times. It makes me value every single day I could run. When I qualified for NCAA, it was amazing I was able to train for a month-month-and-a-half and be able to qualify is crazy. My competitors were in shape and their times were better. I overcame those obstacles. It comes to a time where you have to stop thinking and toughen it out for a few weeks to see what you can do. I’m that type of athlete that wants more and continues to improve. If I’m going through something, I have to be patient. That’s the No. 1 thing I took away from it is patience and consistency. If you have those two things, you can move from an injury to become healthy and do good things.”
Heading into the Pac-12 Championships, Herrera was riding on some momentum. He opened the spring season with a second place finish at the Florida State Winter Classic on Feb. 5. He followed that up with a third place finish at the Battle Born Challenge in Las Vegas on Feb. 19.
“I was pretty excited about the Pac-12,” Herrera said. “I heard talk that I was the favorite going into the race. I was confident going into the race. The first race I had this year, that race was on the course we were going to run Nationals at. We hadn’t run a race since October. I came into the race off of just training. I ran really good and just 13 seconds behind the second ranked runner in the NCAA. After that race, I was happy with my performance. This meant my training went really good. After that, we went to Vegas. It was better in terms of competition. We raced against Northern Arizona, who is among the favorites in NCAA. There were a lot of good teams. I was stoked for the race. This was going to tell me where I’m at. I’m running against some really good runners and I was looking forward to it. I found out the day before, a lot of teams dropped out. The race turned out well, too. I had a personal record and placed third. After that, then we started preparing for the Pac-12. I was feeling confident because of the two races we just ran. They were all fast and I was running alone, in a way. I learned a lot from the first race and I didn’t run with a pack. The Vegas was the same, but I was with the Northern Arizona team and they were really good.”
However, when the Pac-12 Championships began, it didn’t seem like a big race to Herrera — at the start.
“Once the race showed up, it didn’t feel like I was racing for the Pac-12,” he said. “It felt like a normal race. It didn’t hit me until about 3-4 kilometers in that it was the Pac-12 championship. I was leading the race, felt good and told myself to let’s go. I was excited at that moment.”
However, when Herrera made his move midway through the race and began to leave the rest of the field behind, the excitement grew.
“There was a group pack at about 2 kilometers in,” he said. “The front pack had about six of the Stanford guys and me. It was going to be a dual meet between us and Stanford. I was at the front of the pack and the Stanford runners were with me. One of the Stanford guys surged to the lead. That move told me he wanted to go and get away from the pack. He just wanted to get in front of the pack and stay comfortable. I took it as he wanted to go race. After the 3 kilometer mark, I told myself to go to the front and push the pace a little. When the 4K came, I said it was going to be a race.”
Finally, Herrera had had enough and broke away from the pack and ahead of Hicks with two kilometers left and won by 11 seconds.
“I broke out from the pack at the 3 kilometer mark,” he said. “The Stanford guy was on my back until about two kilometers left. He was going off of me. He was behind me being patient. I was frustrated with that. He didn’t want to lead or go even with me. I was throwing in surges to get away, but he was hanging on. The last two races were fundamental for me. It told me I had this strength I didn’t know I had. Going into the last two kilometers, I felt good. When I was thinking about it, he was behind me and was breathing hard. This was time to take charge of the race and I took off. I thought it was going to be very tactical, but I didn’t think it was going to be very fast. I made it fast. I thought it would break up after the six kilometer mark. My race strategy was to take off after the 5K mark and book it the last three kilometers. My strategy changed thinking the Stanford guy was going a little early. I didn’t question my moves and thought I could handle it. I was confident. I told my coach one positive thing I could take was I didn’t hesitate my move, think twice about or should I go. I was in the zone. I felt good. The race was different than what I was expecting.”
The success of the previous two races — at Florida State and in Las Vegas — helped Herrera carry some momentum into the Pac-12 Championships and into Monday’s NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
“Having those two races, it was good to have the momentum in the last two races — Pac-12 and NCAA,” he said. “ I feel really good right now, physically and mentally. I wish the race was a little slower just to save the legs a little. I feel like I’m good. I feel healthy and ready to go for Monday.”
When Herrera crossed the finish line, he flashed the biggest smile he could and tried to soak in the moment.
“People were telling me to enjoy it. It felt like another race for me,” he said. “When I crossed the line, I was reflecting about all the work I did in Madera over the summer. All the hills I put in, all the mileage I put in before I came out here to Colorado, I was excited inside. I never imagined being a Pac-12 champion. As I got closer to the finish line, the joy came across me. I was very happy at the finish line.”
The proverbial cherry at the top was that Herrera was named the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s Athlete of the Week on Saturday when he became Colorado’s second straight Pac-12 Champion.
“I was surprised when it came out,” he said. “I was shocked. Runners that I will be competing at the nationals were reaching out to me. These guys are messaging me right now. I’m going to throw it down with these guys in 10 days. That race blew up because of the performance I put on. It was just me hammering it K after K. I felt good when I finished. I wasn’t tired or exhausted. I worked for it, but I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. I enjoyed the moment. I’m going to remember it forever.”
Herrera hopes his accomplishments will help motivate and guide the youths of Madera into reaching heights they never dreamed of and to work hard for your goals.
“I think about where I come from and my roots and how I came out of high school,” he said. “I never had it in my hands every time. I needed help. I got the help I needed. Being able to see outside Madera and see other school districts and seeing their resources, Madera kids don’t have that. I’m trying to set a great example for Madera student athletes. I’m saying no matter where you’re from, if you work hard, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. The work must be done. This is great. I’m glad I’m doing what I’m doing. That’s why I continue to work hard, to continue to be an example for kids in Madera. I hope this is an example for those kids. We have a lot of talent in Madera. It’s a matter of whether they can get help to succeed.”