In tandem, Capital distance runners Marshall Sharp and Michael Ruhnke train with focus on the same goal: breaking the school’s 1,600- and 3,200-meter run records.
Sharp and Ruhnke continue to approach those marks with each effort and along the way the runners have earned recognition as some of the area’s top distance threats. Both will compete at today’s BB&T Classic track and field meet, hosted by Capital’s crosstown rival George Washington at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field.
“This Friday, at BB&T, I think they’re going to start to put their names on the map even more,” Cougars distance coach Jared Smith said. “We’re definitely primed and ready. We’re looking forward to it. We usually have a good showing with some good teams there, and we use this meet as one of the meets we’ll really key off of to see where we’re at.”
Sharp and Ruhnke compete in the 800, 1600 , 3200 and 4x800 relay, though each consider the mile his premier event.
“We both believe the mile is our best race,” Ruhnke said.
The pair hope to lay claim to the school’s mile (4:23, Brett Garrett) and two-mile records (9:43, Dave McCollum).
“I really feel that they have a great opportunity to get it just based on everything they’re doing,” Smith said. “They both want to try to go for the school record. Their sights are set. They worked hard and they work so well together.”
Sharp, the team’s lone senior, finished eighth for the 1600 in 4:31.48 at the 2013 AAA West Virginia Track and Field State Championships. Ruhnke, a junior, finished 15th in 4:39.72.
Later this month, Sharp will learn if he will be accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. Sharp is also considering an option to run at West Virginia Wesleyan, he said.
Sharp said he owes much of his success to having a talented teammate in Ruhnke propelling him to faster times.
“He’s been such a big help with me and all my seasons since junior year in workouts and meets just being able to push me to that next level, and I think we really work well as a team together in races, as well as workouts,” Sharp said.
While the runners typically finish within seconds of one another, each arrives behind a different approach.
“Most of the time I usually take the first two laps out faster than him,” Ruhnke said, “and then usually, he’s more like the guy who will hang back until 600 meters to go, then he’ll start his kick.”
Sharp agreed it’s understood how the runners utilize different strategies to help each other.
“When I really start pushing the pace near the end of the race when I’m back up with the leaders he’s still up there and still able to go with me,” Sharp said. “He’s a strength runner and I’m more of a strategic runner, but we work together really well, and I think it’s a good strategy that helps us win races.”
Smith said he considers Sharp a “rebel” runner with a “go-for-it” mentality, while Ruhnke races with a “slick” and “sleek” style.
As Sharp and Ruhnke continue to cut seconds from their times, Smith said the runners must grasp a few more lessons before reaching their ultimate goal.
“They need to learn on how to, when they go out there that they’re not going to back off the pace,” he said. “If somebody is going to slow down, they have to learn how to push the pace, and they didn’t have that last year when they wanted to go. They sort of (went) off everybody else. I want them to be able to set the pace and be able to use their strength the length of the race to conquer things.”
Sharp and Ruhnke, as well as the rest of Capital’s athletes, look forward to today’s BB&T Classic as a stepping stone to further success this season, Smith said.
“My kids are really coming into form and I’m excited,” he said. “This is the most excited I’ve been in quite a very long time.”
In addition to Capital and GW, other teams expected to compete at BB&T include Buckhannon-Upshur, Buffalo, Clay-Battelle, Chapmanville, Cross Lanes Christian, Hurricane, Oak Hill, Poca, Princeton, Riverside, Scott, Shady Spring, Sissonville, St. Albans, Teays Valley Christian, Wayne, Winfield and Woodrow Wilson.