Coming to New Mexico from the United Kingdom last fall, distance runner Luke Caldwell thought it would take some time to find his stride competing at the NCAA level.
It took less time than he expected.
Caldwell, a junior transfer student from Oxford, already developed into one of UNM’s top distance runners during last fall’s cross country season — his first sampling of American collegiate athletics — and this past indoor track season.
Caldwell won Mountain West Conference titles during both seasons, competed at the NCAA championships and earned All-American honors.
Now that his outdoor campaign is underway, he said he wants to go for a trifecta and make NCAAs on the outdoor track.
“I was expecting it to be a bit of a struggle and spend the first year just trying to catch up, really,” Caldwell, a native of Betchworth, England, said Thursday. “Particularly in indoor track, just being able to go to nationals and go All-American my first year, I wasn’t expecting that all. It was really pleasing to do that in my first few months.”
Coming off a strong indoor season, Caldwell made the 2013 outdoor debut April 19 at the Bryaan Clay Invitational hosted by Azusa Pacific University in California. He clocked a second-place time of 3 minutes, 44.19 seconds in the 1,500 meters, setting a new outdoor personal best mark at that distance.
Late Sunday night, Caldwell set a new 5K school record at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Stanford, Calif., with a 13:29.94 time. He broke the previous record of 13:31.56 set by Lee Emanuel in 2010, and Caldwell beat his personal best by more than 10 seconds.
Caldwell’s other personal best times on an outdoor track are 1:55.23 in the 800, 4:19.87 in the mile, and 8:25.93 in the 3,000.
His personal bests on an indoor track or in cross country were not available on UNM’s athletics website.
During last fall’s cross country season, Caldwell won the MWC title after running the 10K course in 24:45.698, beating runner-up Barak Watson of Boise State by 10 seconds and leading UNM to a first-place team finish. He ran a 29:52.9 at the NCAA meet, placed 27th and was named All-American by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for a top-40 finish.
That success continued into the indoor track season. Caldwell captured MWC titles in the 3K and 5K, clocking an 8:14.66 and 14:30.30 at those respective distances. UNM also took the team title, its first conference indoor ever and its first conference team title of any kind since 1967 when the Lobos competed in the Western Athletic Conference.
Caldwell became an All-American for the second time when he took eighth in the 5,000 at the March 8 NCAA indoor meet with a 13:46.44 time. It was only the fifth time he had run that distance competitively.
“To say that (Caldwell’s success) was predictable would not be right,” said Joe Franklin, who serves as head coach for both cross country and track and field. “He just kept improving and improving. We saw it probably toward the end of the cross country season, we started seeing these big breakthroughs.”
With his NCAA indoor meet appearance, Caldwell started his outdoor season later than other UNM athletes. He had five weeks of uninterrupted training as a result.
“I’m feeling confident,” Caldwell said. “Indoors went dramatically better than I thought was possible, so right now I’m excited to see what I can do outdoors. I’m really looking forward to all the races and seeing what I can do.”
Caldwell said the bulk of his training in the indoor season focused on endurance and strength to establish a solid base for outdoors. Now that his outdoor campaign is underway, he said he will begin focusing on more speed work.
Coming to New Mexico took some adjustment, Caldwell said, primarily because of the change in altitude. On average, Albuquerque sits at 5,312 above sea level while England is located right near sea level. Higher elevations generally make it harder for athletes since the atmosphere is less dense.
“I expected it,” he said. “You have to embrace it really rather than be worried about it. It probably took three weeks for it to stop feeling uncomfortable. It was still a challenge for a few months probably.”
Because he’s had so much success already, Caldwell said he has to re-evaluate his performance-based goals. He said he wants to return to the NCAA championships for the outdoor season and try to become an All-American again.
“I had goals for outdoors when I first got to Albuquerque, and I’ve almost achieved them already indoors,” he said. “It’s kind of an interesting time trying to find out what my new goals should be already.”
Other UNM athletes perform well in Stanford
Caldwell wasn’t the only Lobo to post marks that rank among the school’s all-time bests at the Payton Jordan Invitational, which Franklin called one of the nation’s best meets.
Josephine Moultie broke the UNM record in the 1,500 with a 4:14.44 time, winning her heat and taking ninth place overall. Imogen Ainsworth ran the 3K steeplechase in 16:20.57 to set UNM’s second-best mark, Charlotte Arter posted UNM’s sixth-best time in the 5K at 16:20.57, and Chloe Anderson’s 4:24.40 time in the 1,500 is ninth-best all-time.
Also at Stanford, Kendra Schaaf ran the 5K in 17:13.76, Yeshemabet Turner had a 40-8 3/4 distance in the triple jump, Patrick Zacharias clocked 14:06.68 in the 5K and Elmar Enghold finished the 3K steeplechase in 9:09.98.