The Oregon supersenior finds he’s actually, like, really good on the roads. Who knew?
EUGENE, Ore. – We were all too hung over to notice Luke Puskedra.
The day after the 2012 Olympic team trials marathon, when U.S. distance fans and competitors alike were sleeping off the post-race parties, Puskedra, a 10-time All American for the University of Oregon, was quietly, unobtrusively, forcefully making his road debut at the Houston Half Marathon.
(And we’re not talking about his first big-time road race; we’re talking his first time racing on the roads, period.)
“I had to take most of the  summer off with a calf injury, so talking with [Oregon Associate Head] Coach Powell, maybe we’d do something a little bit different,” he says. “After cross country, that was the goal. I just stuck my nose in.”
To date, Puskedra’s 61:36—fourth overall—makes him the third-fastest American of the year.
Sure, he went back to the track for the spring to finish his collegiate career (he has two semesters of classes remaining, though his sports eligibility was exhausted after the spring). And at the track trials, he did finish eighth in the 10,000-meters—a PR 27:56.62. But this summer, Puskedra’s name has been popping up on the roads.
At Falmouth, he was the top American in 11th, beating a slew of veteran road competitors. And at the New Haven 20K on September 3, the USA Running Circuit’s championships for the distance, Puskedra, 22, took second to 30-year-old Matt Tegenkamp, who had to run under the previous American course record to beat him. Puskedra’s time of 58:48 was six seconds off the former mark.
So is Puskedra, bolstered by these early results, ready to commit to the road full-time? Well, the thought has crossed his mind.
“The roads are a totally different thing, but I think my body responds really well to it. I really enjoy going out and doing more of the tedious-type stuff,” he says. You know, the longer tempos, 16-by-a-K. That kind of tedious. “Just stuff where I can turn my head off and get the work done,” he says.
“There is still room for improvement on the track, but I’m definitely moving toward the roads. I’ll probably end my career at the marathon distance, and I think that in the next two years [to debut] would be a good timeframe.”
But he won’t be idle for that long; Puskedra’s goal with the 20K Champs was a spot on the U.S. team for the 2012 World Half Marathon Championships, this year in Kavarna, Bulgaria, on October 6. His second-place finish all but ensures his selection.
Bob Latham, USA Track and Field Men’s Championship Chairman, said on Monday that Puskedra will likely be chosen based on his result, adding that the official release will come by the end of the week.
“A lot of kids on our team from California, San Diego area especially, always talked about, ‘Oh, I jumped in a half marathon here.’ Sort of just a fun training thing,” Puskedra says. He says it almost as a fond remembrance. But for him, the road he’d never traveled now seems to lead him to his future, the results of which will be difficult to miss again.