Kennedy Kithuka will defend his NCAA Cross-Country Championship title on Saturday in Terre Haute. After the Big 12 Conference Championship on Nov. 2, the 2012 Champion declared he wants to get under the 28-minute barrier on the 10-kilometer championship course. 

“I want to try and run under 28 minutes,” Kithuka said. “I see that coming.”



Kithuka is really good, but is he good enough to bring down the current course record by more than 40 seconds? Sam Chelanga holds the current record in 28:41.3 from his NCAA title victory in 2009. 

To put that performance into perspective even more, only two other guys join Chelanga in Terre Haute’s Sub-29 minute club. Lawi Lalang ran 28:44.1 en route to his 2011 NCAA title. Chris Derrick, who finished third in 2009, was runner-up to Lalang and ran 28:57.5.

(If you’re wondering where Galen Rupp ranks on the list, he’s fifth with his 29:03.2 from the 2008 NCAA Championship, where he reeled in Chelanga for the win.)

In the 2009 race, Chelanga took things out hard to gap and drop Derrick early on. Get ready for his splits: 8:24 through 3K,14:10 through 5K, and 22:47 through 8K. Runner-up David McNeill of Northern Arizona and Derrick were 28 seconds back through the 5K mark. 

If Kithuka wants to run a steady pace and cross the finish line in 27:59, he will have to run at 4:30 pace for the entire race. The splits for that would be the following:

8:23.7 through 3-kilometers
13:59.5 through 5-kilometers
22:23.2 through 8-kilometers
27:59.99 crossing the finish line

Insane. 

Chelanga was close to being on pace through the first 3-kilometers, but eventually started to slow down once he assumed the lead.

Lalang will not be challenging Kithuka for the title this year. The x-factor for Chelanga and Lalang was that Derrick was there to push them. 

Kemoy Campbell (23:34.8) appears to be the next biggest threat as he ran with Kithuka (23:28.1)at the Chili Pepper Festival for the majority of the race and finished within six seconds of pulling off the upset. Unless Campbell also plans on taking things out as hard, it would be tough to see Kithuka running such a fast pace with a huge lead.

In that same interview after Big12’s, Kithuka mentions shooting for 13:50 through 5-kilometers. He admits that he wasn’t out to set an 8-kilometer course record at Pre-Nats on Oct. 19, but was prepping for one last hard effort at the conference championship. Chelanga’s 8K record of 22:51.3 from 2008 at Pre-Nats remained safe as Kithuka
only ran 22:52.8. 

Here are Chelanga’s last three races and times before setting the course record in Terre Haute:
Pre-Nats 8K - 2nd place in 23:27.1
Big South Championship (3rd straight title) 8K - 23:50
NCAA Division I Southeast Regional (3rd straight title) 10K - 29:31.25

Lawi Lalang’s 2011 Campaign?
Wisconsin Adidas Invitational 8K - 23:11
Pac-12 Championships 8K - 22:37
NCAA West Regional 10K - 28:34

The course difficulty for each one of these races has to be put into consideration. Chelanga ran his regional championship on the Tom Sawyer Park course in Louisville, Ky. Kithuka ran his regional championship in Ogden, Utah.

Terre Haute is an honest course with its hills. As of Monday evening, the forecasts call for chilly weather in the 30’s for the men’s race. No precipitation and partly cloudy. Are the stars aligning for Kithuka?

Editor's Note: While the run itself seems impossible, the following email from the NCAA makes things, well, absolutely impossible. Mud is the great equalizer:

"It is because of the excessive amount of rain that Indiana State has been having to work overtime the last couple of days to try and prepare the course for this Saturday’s National Championship and ensure it is in the best shape possible.

Indiana State is taking all possible and necessary measures to ensure the course meets the safety and championship expectations for all participants."