By Eric DeSalvo, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - It was a tough transition for Northern Arizona junior runner Andrew Belus. Before arriving on campus in 2007, Belus was accustomed to winning most of the races he entered while attending Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, Ariz. But after beginning his freshman year, he quickly learned how mentally tough he would have to be in order to be successful.
"It was a shock because in high school I thought I was good," said Belus in regards to the competition on the team in his first year. "I came here and realized that everyone was a state champion, which I had never been. I had to realize that I wasn't as competitive as the people here."
After breaking his school's 5,000m and two mile records, Belus knew that he had the ability to progress as a runner, but it was just a matter of staying positive.
The Phoenix, Ariz., native redshirted his entire first year on campus, and while sitting out of competition, Belus learned various ways to make himself better.
"I learned a lot of ways of different motivation," Belus said. "It is easy to run a workout when you are beating everyone and getting lots of encouragement, but it takes a different sort of motivation to keep working as hard as you need to when you are so far behind everyone else."
During his first year of competition, Belus saw action in three races during the cross country season, but fell ill to bronchitis in the spring, cutting his track season short.
After training at elevation for most of the summer, Belus saw immediate results as he recorded a second-place finish at the George Kyte Classic to lead the men's team. He parlayed his performance at NAU's lone home meet into another top-10 finish at the Aztec Invite.
"I think it had been coming for awhile," Belus said about his breakout season. "It was sort of an accumulation of two years put together into one season."
His coach also felt that he would have a solid season since he was able to put in the work consistently.
"This sport is such that if you can run hours upon hours everyday then you will make yourself better, and that is what he has been able to do," said Eric Heins, Director of Track & Field and Cross Country. "Mentally he is strong and wants it."
With his progression each race, Belus continued traveling with the team throughout the season and recalls being able to hand his professors institutional excuses for when he'd make the trek with the squad.
"Being able to hand that to the professor made me think that I was good enough to miss class and that the university thought it was worth it to send me somewhere to run," Belus said.
The biggest trip for Belus was the journey to Terre Haute, Ind., in November of 2009. It was his first chance to compete at a national championship race, and emotions ran high for him on that day.
"Really exciting, and really scary," Belus recalled. "It was intimidating, but at the same time I knew that if I was there with NAU then I was in a position to do well because you don't get to that race without being legit. It was an affirmation to be on the starting line."
After finishing sixth on the team that day, 149th overall, Belus could easily feel satisfied with his accomplishment, but Heins knows that he strives for much more.
"His motivation is strong in that he made it to nationals last year as a member of the top seven, but wasn't satisfied and wants to get better so that the next time he goes he will be a main contributor," Heins said.
With another summer of training at elevation, and incorporating 20-plus mile long runs, Belus is destined to mentally and physically push himself to better results in 2010. With a third-place finish at the George Kyte Classic already in the books, Belus has his eyes set on returning to Terre Haute.
"I'd be psyched to be in the top 75, but now it looks like I can score, so that opens up a new window and I need to be higher then that if the team is going to do well," Belus said. "For myself, I want to do significantly higher than my original goal."