Posted: Nov 22, 2019
Competing in the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships was likely the last thing on Joe Kortenhof's mind at the end of July.
The Lawrence University senior from Portland, Ore., was flat on his back in the hospital with a tube in his chest just a month before cross country season was set to start. Kortenhof had suffered a collapsed lung, and while the doctors assured him he was going to recover, big questions loomed in his mind.
"I was concerned that was the end of my season right there," said Kortenhof, a four-time All-Midwest Conference honoree in cross country. "It was very nerve-wracking and stressful."
Kortenhof's summer had been filled with training for the upcoming season when he began to feel ill one day in late July. He ran in pain the next day but pushed through it.
"The next day I got up to run … I made it about 400 meters into the run and was having stabbing pains in my chest," Kortenhof said. "I knew I had to go to the hospital."
Doctors told Kortenhof that a pneumothorax is more common in tall, slender athletes like himself. After having the chest tube in for three days, Kortenhof put away his running shoes for nearly a month in July and August.
"That changed the way things progressed a little bit," Kortenhof said. "In the end, that helped me a little bit more than it hurt me."
Kortenhof eased back into training feeling fresh for the upcoming cross country season. He was the top returning finisher in the league after taking eighth at the MWC Championships in 2018.
"Going into the whole season, that's been the expectation, to win conference and make it to nationals," Kortenhof said. "Those have been those my two driving goals."
Kortenhof won Lawrence's Gene Davis Invitational in mid-October and then ran the Kollegetown Invitational at Lake Breeze Golf Course in Winneconne, the same place the regional meet would take place a month later.
"It was not my best performance that day," Kortenhof said of the Kollegetown race. "In that race I tried to hang with the front group the first two miles, and that was way too fast. I died at the end."
Kortenhof quickly recovered and raced to the individual title at the Midwest Conference Championships on a cold, muddy track in Illinois. That set him up for a return date at Lake Breeze and the NCAA Midwest Regional.
"I was planning on easing back a little," Kortenhof said. "I was trying to run the race a little more evenly. When I got into the race, I was feeling really good and went with the front group again. Unlike at Kollegetown, it worked to my advantage this time."
Kortenhof ran the third-fastest 8,000-meter time in Lawrence history as he clocked in at 25:08.2 to finish 14th. He grabbed one of the individual qualifying spots and will run at the NCAA Championships on Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
While this may be the first time Kortenhof is racing in the NCAA Championships, it's his third trip to the meet. He watched former teammate and All-American Josh Janusiak each of the last two years, and that may pay some dividends now.
"When Josh raced in the national meet two years ago in St. Louis, (Coach Jason Fast) brought me along for the trip and made me train with Josh through the national championships," Kortenhof said. "He gave me that experience of what competing in the national championships looks like. I'm glad coach did that and gave me that opportunity because I'm prepared now."
Given that Kortenhof made it out of the Midwest Regional, his expectations for the NCAA Championship are high. The Midwest Regional is the best region in the nation and finishing in the top 15 in that race can translate into All-America status.
"That's definitely my goal going into the meet in Kentuciky, being in the top 35," said Kortenhof, who can trace all that's taken place this fall back to those painful days in July.
"We held back a little bit in workouts to give my body a chance to recover, and that worked to my benefit. I definitely felt like that worked in my favor. It's all come together in a very nice way."