Since he began running the 10,000 meters earlier this year, Hassan Mead has been cultivating his patience. The former Gophers All-America knows that to master the distance, he must learn how to maintain a controlled early pace, setting himself up for a strong finish.
He’s already had plenty of practice. When Mead launched his professional track career in 2012, coach Mark Rowland insisted on a slow, steady path toward the 10,000. “He said, ‘I think it’s best if we develop you into a 5K [athlete] for the first two years,’ ” Mead said. “The plan was for me to get strong, then when 2015 came, we’d take a shot at [qualifying for] the 10,000 meters at the world championships.”
That deliberate beginning positioned Mead to make a big move this summer. After earning the bronze medal in the 10,000 at the U.S. outdoor championships in June, he will make his world championships debut Saturday as the nine-day meet opens in Beijing.
Mead enters the world championships with a personal-best time of 27 minutes, 33.04 seconds, the 14th-fastest time this season among the 29 athletes entered in Saturday’s race. His surge to the upper ranks of American distance runners has him thinking about the big prize next summer, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But the arc of his first few years as a pro has taught Mead not to get too far ahead of himself.
“I’m still new to the 10k,” said Mead, 26, a state cross-country champion at Minneapolis South High School and nine-time Big Ten champ in track and cross-country. “It’s not the easiest, but I’m learning. And I’m sure once I put in enough work, it will come around.
“Things have definitely worked out so far. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be where I am today.”
Since finishing his eligibility with the Gophers in 2012, Mead has been a member of the prestigious Oregon Track Club Elite based in Eugene. Rowland, the club’s head coach, is a longtime acquaintance of Gophers track and cross-country coach Steve Plasencia. Two other former Gophers, Harun Abda (800 meters) and Ben Blankenship (1,500), also are on the roster.
When Mead was a youngster, his family emigrated from his native Somalia to the U.S. He started running — in basketball shoes — in high school and excelled in both track and cross-country. At the U, Mead persisted through an Achilles’ tendon injury and a collapsed lung that cost him most of the 2010-11 season; he finished his college career as an eight-time All-America, setting four school records that still stand.
Rowland laid out his measured strategy as soon as Mead arrived in Oregon. In addition to building his strength and speed through his first two pro seasons, Mead worked on his race tactics and consistency in the 5,000. He also gained experience at elite meets in the U.S. and Europe, learning how to travel, prepare and compete against the world’s best.
That work paved the way for a breakout performance at last year’s Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in California. Mead was beaten at the wire by Ben True in a stunningly fast race, crushing his own personal best in the 5,000 with a time of 13:02.80 and becoming the 10th-fastest American ever at that distance. “That time opened a lot of doors for me,” he said. “A lot of good things came out of that race.”
One of those things was the confirmation that he was ready to move to the 10,000 this spring. Mead felt confident he had the speed and fitness to finish in the top three at the U.S. championships, which would put him on the team for the world championships, and he took the bronze in 28:16.54.
Saturday’s race will help Mead measure himself against the world’s best at the distance, including 2012 Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah of Great Britain. Once it ends, he won’t waste any time in running toward his next aim.
“The Olympics are in the back of my head,” Mead said. “As soon as I cross the finish line, I’m going to be doing everything I’ve got to do to get ready for Rio.”