5 Questions With American Steeplechaser Aric Van Halen

Aric Van Halen's dad is a rock star, but Aric is no slouch in the steeplechase. Photo: Larry Lawson

The Colorado runner with a famous dad laces up his shoes this weekend at the U.S. Championships.

Aric Van Halen graduated in May from the University of Colorado with a degree in film studies. The 2013 Pac-12 steeplechase champ and 2012 cross country All-American will run the 3,000-meter steeplechase U.S. track and field championships this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa (Van Halen made it through Friday’s prelims and will run in Sunday’s final).

We caught up with Van Halen in the venerable Balch Fieldhouse on the CU campus, where he had just finished a run with Jenny Simpson and Shalaya Kipp. The three were shooting hoops, and before he started the interview, Van Halen swished a running 18-footer from the left side of the key.

Without breaking stride, he jogged to the Mondo track that circles the court and sat down to chat, with Simpson by his side.

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What are you going to do now that you’ve used up all of your college eligibility?

I will keep running, but I don’t know exactly [my plans] yet. I have USAs coming up, and hopefully I can run fast and keep on racing. I just don’t want the season to end yet. We haven’t discussed running past USAs; we will get to that and talk it over. I will stay in Boulder for the next year. Between the atmosphere and the trails and just Boulder as a city, and [head coach] Mark [Wetmore] and [assistant coach] Heather [Burroughs], they were the biggest reasons I came to CU.

When I got here, I was blown away by the city and by how knowledgeable Mark and Heather are. They really know what they are doing. They always know what to say and do, and they always give me two options, if the race is slow or fast.

Can you walk us through your career so far?

I was a decent runner in high school [Oakwood, Calif.], in a small division, so I stuck out more. I won the Division 5 championship my senior year in cross. Then I came to CU and freshman year was OK. I redshirted cross and outdoors and ran indoors. I came back and started running the steeple my sophomore year. I had my real big breakthrough my junior year, 8:52 at the Payton Jordan Invitational and made it to NCAA Regionals.

Last year I ran 8:42 during the season, but then I ran a last-chance meet to try and get into the Olympic Trials and missed it by less than a quarter of a second. I ran 8:37-low and it took 8:36.9 to make it. I wasn’t disappointed. I was surprised I got that close. It was good motivation, to get that close. This year, I was on my way to a PR at Stanford, but nailed a barrier hard with a lap to go. I still ran 8:42. As for this weekend in Iowa, I’m hoping to compete and make the final and race some guys.

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How does having people like Billy Nelson, Jenny Simpson and other top runners affect your outlook?

I can look up to them and chase after what they have done and try to be as good as they are. It is nice to have something to chase after. Last year, I trained a lot with Billy. This year, younger [steeplechasers] Hugh Dowdy, Blake Theroux and John Stevens. Hugh and Blake are faster than I was when I was their age. Both are ahead of where I was. If they keep progressing, we will have some real good guys at nationals next year.

You come from a famous family. Can you tell us about it? Does having a famous name affect your life much?

My dad is the drummer of the rock ’n’ roll band Van Halen. The music gene skipped me. My teammates like to laugh at me when I’m asked about it at the airport. Someone will look at my ticket and say, ‘Oh, Van Halen, that’s really neat.’ I always get it at the airport, and everyone on the team laughs.

Coach Wetmore is known for his literary scholarship. Did he give you any quotes to remember?

No literature quotes stick with me. But he knows I was a film major and was always telling me to watch old movies I haven’t seen. Films like “On the Waterfront” and “Elvira Madigan.”

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