West High senior Ali Ali By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – West senior cross country runner Ali Ali was described by a teammate as “a great character.”
Ali considered the remark and guessed correctly that it was Kolby Greiner’s assessment, and then he seemed to embrace the characterization.
“Some might find me a little eccentric,” Ali said, smiling. “In what sense? Just general lifestyle. I’m a little bit off. But that’s not a bad thing.”
One of those eccentricities is his professed “plan” when running a race. His plan is to not have a plan.
Ali is not a back-of-the-pack runner out to get some exercise. He’s been a key performer for the Trojans.
This season he is consistently the team’s second runner, behind the 17th-ranked Greiner, and is ranked 29th in Class 4A.
He was 43rd at state a year ago and third on the team behind Greiner and the now graduated Patrick Karanja. He was also third on the team at state as a sophomore, placing 44th.
“I never run with a plan. It just happens organically,” Ali said after placing fifth at the Cedar Rapids Invitational. “(Greiner)’s usually at the front where I want to be. I just keep passing people, and I get there eventually.”
He does not look at his method as anything unusual.
“I don’t have to have a set plan; it’s more like a formula,” Ali said. “You put yourself in a good place from the beginning, and then throughout the race you just keep passing people. And then near the end you kick it in. I don’t look out for people. I just run.”
His coach, Brian Martz, would prefer that Ali be a bit more systematic in his approach.
“We’re working on that,” Martz said. “I think it would be helpful for him to practice what we’re doing every other day of the week during the meet. He’s been a bit inconsistent with his effort and strategy.
“We’re working on that, trying to help him realize that it might be a good idea to stick to a plan. Then if things are going well then he can alter it from there. But sometimes when you don’t have a plan things don’t work out the way you hope they will.”
As an example, Martz said that Ali was eager to stay with the lead group at the Heartland Classic last week in Ames. The top three teams were out-of-state schools, and the field was stronger than the Iowa state meet will be.
“He was trying to hang on to the back of that elite group,” Martz said. “I think about 2, 2-1/2 miles in he realized he should have stuck with his personal plan, to try to run pace and not worry about how many runners were ahead.”
Ali does not run with an eye on particular individuals.
“I’m not afraid of anyone,” he said. “And Martz says that everyone there is without a name during a race. It’s just about the race, your own race.”
He and Greiner have formed a potent 1-2 punch for the Trojans. Martz says “it just happened in the last couple weeks.” Greiner trained hard over the summer and came into the season in top shape.
Ali spends his summers in Saudi Arabia visiting his mother and sisters. Trying to work out in that heat is nearly impossible.
“He would text me at 2 in the morning, his time, and tell me that he was doing his running then,” Martz said. “But it was still 95, 100 degrees.”
“I tried to run once during the day. I was literally running from shade to shade,” Ali said. “By the time I got home I was absolutely done.Society doesn’t even look at jogging as a thing. People stare when I’m out running. It’s also extremely hot. It’s difficult to train over there.”
That puts him behind other runners in the fall, but he’s talented enough to still be a critical factor for West.
“As he continues to improve his fitness in the next few weeks he can compete with the top runners in Iowa,” Martz said. “It will take him a bit longer to get there because he doesn’t have the training.”
His goal is to break the 16-minute barrier this season. He ran 16:06.9 at the Heartland meet.
Ali performed well at the state track meet last spring, finishing sixth in the 3,200 and 14th in the 1,600, as he benefited from having nine months of solid training under his belt.
“Track for me is much easier mentally because it’s really just going in circles,” Ali said. “You can very easily know when to go and when not to go.”
He wants to go into a scientific field in college to help solve some of the world’s problems.
“Originally I wanted to be an astronomer, but I realized no one is going to be helped out by me being an astronomer,” he said. “No one’s life is going to be improved by that. Genetic research or something like that would help out a lot of people.”
The world could probably use a few more characters with eccentricities like this guy