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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Alumna pursues elite-level cross-country career

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Former Chico State cross-country runner Ayla Granados won the Northern California Cross-Country Challenge Sept. 13 in Redding. Photo courtesy Chico Wildcats

Former Chico State cross-country standout Ayla Granados took first place in the third annual Northern California Cross-Country Challenge women’s race Sept. 13 at Simpson University in Redding. Granados ran the hilly 5-kilometer course in 18 minutes, 53 seconds.

It was a solid showing for the former collegiate distance running star, who said she didn’t aim to push herself too hard in her first outing of the season.

“The race was definitely a good rust-buster to kick off my season,” Granados said. “The competition wasn’t stiff, but it was exciting to get a good sense of what it’s going to be like racing cross-country post-collegiately.”

Running without her Chico State teammates was a different experience for Granados, but she knows that in order to succeed at the professional level, she’ll have to be self-driven and motivated, she said.

“Ayla was a very coachable and dynamic athlete,” said Gary Towne, men’s track and field head coach. “From day one she bought into the type of work that we were doing here, and that work ethic, coupled with her toughness and talent, helped her create a running resume that stacked up well against any previous athlete that we’ve had in our program.”

Towne also cited Granados’ jack-of-all-trades skill set when it comes to running, whether it be two laps around the track or 12 and a half.

“Ayla was perhaps the most versatile female distance athlete that we’ve ever had in our program,” Towne said. “She ranks among our top five all-time in everything from the 800-meters to the 5,000, which is a balance that no athlete has achieved since my tenure began as a coach here 20 plus years ago.”

With Towne’s urging, Granados participated in the Portland Track Festival in June and placed fourth in her heat, Granados said. She was glad to have gained such valuable experience at the high-profile event.

“I felt lucky that I got the chance to race in the same meet as so many runners who I look up to as role models and who inspire me,” Granados said. “It made me realize that my dream was slowly becoming a reality and is another reason I’ve decided to further pursue running. The PTF was an awesome and unforgettable experience. It’s a race I definitely want to do again.”

Besides finishing her degree in business management and serving as an assistant coach to the women’s cross-country runners, Granados is taking steps toward becoming a professional runner.

A goal of hers is to relocate in order to train with an elite team, she said. She’s eyeing the Sacramento area NorCal Distance Project, or the Boulder, Colorado, based HTS Elite. Kara Lubieniecki and Alia Gray are two other notable Chico State alums already members of the HTS Elite squad.

Regardless of what her future holds as a professional, she’ll always remember her running days at Chico State, Granados said.

“Being a part of the running program at Chico State was probably the best thing that’s happened to me,” she said. “The team is what made me fall in love with the sport. Leaving a name for Chico State cross-county as an elite level runner is one of the big reasons I want to continue to pursue running. I have big goals for myself as a runner. I’m not only looking into the future short term, but long term as well. I have goals set for myself for this year and (beyond).”

Towne said he believes in her and sees her as one of the most accomplished runners he’s ever coached.

“Given that Ayla’s marks stack up against any of our (alumni) who ran before her at CSUC, along with the fact that we have three current alumni who have already qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials, I like Ayla’s chances at making her mark at the next level,” Towne said.

Nick Reddy can be reached at [email protected] or @NickIsReddy on Twitter.

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