Abigail Frankian’s pre-race routine is organized, if not regimented.
Depending on a meet’s schedule, the TMU senior and Saugus High grad plans when to eat so she’s not too full or too hungry when the pistol sounds. Sometimes she drinks coffee. About an hour out, she plugs into a collection of songs meant to motivate. She reminds herself that running 5,000 meters will hurt — it will not kill. She will finish.
Frankian has another routine, one that involves an airplane ride to Gulf Shores, Alabama, home of the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The senior has competed at nationals all three seasons as a Mustang and will make a return trip later this month.
The repetition has built a warehouse of nationals know-how: The meet will feel larger than life. It isn’t. … Prelims are vital. But energy must be conserved. … The 5K will hurt, maybe sooner than usual. Frankian will finish, maybe better than ever.
“There’s not really pressure to do my best. I always do my best,” Frankian says. “That’s always the goal. It’s nothing different than any other race.”
That concept can be hard for first-timers to grasp, Frankian says. The senior remembers the nerves that set in during earlier visits to the Deep South. There were variables, of course. The first two times she went, she was competing in the 3,000 steeplechase, which involves a handful of hurdles and a water jump. On another trip, she was coming off an early-season injury that threw a wrench into her training.
On the whole, Frankian might have built up the race too much in her mind. Now, she feels like she belongs — and she knows what to expect: namely, heat and humidity.
The weather in Gulf Shores is expected to hover around 86 degrees when Frankian and teammates Stephen Pacheco (5K), Alec Franco (marathon) and Canyon grad Seanna Nalbandyan (400 hurdles) arrive for nationals May 24-26. But it may feel like it’s in the mid-90s.
Frankian says she will be hydrated. She will also be mentally prepared for pain to set in as early as the fourth lap, instead of sometime around lap six like it does in more tepid conditions.
“I think it’s really hard to keep pushing through it because you run out of energy so much faster,” says Frankian, who finished 16th and 10th in the steeplechase at nationals in 2015 and 2016, respectively. “Just everything is magnified. All your pain is magnified. It’s so hot.”
Still, Frankian is thankful for the opportunity. For the better part of the spring, she wasn’t sure she’d qualify for nationals. She missed on opportunities to race big at the Occidental Distance Carnival in Los Angeles on March 10 and at the San Francisco State Distance Carnival later in the month. The meets jostled her confidence.
As she prepared for the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa in mid-April, she told herself it was a do-or-die situation. “‘Do you really want it?’” she asked. Apparently, she did.
Frankian ran a season-best time of 17 minutes, 47.64 seconds to hit the NAIA B Standard qualifying mark. Afterward, coach Zach Schroeder compared her to a closer in baseball, the pitcher everyone expects to lock down the ninth inning of tight games.
“When the stakes are high, she knows how to go places mentally that few athletes know how to go to,” Schroeder said.
The race sparked Frankian’s confidence and made sure she’d get another chance at a tantalizing honor. Last season, she finished 11th in the 5,000, three spots back of a top-eight finish and her first All-American award.
Currently, her mark in the 5K places her 18th in the NAIA, but she believes muggy weather and her experience could level the playing field.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for me to finish in the top eight,” she says.
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