Teammates Push Bussing to Great Senior Season and Fun Career
Nov. 11, 2011
Austin Bussing has had a roller coaster of highs and lows during his four-year career for both the Kansas track and field and cross country teams. As he prepares to run in the NCAA Midwest Regional Saturday, Bussing's only goal is for the team to do well because on some days, the team was the only thing that kept him going.
Bussing openly admits that the mind of a runner is slightly different than that of an average college student.
"The things that you talk about when you're out on long runs, you wonder how your mind gets to that point," said Bussing. "We have the strangest conversations. If a random observer showed up to practice, they would probably just think we were insane. You almost have to be loose to a certain extent just to get through a 90-mile week. It's just not something that a normal person would do. It's very arduous and strenuous. If you don't break that up with some messing around and laughter every once in awhile, it can really bring you down."
Having those strange conversations on long runs and being able to have a good time with his teammates is what helped Bussing get through some of the rough patches during his career, particularly his junior season.
"Part of what got me through junior year, which was really tough at some points, was the fact that even though I wasn't enjoying it, I still enjoyed the people on the team and enjoyed their company," said Bussing. "At least coming to practice, I got to be around these guys who were some of my best friends. Even if I had to drag myself through hard days, it was the people who were surrounding me that really helped me through it."
Bussing's junior year was just one rough patch he endured along the way in getting to his senior year where he has enjoyed his greatest success, including a team-high 22nd-place showing at the Big 12 Championships where he ran a career-best 8K time of 24:22.
Bussing joined the Jayhawk program in 2008 as part of a freshman class of nine distance runners. Immediately, Bussing faced the first challenge of his Jayhawk career.
"Freshman year was that adjustment period," recalled Bussing, whose best finish of his freshman campaign came when he ran the 8K in 26:36.30 at the ISU Pre-Nationals to finish 91st. "I went through the same experience that most freshmen distance runners go through, which is being exceptional in high school to just another guy in college. I really wasn't used to not being the No. 1 guy on the team, but I continually told myself that was one of the main reasons why I chose KU. I wanted to go to a place where I had to work to improve. I intentionally set myself up for that, but there were some times where it was frustrating and difficult to deal with. Overall, it definitely made me a better runner."
Following the cross country season, Bussing utilized his redshirt year for track and field to gear up for his sophomore season, which is where he started to experience his first sustained success. Bussing was among the Jayhawks' top-five finishers in five of the six meets in which he competed, including the OSU Cowboy Jamboree where he posted a career-best time of 25:26 to place 62nd.
"My sophomore year was when I really felt like I started seeing some improvement," recalled Bussing. "Some of the hard work really started paying off. That was the first year that (assistant) Coach Michael Whittlesey was here, so I think part of it was trying to prove my worth to him. I mostly looked at that year as a fresh start and a way to start to make a name for myself. When one good thing would happen, confidence would just build off that and snowball. Sophomore year was a pretty good year for me."
However, the momentum Bussing built his sophomore year stalled and did not carry into his junior season, which surprised Bussing because he felt like he had put himself in a position to take another big step forward.
"I was expecting to see the progression from sophomore year continue into my junior year, and it sort of flattened out a little bit," said Bussing. "That was a really, really tough year to work through. I felt like I had a great summer after my sophomore year, and my junior year just didn't go the way I thought it should have. It wasn't so much a down year, but it was a year that wasn't quite what I expected it to be."
Ironically, in a career marked by peaks and valleys throughout its four years, Bussing experienced one of his highest and lowest moments at the same time to conclude his junior season.
"Right now, my all-time peak was scoring at conference outdoors (track and field) last year," said Bussing, who took sixth place in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:07.43 to earn three points for the Jayhawks. "Scoring at conference had been a personal goal since I arrived here because you really feel like you're contributing to the success of the team. Even though junior year wasn't the best year for me, it ended all right. Ultimately, though, it still ended in disappointment because I ended up missing the NCAA Regionals by .32 seconds, so that was a pretty disappointing end to the year."
Bussing had his sights set on going to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Preliminary Round based on his personal-best time of 9:05.28 in the steeplechase, which he ran at the Payton Jordan Invitational May 1 in Palo Alto, Calif. The top 48 times from the region advance each year, and Bussing felt his time would meet that standard. However, when the list came out, Bussing's name was not on it, which quickly overshadowed his all-time peak of scoring at the Big 12 Championships.
"Missing Regionals my junior year was one of my biggest disappointments," said Bussing. "I missed it by .32 seconds. I thought 9:05 would be good enough based on the previous year. I had almost a false sense of confidence that I was going to be all right. I knew I was going to be on the bubble, but I kept telling myself I was going to make it. Of course, I wanted to run a personal-best time at the Big 12 Championships just to make sure. I ended up with a 9:07, which was close. It's one of those things where you're unsure until the day the list comes out. I had been anticipating that day for so long. Looking at that list and not seeing my name was a pretty low point."
Heading into his senior year, Bussing maintained essentially the same workout schedule as the previous year, mixing in a few 95-mile weeks with his regular 90-mile weeks while also participating in an internship with the Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C. The internship ultimately led to a new interest in urban planning, which Bussing plans to pursue a grad degree in upon graduating from Kansas in May. The nation's capital city also provided some new, exciting places to run each day.
"We were close to the Key Bridge, which connects D.C. to Virginia," said Bussing. "If you go along the Potomac River long enough, you end up in Maryland. There were runs where I would go from D.C. to Maryland to Virginia and back. It's kind of cool to do that. There are also all of the monuments in D.C. The second day I was there, I went down to the National Mall and ran to the Washington Monument, all the way down to the Capitol and back to where we were staying at Georgetown. There were also some good trails on Theodore Roosevelt Island, which was close to where we were staying. I just had to explore around for awhile, but once I found the places to go, it was pretty fun."
Despite the interesting places Bussing was able to run, he worried he might be preparing for another disappointing season.
"I'm almost painting too flattering of a picture," said Bussing of the trails and paths he trekked during the summer. "I didn't enjoy running all that much last summer. I thought I was setting myself up to not have a good season. I was actually really worried about this season coming in. The beginning of the season, I had a couple workouts that weren't very good. Something just sparked, and all of a sudden I started running well. From that point, I never looked back."
With the success he has experienced throughout his final year in the crimson and blue, including a third-place finish at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge, Bussing has enjoyed his senior season much more. He attributes his increased enjoyment largely to his teammates, a few of which he is trying to help overcome the same struggles he faced last season.
"This year has been all about the team. It's probably the reason why I've enjoyed it so much this year," said Bussing. "I feel better about running overall, and I feel like it's time to really pay some of that support from my teammates back. A lot of the younger guys seem to be having that sort of season that I had my junior year where they're still running pretty well, but they're really frustrated because they're not seeing the improvements that they feel like they should be seeing. To be able to say that I've been through that before and I know pretty much exactly what's going on with them, I can encourage them to stick it out and help them realize there will be better days."
Bussing hopes one of those better days will be Saturday when the team tries to earn a trip to the NCAA Championships with a strong showing at the NCAA Midwest Regional in DeKalb, Ill. One thing for sure is that Bussing will enjoy the opportunity to run as much as he ever has in his career thanks to a renewed sense of team.