While Princeton University men’s track star Chris Bendtsen was thrilled to make the 10,000 meter run at the 2013 NCAA championships as a junior, he was bitterly disappointed by how the race unfolded.
“I was in awe, being in Eugene and running at Hayward Field,” recalled Bendtsen.
“I got a cramp in the first mile. I finished 22nd of 25 runners. I think the best thing that came from that was that it motivated me for the next year. All I was thinking about was getting back to Eugene. I made it but that wasn’t enough.”
In making that effort, Bendtsen didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “My teammate Michael Franklin got fifth,” said Bendtsen. “I had a picture of him finishing at the meet that I put on my locker for more motivation. I thought if he could do it, I could do it.”
Last month, Bendtsen proved he could compete with the best, taking ninth in the 10,000 at the 2014 NCAAs, earning second-team All-American honors in the process.
“The top 8 made first-team All-American so I was very close,” said Bendtsen, a native of Wolcott, Conn.
“I can’t help but feel good; the guys that beat me were very good and the guys I beat were good. To be able to finish 9th, I was very satisfied. It was a great way to end my Princeton career.”
Bendtsen’s running career began at an early age. “Both of my parents were runners in college, on mother’s side of family, all six kids were runners,” said Bendtsen. “I did road races in kindergarten. There was a 4th of July 5k in town that I ran; I would just jump into road races.”
Jumping up the Connecticut running ladder at Wolcott High, Bendtsen was determined to compete at the college level.
“It was really a natural progression; I was pretty good starting out as a freshman and I just kept getting better,” said Bendtsen.
“I didn’t know how good I would be or what school I would end up in. I narrowed it down to all the Ivy League schools. I figured why not get the best education and run for a good program in a very good league. Also I wanted to stay in the northeast.”
Bendtsen ended up deciding that Princeton was the best fit for him. “Princeton had everything I wanted; it had great academics and the teams were very good,” said Bendtsen.
“There was a lot of talent on the team and a lot of good runners coming in with my class. I felt like I fit in with the other runners.”
In his first college season, Bendtsen lagged behind the other runners. “It was definitely a little tough that freshman fall in cross
country,” said Bendtsen.
“I was getting used to training as a collegiate runner. There were a lot more miles and you are running the miles faster. I found myself tired all the time. The time management was tough.”
Learning the ropes from such stars as Donn Cabral, Brian Leung, and Joe Stilin, Bendtsen got up to speed athletically and academically.
“The guys on the team helped me develop as a collegiate runner and a student-athlete,” said Bendtsen. “Once I was able to manage everything, things started to come together. These guys not only helped me develop as a better runner, they helped me become a better leader and a better teammate.”
As a sophomore, Bendtsen started developing into a key member of the Tiger distance running corps.
“Having a year under my belt helped me get better,” said Bendtsen, noting that he broke 14 minutes in the 5k that season.
“I was running in a lot of races. One of the things that helped was my consistency; I was never hurt so I was bound to improve.”
Improving by leaps and bounds as a junior, Bendtsen became a cross country star, placing first in the Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championship meet and competing in the NCAA championships.
“Junior year was definitely a breakout year for me in cross country, everything was clicking,” said Bendtsen, who served as a cross country team co-captain as a junior and senior.
“I wanted to win Heps; everything came together. We always shoot for Heps because that is a very big meet for us but I was ready for the bigger meets after that. I got 43rd at nationals, everything was going right. It was one of those days where as I was doing it, it didn’t seem like it was hard.”
In the spring, Bendtsen kept going well, taking second in the 10,000 and third in the 5,000 at the Outdoor Heps to help Princeton win the team title. He placed fifth in the 10,000 at the NCAA East Regional before ending the season with the disappointing effort at the NCAA championships.
Smarting from that finale, Bendtsen was primed for a big senior year.
“I went out to Boulder, Colorado to train at altitude,” said Bendtsen. “I shared a house with some other guys on the team, it was great.
His final college campaign, though, didn’t get off to a great start. “In the fall, I felt like I did everything right but I was not putting it together in cross country,” said Bendtsen, who slipped to seventh in the Heps.
“Maybe I did too many miles. I had a foot injury that sidelined me for five days before regional so that was a little setback. I didn’t put it together, something wasn’t right. It may have been an iron deficiency.”
After placing fourth in the 5,000 and 13th in the 3,000 in the Indoor Heps, Bendtsen hit his stride in the spring.
“I had a better outdoor season,” said Bendtsen. “I was 4th in the 10,000 at the Heps, I was very disappointed with that race. I had to show up the next day and score points for the team. I had a good race and I won the 5,000. I was disappointed that our team didn’t win. It was really close.”
Bendtsen raced well in the 10,000 at the NCAA East Regionals, taking third in a time of 29:51.08 to book his return trip to Eugene.
“I wasn’t nervous going into the regionals, the way that [Jason] Vigiliano and [Fred] Samara coach us, I knew I was going to Eugene,” said Bendtsen.
“I went into the race saying I was going to do it. I needed to be in the top 12 and I got third. I wanted to win the regional but the top guys got out a little too far.”
In the NCAA championship race, Bendtsen got out slowly but picked up the pace.
“I want out in the back, I was one of the last guys in the first couple of miles,” said Bendtsen, who clocked a time of 29:14.86.
“I kept feeling better gradually, it got to the point where I was leading a pack of runners and was alone. I was trying to catch up with the top group.”
Bendtsen feels great about his Princeton experience, on and off the track. “As a runner, I learned what worked for me, running a lot of miles and staying as consistent as I could with time management and training,” said Bendtsen.
“I was able to focus on a long term plan and goal; I had my mind on NCAAs for a year. I don’t think I could have done that in high school. As a person, being around a great group of guys was special. They were my closest friends for four years and those friendships will last for a lifetime. I feel like Princeton is really special; no one lives off campus; we all live together. We help each other with school, training and other things.”
After graduation, Bendtsen competed one more time in orange and black, making his debut in in the USA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif. where he finished 14th in the 10,000 with a time of 30:05.18.
“I was very tired; my muscles started tightening up,” recalled Bendtsen, who experienced travel issues in getting west as his initial flight was cancelled and he arrived on the day of the competition after spending the night in the airport.
“I didn’t race that well. I was running against professional runners. I was proud to run in Princeton singlet for one last race and represent Princeton at the biggest stage. I tried hard but it wasn’t a good race.”
Working for eMarketer, a market analysis company in New York City, Bendtsen plans to continue his running career and hopes to make it back to the USA championship meet next spring.
“I am going to keep running,” said Bendtsen. “I am joining the New York Athletic Club. I am in process of getting the paperwork. I will run road races. I will keep trying with 10k. Similar with NCAAs, I was excited about going to the USA championships. It was an incredible experience but I want to get back next year and do better.”
Drawing on his Princeton experience, Bendtsen figures to keep getting better and better.