The 2018 indoor campaign was a breakout season for UTEP distance runner Michael Saruni. As a sophomore, the Kenya native has a national title and has broken several facility, school, and world records.
“I prepare well and focus every time out. Nothing to fear just go for it,” Saruni said. “I have nothing to complain about, it’s been great. Everything has been going as planned. I’m just pushing for more.”
During the first week of the season, Saruni set a facility record and school record at the Commodore Invitational in the 800m (1:45.92). He followed that performance by establishing a new facility record, school record and world record at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational in the 600m (1:14.79) while on he posted a new facility record at the Texas Tech Classic and broke his own school record in the 800m (1:45.19).
“Greatness. I gave my all,” Saruni said after being asked what was going through his mind after his first three weeks. “I’m going for the win, if the record goes (is broken) then that’s great for me but I’m just going for the win.”
No other student-athlete in the nation accomplished more than what Saruni did in the first three weeks of 2018 indoor season.
The sophomore earned his first career National Athlete of the Week honor after that 800m performance (1:45.19) at the Texas Tech Classic, a time that currently ranks No. 2 in the NCAA All-Time Best list, sitting just behind UTEP associate head coach Paul Ereng (1:44.84, 1989).
With a record that became his over 28 years ago in 1989, Ereng is ready for it to be Saruni’s one day.
“I want that to happen because that record doesn’t do anything for me anymore,” Ereng said. This is something that I’ve had for 30 years ago and it was so beneficial for me at that that time at the age when I was running in college it meant a lot of good things for me. But now it is just sitting there as a record, it’s a number, its historical and nobody is going to erase that history. I want him to take it so he can use it for himself and the good of himself and the institution as well.”
Ereng knows first-hand how Saruni is as not only an athlete but as a person. While he is the associate head coach for Track and Field at UTEP, Ereng works with Michael personally in his training and has seen the transition of a talented athlete. From someone who struggled his freshman year getting accustomed to the sport, to becoming a record-breaking track athlete as a sophomore.
“I remember last year he fell and got DQ (disqualified), he then fell at the national meet but towards the end of the season he was reaching his best. Which means the race was kind of a learning experience for him,” Ereng said.
Just like anyone else who comes to the United States for the first time, it quickly becomes a learning experience. However, for Saruni the adjustment was not as difficult as one one may think for someone outside the U.S.
“I can’t say it was easy at first but adapting hasn’t been an issue for me,” he said. “It’s different from where I’m from than here, people are friendlier and the culture is different. I’ve just been focusing on my books (school work) and running while also learning English.”
While born in the town of Ravine, Saruni grew up in Kenya’s largest city, Nairobi. A benefit for him that made living in the states easier.
“Growing up in Nairobi, he became very sophisticated and because of this he adapted well,” Ereng said. “He’s a quick learner, he’s young and has a bright future ahead of him.”
While Ereng may know Saruni best because of their close relationship in training, he’s not the only coach who has noticed the driven runner. Mika Laaksonen, head coach for UTEP has seen a difference in his high-profile athlete this season compared to his freshman campaign.
“I think he’s definitely more focused this year,” Laaksonen said. “His freshmen year he didn’t really have it together, he had a rough season. This year he has been on a mission. He’s very driven and has certain things in mind that he wants to accomplish. I have no doubt he will accomplish all those.”
On March 10, Saruni captured the national title in the 800m run at the NCAA Indoor Championship Finals in College Station, again beating his previous mark (1:45.19) with a 1:45.15 showing.
“He just a sophomore so sky’s the limit for him,” Lakksonen said. “At the end of the day, he can probably accomplish whatever he wants to put his mind to.”
With so much focus on the track and with his studies in the classroom, Saruni rarely finds time to do anything else other than keeping his mind and feet on the polyurethane.
”Just run, nothing else,” he said.
Saruni will return to the track for the 2018 outdoor season at the UTEP Springtime meet on March 24.