Alex Masai running towards Olympic dreams
Senior Alex Masai transferred to Hofstra University in January 2018 and in one cross country season broke the 8K school record, became Hofstra’s first ever Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference champion and was named the CAA Men’s Cross Country Runner of the Year. This season, he aims to be among the nation’s top 10 runners.
Born in Eldoret, Kenya, Masai started running in high school, following in the footsteps of his older brother and sister, both of whom run professionally.
“They represent Kenya at the Olympics and World Championships, so I thought it was the right thing to do to follow their path,” Masai said.
Despite running in high school and even being named Athlete of the Year in 2013, it was not until two years later that Masai got serious about his running, starting his collegiate career at Monroe College in New Rochelle, New York. While there, Masai claimed a regional title, broke the 8K school record and led his team to a 14th-place finish at the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association meet.
However, in January 2018 he transferred to Hofstra to pursue his degree in criminology, and once again dominated at running. In his first season, Masai broke another 8K school record with a time of 24:00.7 and claimed Hofstra’s first ever CAA championship. In his second season with the Pride, he aims to prove himself on the national level.
“The ultimate goal for this cross country season is to be All-American. Probably top 10 at nationals,” Masai said.
He began his season on the right foot, already defending his title at the Stony Brook University Wolfie Invitational on Sept. 7, posting an 8,000-meter time of 24:23 to win by 14 seconds against Monroe College freshman Geoffrey Bwalley.
“I had a good summer. I’m healthy and trained well so I expected to just to go in and finish as best as I can,” Masai said. “I felt nice; what I’ve been doing just paid off.”
Throughout the season, Masai’s goals – and his daily reminders of them to himself – are what drive him to get to where he wants to be.
“You want to be better than yesterday. I’m trying to be better every day,” he said.
And with training comes confidence, as the pressure of matching last season’s success does not seem to affect him this year.
“Of course there’s that pressure, but you take that pressure away when you prepare well,” Masai explained. “If the preparation is good, the pressure will be reduced.”
Masai’s ability to train at elevation gives him an advantage over his competition. Eldoret, Kenya, his home and summer training location, sits at about 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level while Hempstead sits at just a few meters above sea level.
“Coming from the high-altitude levels to the low-altitude levels helps me,” he said.
Altitude training is a common tactic among runners and athletes in general. At altitude, the air is thinner and requires more oxygen per breath to breathe. If an athlete becomes comfortable training at altitude, competing closer to sea level will in turn be easier as they can control their breathing more and not need as much air to do so.
However, once arriving in New York, Masai sticks to a weekly training schedule that has proven successful so far: a track workout on Tuesday, followed by on and off days of hard and easy runs throughout the week, with a tempo run on Thursday and long run on Sunday.
While Masai works hard to train physically, he says he does not do anything to prepare mentally.
“I don’t really have a custom of doing that. Just making sure I get enough sleep, eat well, drink water. Those are things I do.”
Like many athletes, Masai looks up to the professionals. However, in his unique case, his role model is his own brother Moses Masai, who placed fourth in the 10,000-meter run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 12th in London in 2012.
“He was unable to win medals in the Olympics, but he did in the World Championships, so I just want to pick up from where he left off,” Masai said. “At least get a medal for him and perform well at the highest level possible.”
Masai’s older sister, Linet Masai, also runs professionally and her achievements include placing third in the 10,000-meter at the Beijing Olympics and fourth in the 5,000-meter at the IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany the same year.
Like his siblings, Masai says his favorite races are the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter and his favorite aspect of the sport is simply competing.
When the cross country season ends, the senior and his teammates will turn to track and field, as Hofstra begins its first NCAA Division I indoor track season, and second outdoor season. Masai says he is looking forward to track being back.
“If I qualify, I get to represent my school and myself at the highest level at nationals,” Masai said. “I just want to train hard coming from cross country, adding that speed into indoor [track season], get fast times, qualify for regionals and probably go to nationals.”
Last outdoor track season, Masai placed 22nd at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Qualifying meet and broke Hofstra’s 10K school record, with a time of 29:39.36. In 2018, he claimed the Penn Relays College Championship 5K title.
After his time with the Pride is over, Masai has his sights set on running for the Kenyan national team.
“My goal is to just represent my country at the highest level possible. The Olympics and World Championships are the perfect spot for that,” he said.
Image Courtesy of Hofstra Athletics