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Parkston native Muntefering returning to Howard Wood

There are many miles and many races to choose, but Alex Muntefering does not hesitate when selecting his most memorable running event. He won a combined six South Dakota state track and cross country titles for Parkston High School. Now an NCAA D...

Muntefering
(Photo illustration by Bethany Sheets/Republic) Parkston native Alex Muntefering, shown in both photos, will compete at this year's Howard Wood Dakota Relay's in early May. The photo on the right, a file photo from The Daily Republic, is the last time Muntefering competed at Howard Wood when he was a senior in high school in 2009. The photo on the left, taken by Colorado State University's sports information department, is Muntefering competing in a cross country event for the university.

There are many miles and many races to choose, but Alex Muntefering does not hesitate when selecting his most memorable running event.

He won a combined six South Dakota state track and cross country titles for Parkston High School.

Now an NCAA Division I distance runner at Colorado State University, Muntefering's resume also lists prestigious runs at the U.S. Junior Championships, the Midwest Distance Gala and the Midwest Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.

He's competed against some of the top runners in the nation, but he says no recollection compares to when he won the 800-meter special event at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays when he was a high school senior in 2009.

"I've been waiting a long time to run back at Howard Wood," Muntefering, now a college junior, said earlier this week. "I definitely had one of my most memorable times racing there in high school. It's by far my favorite meet I've ever been to."

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On May 4, exactly three weeks from today, Muntefering says he's returning to Sioux Falls, the site of the 88th Annual Howard Wood Dakota Relays, one of South Dakota's largest athletic events that hosts more than 3,000 middle school, high school and college track and field athletes. It will be the first time he'll step foot on the track since he won the 800 in record-setting fashion as a senior at Parkston.

"To me, this is the biggest race of the season," said Muntefering, who will compete in the 1,500-meter run. "I'm most excited for that."

Muntefering's high school history

In October 2006, Muntefering won his first state cross country championship as a sophomore.

Later that year, he lost part of his big toe and sustained nerve damage to his left foot in a farming accident, an injury that nearly ended his running career.

Instead, he went on to win five state track championships, earn two Gatorade Runner of the Year Awards and was named an All-American, all before high school graduation.

Muntefering said it was his eighth-grade year that made him fall in love with running. He remembers watching one of his icons, South Dakota State University distance runner Brad Lowery, attempt to run a sub-4 minute mile at Howard Wood.

That's when Muntefering wanted his own chance at stardom at Howard Wood.

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"I knew my freshman year they were having the open 800, and I tried to get in," Muntefering said. "But they told me to wait until my senior year. Basically from my eighth-grade year to my senior year, I trained for that one race. I put in a lot of time and focus on that."

He won his first track titles in 2006, winning the 1,600 and the sprint medley relay, which he anchored. As a junior, he won the 800 championship.

When his senior track season arrived, he saved one of his best performances of all time for Howard Wood.

After having his name announced with the rest of the field in front of a large crowd under the stadium's lights, Muntefering's years of training paid off. He finished the race in 1 minute, 52.46 seconds to break the meet record, which stood for 12 years, by 1.4 seconds. It was the second-fastest time in South Dakota prep history in the event.

"He was an outstanding high school runner because he knew how to train in all aspects: eating, sleeping and running," said Buck Timmins, Muntefering's main high school track coach. "He understood all aspects of being an outstanding runner. That showed with his times and state championships."

Later that year, Muntefering defended his state championship in the 800 and won his second 1,600. He still holds the state Class A record in both events.

At his final state high school track meet, he was also given the Class A meet's Outstanding Performer Award.

Early college career

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A few months before winning at Howard Wood, Muntefering signed at the University of Oklahoma, saying at the time he "fell in love with the coach, the team and the atmosphere at the school."

In his first year as a Sooner, he redshirted in the cross country and outdoor track seasons. He competed in indoor track and earned all-Big 12 Conference honors by finishing eighth in the 1,000-meter run.

The next year, he competed in all three seasons: cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. The main highlight that year was when he was named all-Big 12 Conference in indoor track, taking seventh in the mile.

But Muntefering wasn't happy with his decision to compete for Oklahoma. In May 2011, he was granted his full release from the school and chose to pursue the sport elsewhere.

"I wasn't enjoying running like I thought I would. I needed a change," he said. "For me at (Oklahoma), I felt like it was more of a job than it was a privilege to be able to run. It wasn't fun for me. ... Specifically, things were micromanaged at all levels pretty much."

Muntefering also said his Oklahoma coaches never told him that the Howard Wood officials contacted the school in hopes the Parkston native would come back to his home state for the 2011 Dakota Relays. He says he's not bitter about it, but would have liked to know the invitation was extended.

Running for Colorado State

After leaving Oklahoma, Muntefering narrowed his decision to three schools: South Dakota State, Minnesota and Colorado State.

Since he was granted a full release from OU, he never lost any eligibility or had to sit out because of the transfer, so he was a sophomore in both cross country and outdoor track and a junior in indoor track.

He chose Colorado State, of Fort Collins, Colo., in early June 2011 and decided to move south of Denver that summer to start training immediately.

"I trained at 6,000 feet altitude, and I didn't really respect how much more taxing it is to train at altitude," Muntefering said. "I trained just how I trained at sea level, and that was a huge mistake.

"Basically, I just buried myself and my whole body was inflamed. It took nearly a year to recover from how hard I trained that summer. It took a long time to adjust."

Muntefering says he was happy with his decision to transfer, but reached an all-time low in performances.

"That was the first year I ever really took a large step back," he said. "I've had ups and downs, but never a whole year where I just struggled all year."

When he initially moved to Colorado, he ran about 900 miles over the summer, trying to prepare himself for the challenge of joining a new team. It was a terrible decision, he says.

After the conclusion of his first full year at CSU, he said he took 22 days off. Then, he made a plan to run much less over the summer -- completing about 500 miles -- and do it at a slower pace. He undertrained, and did it on purpose.

"That allowed me to come into cross country season fresh instead of dead tired," Muntefering said.

Last August marked the beginning of his second year at CSU. He finished all but one cross country race as the Rams' top finisher.

In the indoor track season, he recorded the school's top times in the mile (4:08.24) and the 3,000-meter run (8:12.38). He also was a part of the distance medley relay team that won at the Mountain West Conference championships.

He said slowing down over the summer allowed him to heal and start running personal-best times again.

"He's definitely a great team player," CSU cross country coach Art Siemers said. "He's a quiet leader, but does all the little things to be the best he can be. He's the last guy in the weight room and he runs the highest volume of minutes."

Coming back to Howard Wood

Before signing at CSU, Muntefering had a special request for former coach Bryan Berryhill, who has since been hired at the University of Wyoming at the same position.

"I said, 'If I come to CSU, will I be able to run back at Howard Wood Relays, assuming they would let me in?' He said I would be able to, but then he left," Muntefering said. "Then I had to spend some time working on our new coach, because he wasn't familiar with that whole deal we made. He was fine with it once he figured out how much it meant to me, knowing that it wasn't just some trip to go hang out with friends. It's a business trip in terms of track and running a good time."

Parkston Athletic Director Rob Van Laecken, also the school's assistant track and field coach, played a major role in helping Muntefering get back to Howard Wood.

In hopes of seeing his former athlete run one more time in South Dakota, Van Laecken contacted the Howard Wood board of directors, who gave the OK for Muntefering to run in the 1,500. The race is scheduled to take place at approximately 12:20 p.m. on the final day of the two-day event.

"We had a lot of great track athletes, but I've never seen anyone work harder than he did," Van Laecken said. "I think the crowd will remember him and will go pretty wild when he runs."

Van Laecken, Timmins and several family members and friends plan on watching Muntefering return and race in South Dakota.

Siemers said it's rare to have a competitor attend a meet as an individual and not as a team.

Muntefering realizes the opportunity he's been given, and says he feels extremely blessed. He's coming back by himself, with no coaches or teammates.

When he finally makes his path back to Howard Wood in early May, Muntefering is unsure if this year's race will top the 800 special event from his senior year.

"Maybe that could be topped," Muntefering said. "I don't think the 1,500 is set up as a special race like the 800 is. ... I don't know if there will be a lot of hype around it, and it's on a Saturday afternoon and not under the lights. The atmosphere might not be as cool as it was when I was in high school under the lights.

"I just know I'm going to go for a fast time when I get there and hope for another (personal record) there."

Related Topics: PARKSTON
Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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