Former rivals are training partners

Special to Tribune Chronicle Alan Burns from Boardman and Ryan Sullivan, not pictured, from Howland are old rivals from high school and are now in their final season for Youngstown State.

YOUNGSTOWN — Alan Burns and Ryan Sullivan. It seems the two have been at Youngstown State for some time, teammates and friends even longer.

Burns is a Boardman High School graduate, while Sullivan was a standout for Howland High School.

The pair came to Youngstown State as two of the area’s best distance runners. That combination has paid off for the Penguin program, producing two Horizon League cross country championships — including this past fall.

Injuries plagued the pair during their senior seasons. It wasn’t the way either one wanted to end their respective careers. The NCAA granted each an extra year, both coming back for fifth seasons with the YSU program.

Both have thrived with their opportunities after the 2017-18 season was plagued with injuries. The indoor and outdoor track seasons were nothing but a distant memory.

Special to Tribune Chronicle Ryan Sullivan from Howland and Alan Burns from Boardman (not pictured) are old rivals from high school and are now in their final season at Youngstown State.

That changed this season. Sullivan ran 10,000 meters in a time of 29:38.15 at the Raleigh (N.C.) Relays.

“That’s definitely like a dream come true,” said Sullivan of running with Burns. “It’s been a long five years. I think a lot of people don’t realize that Alan and I came out here our freshman year and we joined the program. We had great mentors and everything.

“We really took off our sophomore year and (personal records) across the board. Between both of us with injuries and little nicks and knacks here and there, we really haven’t been that healthy and been able to put together races. It’s been really exciting this year.

“We took a fifth year and were able to come back and beat some of those PRs from our sophomore year. It’s definitely been a long three years, but it’s been exciting.”

Burns couldn’t think of anything better than running with Sullivan.

“It’s worked to a T, knock on wood for that,” said Burns at the April 5 Northeast Ohio Quad Meet. “Everybody saw how cross country went. We had a dominant performance. We went right off that high and went into indoor with it and ran a fantastic indoor season which was really cool to have. Ryan wasn’t there for it, but it was fun being up there, putting out for the team. Hopefully we’re going to do the same for outdoor.”

Burns is trying to make his way to the East Region in Jacksonville, Florida. He set a personal record at the NE Ohio Meet with 14:39.36 in the 5,000-meter race, but it’s the steeplechase for which he’s trying to qualify to Jacksonville, a step before the nationals. He’s run 9:24.45 in the 3,000-meter event, but needs to drop more time. Burns is coming off an ankle injury during indoor season, but is healthy now.

He’s waiting for things to come together and warmer weather to run the event. Burns ran during some brisk weather at the NE Ohio Meet.

“We try to head south to nicer weather because it’ll be a little chilling some times on a cold day and you’re jumping into some water,” Burns said. “The goal is to keep one foot dry, one foot wet if you do it right. Hopefully not being too wet is the goal there.”

Despite the weather, it’s always great to get a training run in Mill Creek Park.

“We’re definitely blessed to have Mill Creek Park,” Burns said. “I think a lot of people in the area don’t know how beautiful it is. For us to have it, it’s fantastic. You can get flat runs in, hilly runs in, trails if you want it. It’s definitely a key factor to help us train and be the team that we are.”

There’s nobody he’d rather train with than Sullivan.

“It’s grown into a family situation, more than just a friendship or team,” Burns said. “When we do our workouts, we say, ‘C’mon training partner let’s go,’ because we do everything together which is exciting. That’s what helped us have so much success and have someone as talented as Ryan push us along and help us out.”

It used to be a rivalry with Burns and Mark Hadley for Sullivan as a high school runner at Howland.

“My dad always used to joke with me,” Sullivan said. “You’ve been running against that Mark and Alan all the time. I get home from a run and he’d be like, ‘How many miles have you run? I bet Alan is running more. You better get out there.’ A friendly rivalry from high school to becoming teammates has been great.”

There’s nothing more Sullivan would like than to see Burns travel with him to Jacksonville for one last race about a month from now.

“I’m really excited to see him go out for a regional time, too,” Sullivan said. “If we could go, that would mean the world, be training partners one more time for one last meet, go down in sunny Florida and just enjoy it.”