Coming into the men’s cross country Big Ten Championships last year, then-freshman Mike Woods had high hopes. He was aiming to win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award by being the first freshman to finish that race.

The Ottawa native’s goal was understandable, considering that he holds the Canadian Junior 3,000-meter record with a time of 8:16.37 and that he posted a fourth-place finish in the 2003 Canadian Junior Cross Country Championships.

But things didn’t work out the way Woods had hoped.

He finished 23rd overall with a time of 24:54 and was the second freshman to cross the line.

“I was in position with a kilometer left to get in the top 12,” Woods said. “Last year, I wasn’t as fit and as experienced in collegiate cross country.”

Woods didn’t get frustrated after that race, and he isn’t looking to avenge last year’s disappointment this season.

Instead, he has taken the opposite approach.

“Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Woods said. “I wasn’t relaxed for big races. This year, I’m more relaxed and I’m more focused on having fun. I’m just keeping everything in perspective and having a good time.”

But Woods’s calmed attitude shouldn’t be mistaken for a lighter work ethic. He had been running 80 to 90 miles per week early in the season before he lowered that distance to prepare for the Big Ten Championships.

Things are looking even better for Woods in this year’s meet on Sunday. He finished 11th at the NCAA Pre-Nationals on Oct. 15. His personal-best time of 23:58.1 was good enough to earn the top finish for a Big Ten runner in his race, besting runners from Iowa and Minnesota.

“I really don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” Woods said. “I’m going in staying positive. A top-five finish would be great, and that would really set me up for NCAAs.”

The one thing that may slightly concern Woods for the races in Minneapolis is the possibility of a rain-soaked course.

“The weather is not too much of a factor,” Woods said. “I’ve run in up to negative-40 degrees. If it rains, it may affect me. The course will be sloppier and slower. I’m more of track runner, and a wet course favors a longer-distance oriented runner.”

But Woods won’t lose any sleep over the conditions.

“Staying relaxed, running my hardest, and do my best – that’s all I can do,” Woods said. “If I leave it all on the course, I’ll be sitting in a good position.”

In accordance with his plan of staying relaxed and having fun this season, Woods went to the U2 concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills Tuesday night.

If it’s a “Beautiful Day” on Sunday, don’t expect Woods to “let it get away” again.

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