The Running Man: Darien's Ostberg makes big strides for Stanford track team
Alex Ostberg is quickly rising to the top of Stanford University’s elite track and field team. And he’s just getting started.
The former standout Darien High School distance runner recently earned his first college All-America honors in cross country, and has now set his sights on making the NCAA outdoor championships this spring.
“It’s all a progression in my mind, so I’d like to get a little bit better every season, and a little bit better every year,” he said.
Ostberg graduated from DHS in 2015 as a high school All-American and FCIAC and state champion, notably running the fastest 5,000 in the nation as a junior in 2014. In addition to his running success, Ostberg was near the top of his high school class academically, and served as an emergency medical technician for Post 53. He was heavily recruited by top schools, including Harvard and Princeton, but ultimately chose Stanford, mainly because the school competes in the ultra-competitive PAC-12.
“If I wanted to take the next step and be good at a national level, I thought that I would have an easier time doing it at Stanford,” he said.
Once at college, however, the success he had enjoyed in high school was put on hold. He was “redshirted,” a routine practice for distance runners so that they can hone their skills and compete once they are more seasoned.
Ostberg later suffered a stress fracture to his femur, a common injury among runners, which added to the strain of adjusting to a new environment and training regime.
“Alex was one of the best distance runners in high school,” said Stanford assistant track coach Dylan Sorensen, “but fortunately for us, we have one of the best programs in the country in distance running, so everyone we recruit is a total stud.”
Ostberg was not discouraged.
“For some people, it can be a little bit daunting; you’re used to being the No. 1 guy in high school and you go onto a team where you’re not even close to being the No. 1 guy,” he said. “As long as you hold on to the dream that you will be on top one day, then you’ll kind of work your way up the ranks. And if you compare yourself to the people that are a little bit better than you, then you are always striving to improve and be better.”
Now Ostberg’s determination is starting to pay off. As a redshirt sophomore this past November, Ostberg placed 16th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, earning All-America honors as well as a spot on the All Pac-12 first team. Looking toward the spring track season, he is focused on the 5,000, which he considers to be his strongest event. His best time is currently 13:59; he said his primary goal is to run 13:40 or faster this year, and compete in the NCAA outdoor championships, where Sorensen thinks he could be among the top finishers.
“It would not be shocking to see him at the end of the race at the front of the 5,000 in the national championship,” Sorensen said.
While his current focus is on his next two years of eligibility at Stanford, Ostberg has not ruled out running professionally in the future, or even running in the Olympics. His father is originally from Norway, and Ostberg holds dual citizenship, leaving open the possibility that he could run for either the American or Norwegian team. It’s not an unrealistic goal according to Sorensen.
“I’m sure that if you are talking to whoever his coach is 12 years from now, he will still be talking about Alex doing great things,” he said.
And that’s not just because of his athletic ability. Reflecting on his career at DHS, his high school coach Tyson Kaczmarek said that Ostberg is one of the strongest runners mentally that he has ever coached.
“His improvement curve is unreal,” Kaczmarek said. “He approaches every race the same; he never lets the moment get too big.”
Sorensen described Ostberg’s character as the factor that sets him apart.
“He’s an incredible role model and a great leader,” he said. “Everyone looks up to him because every day he lives the right way. That’s easy to say, but hard to do, especially at Stanford. It can be mind-boggling how good everyone is at everything and easy to feel inadequate, but the people who thrive have to be fully invested and control what they can control. Alex does a really good job at recognizing that.”
For now, Ostberg remains focused on one thing: continuing to improve, race by race.
“I didn’t begin to have much success until arguably the end of last year and into this fall,” he said. “There were definitely times that I was questioning whether I could get back up to that potential that I knew I had within me, but it just took time and it took learning. It was awesome to experience the kind of success that I knew I could accomplish, but it just took time and a lot of perseverance and determination to ultimately get where I ended up.
“And honestly, the journey is far from over.”