Tallassee runner Woodrow Dean knew he wanted to be a professional runner when he was in the seventh grade, and the rising senior isn’t letting injuries stop him from pursuing his goal.
It hasn’t come easy for Dean, but he has become a household name for cross country runners across the state of Alabama.
Dean, who won the Class 5A cross country state championship last season, was named one of the Top 8 seniors across the country by Milesplit. That came due to his fastest 5K race of 2020, when he completed the race with a 14:48.99 time, over a minute faster than the second-place finisher.
“He’s just one of those kids who runs and runs,” Tallassee cross country coach Danny Worley said. “He’s one of those kids that deserves everything he gets. He trains for it and does what he needs to do. He just outworks everybody. He has just a tremendous work ethic and is always doing something to make himself better.”
Being one of the Top 8 runners in the country and the Class 5A state champion are two very impressive achievements, but the list doesn’t end there for Dean.
Dean recently won the AHSAA North vs. South Cross Country All-Star Event on July 21. It was held at Gateway Park in Montgomery, where Dean won with a time of 15:52.76. He beat the state’s best 19 returning cross country seniors.
The All-Star race was his first since going through two injuries, one to his left knee and one to his right shin.
His knee injury occurred in December and lasted for nearly three months. He tried to do some easy running one on it, but couldn’t, so he eventually had to rest altogether.
After coming back from the knee injury, he sustained a tissue tear in his right shin. Thinking it was just shin splints, Dean tried to run through the injury, but that just made things worse. So he had to take a few more months off from running.
His first time running after his injuries came only six weeks before the All-Star race.
“All I can say is glory to God for it,” Dean said. “If I wasn’t praying through all of this, I wouldn’t be as mentally strong as I am right now. Going through a 6- to 8-month injury is not easy, but knowing I would come back at some point. When I came back, I knew I could still win the big races because of where I was mentally.”
Dean focused on the mental aspect of his running during the injuries. Physically he continued lifting weights, aqua jogging and biking to keep his fitness and strength up.
Now back to full strength, he’s more flexible, he’s stronger, and he’s more focused and isn’t as sidetracked by distractions while he’s running.
Along with those things, he’s back to his normal running regimen.
Dean runs an average of 50 to 60 miles per week. He has three workouts a week, a long run, and then a couple of easy runs in-between those.
His long runs come on Sundays, when he runs for 90 minutes. At an easy pace, he usually covers 12 miles during that time. When he wants to push himself, he runs up to 14 miles.
On Mondays, he usually just runs a 5K to recover from Sunday, while he runs up to nine miles on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are his workout days, where he focuses on speed work, base training and other workouts.
“I’ve always had the dream to one day go pro so that’s really the dream,” Dean said. “Anything to get me there is really what I’m striving for right now.”
Dean has always been a runner. His father, Larry, is also a runner, and got Woodrow into running at an early age. Then around seventh grade, Dean started to realize his true potential as a runner.
He was playing baseball at the time, but decided to focus strictly on cross country and track. That’s paid off for him, especially in cross country. He won the 2021 Class 5A state championship, and finished No. 2 as a sophomore in 2020.
He also runs the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter races on the track team, but COVID-19 shut down his sophomore season and his injuries hindered his efforts this past spring, his junior season.
But now back fully healthy, he is coming back for his senior year trying to add to his trophy case. He doesn’t necessarily worry about placement before races, but instead has specific times he wants to meet each race.
In track, he wants to get under 1:53 in the 800, 4:05 in the 1600, and 8:50 for the 3200. And in cross country, he wants to get under 14:30 this year.
His current time of 14:48.99 is ranked No. 8 in the country among seniors, with the No. 1 time being 14:35.31. If Dean can get under 14:30, he could be the fastest senior runner in the country.
“That’s going to be really hard because of my injury, but with how fast I’m coming back already, it’s doable,” Dean said. “Especially with me being both mentally and physically stronger than I was last year.”