Freshman Drew Magaha’s first 800-meter race wearing the striped Penn uniform was a long time coming, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
The highly touted middle-distance runner couldn’t compete in both the cross country and indoor seasons due to injuries, but he made his return to racing on Saturday with a victory in the 800.
This past fall, Magaha injured his knee, which kept him out for a few weeks. Shortly after recovering from that injury, he got osteitis pubis — a stress reaction in the pelvic area usually caused by overuse.
That overuse could have been caused by the increase in weekly mileage that comes with collegiate running. As a result, coach Robin Martin, who works primarily with the middle-distance runners, has altered Magaha’s training to help him recover while also making the transition to college running smoother.
“We still really tailor [his training], just trying to be careful with him. He didn’t do a large volume of work in high school, so it’s a delicate balance,” Martin said. “He’s such a talent that part of you wants to give him work and let him go out and eat the world. But it’s kind of pulling back the reins and making sure that he gets through healthy.”
Magaha couldn’t train with the team for nearly two months, as he experienced pain while running. Instead, he swam and biked mostly on his own to stay in shape while also reducing the stress on his body.
“It actually was kind of a blessing because it made me more accountable for my training and made me organize my schedule in a way that is more conducive to a D1 athlete,” Magaha said.
“He was doing everything he could do to stay in shape. That’s a testament to him and how badly he wants to be good,” Martin said. “You know how talented he is, but that’s just a small piece of what is going to make him special in the end.”
Magaha is no stranger to being sidelined due to injury. He said that he has struggled with multiple injuries and illnesses over the past year and a half, never really getting a chance to race completely healthy since his junior year in high school.
But despite never racing at 100 percent, Magaha still managed to run an incredible 1:48.8 in the 800 his senior year, one of the fastest high school half-mile times ever.
“When he ran 1:48.8 in high school, he called me on his cool down and was like, ‘I’m coming for you next, coach!’ So we’ve always kind of had that sort of relationship,” Martin said.
That relationship has also given Magaha a clear goal to accomplish this season. He says he wants to take down Martin’s personal record of 1:47.1 this spring.
“Over a long period of time, he’s going to be better than I ever was. Maybe he’ll give me one more year before he can hold that over me,” Martin joked. “But he is certainly going to run faster than me very soon.”
While the Philadelphia native did race in a 1000 in the team’s first indoor meet in early December, he made his true college debut in the 800 this past weekend.
“This brought me back to my junior year of high school, when I actually felt good racing and felt good after racing,” Magaha said.
Magaha certainly raced like he was feeling good. He won his race by nearly two seconds and was honored on Monday alongside freshman discus thrower Sam Mattis as co-Ivy Rookies of the Week.
If Magaha’s times on the track and his work ethic to recover from injury are any indicators, his victory on Saturday is only the tip of the iceberg of what he can do in his four years at Penn.
“I think what we’re forming here is pretty special, and it’s just the beginning,” Martin said. “He’s an unbelievable addition and just so fun to work with.”
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