Kerem Ayhan rounds the corner during an indoor track race, the senior finished third in the 800m at the Patriot League championships last spring. (courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Track senior reflects on record-breaking performance


Senior Kerem Ayhan’s pre-race routine consists of listening to Kid LAROI songs and visualizing what he will endure for the next two minutes and 30 seconds on the track. 

Once the gun sounds, Ayhan bursts off the starting line at a pace he knows he cannot hold for the full 1,000 meters, something he calls “riding the wave.” 

Once the wave wears off, Ayhan said the pain between the first and second minute of the race is so intense that he cannot recall much. During the final 30 seconds, he tunes back in and fights the anticipated mental battle.

“For those last 30 seconds, all I think about is the work I’ve put in,” Ayhan said. “I ask myself, ‘What have I been working towards?’ After that, it’s all form, focus, pain.”

Despite his 6-foot-4-inch frame and history of long-distance mountain biking, Ayhan said he credits his mentality for his record-breaking performance at the Villanova Invitational on Jan. 21. His time of 2:24.41 is the fastest 1,000-meter race in Lehigh track and field history.

Ayhan beat out previous record-holder Kyle Burke’s time by two-tenths of a second in a race. The other two athletes with personal records in the race are senior cross country teammates Connor Melko and Jacob Martinez. 

“I’m still shocked when I hear the number,” Ayhan said. “It just still sounds crazy to me. Looking back at the race, it’s hard to remember it all just because the pain is so strong. It’s a wonderful feeling. I love the pain.” 

After a partial tear to his meniscus in January 2022, Ayhan said he thought his career was over. Throughout the month, he was in and out of the Sports Medicine Office, and during practice, he had no other middle distance runners with whom to train. 

Ayhan said watching his teammates work well together while he had no one to practice with was difficult.

Melko, who also ran his best ever 1,000 meter time in the race, said Ayhan has been taking his transition back from injury “in stride.”

“We knew he had the talent from the beginning,” Melko said. 

Even though Ayhan only began practicing with the cross country team in late winter of 2022, he was able to have his best spring season at Lehigh so far. 

He said his growth comes from the camaraderie and competition exhibited by the men’s cross country team. 

“Once you get enveloped in that group, you have no choice but to perform well,” Ayhan said.

Ayhan said he is used to thriving in the face of friendly competition, as he and his two brothers would challenge one another on the track, mountain biking paths and soccer field growing up. 

He said he gives his family a great deal of credit when it comes to his success, citing his brother as the person who taught him how to run and take advantage of his capabilities.

Ayhan said his parents immigrated to the United States from Turkey in their 20s and fought to give him and his three brothers the opportunities they have received.

“My mother didn’t speak English, but she was still going through med school, all the while raising my older brother and living in the slums,” Ayhan said. “It’s unbelievable what they’ve been able to accomplish since they’ve been here.”

The senior said he is now focusing on what the indoor and spring track seasons will look like for him and his team.

With the winter track season underway, Ayhan said he is expecting the young talent to impact the team’s performance this year. 

Ayhan instituted a five-minute talk exercise at the end of cross country practice to bring the team closer together. 

“I think I can speak for the whole team when I say he’s like a big brother to all of us,” freshman runner Daniel Malatesta said. “He brings a lot of experience and energy to the team, and we really look up to him.”

Ayhan said he takes pride in his leadership role and has faith that the freshman class will grow into a strong contender for the Patriot League Title.

He said once his Lehigh career comes to an end, he plans to work for a general contracting company in Boston. However, he plans to continue running. 

“I’ll never stop running,” Ayhan said. “Whether that means professionally or as a hobby, running is a big part of who I am. I run because I want to show my family as they have shown me that nothing is impossible.”

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.

Leave A Reply