Cristian Soratos, Runner

Former Montana State standout Cristian Soratos has returned to train professionally in Bozeman after a six-month stint in California.

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Living in picturesque Big Bear Lake, California and descending the San Bernardino Mountains paints an exciting picture for a young professional runner.

Big Bear Track Club enticed Cristian Soratos to leave his trusted Montana State training ground last March. The team attracts national attention with its unique approach to practices. Athletes live at 7,000 feet above sea level and strenuous workouts take place an hour and a half west in Los Angeles.

It all seemed like a perfect fit for the former Bobcats great, who holds outdoor records in the mile and 1,500 meters and once was considered one of the country’s most exciting athletes.

This was to be a happy homecoming for the Salinas native. This was supposed to elevate his training, career and ambitions.

“It’s funny,” Soratos said Tuesday, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

He resented the way the team was directed and refused to represent it in races. Soratos lasted just a month there, but a six-month lease confined him to Big Bear Lake. He returned to Bozeman in October, and Soratos soon returned to his elite form.

He posted his first personal best since his senior year Saturday at New York City’s Millrose Games. Soratos, running in the ‘B’ invitational mile, crushed his competitors in 3 minutes, 54.23 seconds, five seconds clear of the field.

That time would have been good for second later in the famed Wanamaker Mile.

“As a runner, when it’s been that long (since a PR), you start wondering, ‘Am I ever going to get back there? Was that just a one-time thing?’” Soratos admitted.

“When you do it, it’s a reminder that I can keep getting better. As happy as I am with the PR, it’s more that I know I can get even faster with this. I have more to go.”

Soratos signed a pro contract with adidas following graduation in June 2015, but struggled adjusting to professional life in his first year in Bozeman under Bobcats distance coach Lyle Weese.

Soratos weathered a hectic 2016 in which he missed running in the U.S. Olympic Trials by one-hundredth of a second. He doesn’t regret moving west, though.

While there he met current girlfriend and Nike runner Stephanie Brown, who also acrimoniously split with the club. The former four-time All-American at Arkansas remained with Soratos, and the duo found a training group.

“We met more people who had been kicked off the team who trained with us,” said Soratos, who obtained workouts from Weese during that stretch. “As bad as it was, we met so many great people because of it.”

Brown received instruction from Weese, too, and it helped her in the Olympic Trials. She competed in the 1,500 final, finishing 10th.

The success convinced her to follow Soratos to Montana.

“It wasn’t hard to get back into the flow of things and the workouts,” said Soratos, who’s a Bobcats volunteer coach along with Brown. “The biggest change for me is being a little bit more removed from the team. I still train with them and run with them, but having to take myself more as an assistant coach who’s just training as an athlete is a little bit different.”

Weese has noticed a more mature Soratos. The coach said his pupil’s first year as a professional was a struggle to live up to expectations.

“It seemed like every workout last year wasn’t quite enough,” Weese said. “Even though he was running really fast in workouts, he wasn’t getting everything he could from them because he didn’t have peace of mind.”

The stage isn’t too big anymore. Two weeks ago, Soratos competed in the New Balance Boston Grand Prix and ran a 3:57. It was a tactical race where he finished with energy left.

“I’m definitely more comfortable and I’m more confident in races and my ability, how they are run and how I need to run it,” Soratos said. “You can’t focus on anyone else in the race. That’s what kind of gets you doubting yourself or worrying.”

He’s still as boisterous and animated as ever. MSU head coach Dale Kennedy said Soratos’ enthusiasm has impacted the current squad. He helped pace junior Diego Leon to a sub-four-minute mile during Feb. 4’s home meet.

“He’s really inspirational and motivational for our program,” Kennedy said.

Soratos hopes to sustain his momentum in two weeks at the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Michael Appelgate can be reached at mappelgate@dailychronicle.com or 582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @mappelgate206.

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