Cross country races are awesome. Each one is unique, with different terrains, competitors, and challenges. They also maximize the team aspect of distance running and combine individual and team strategy as well as training and talent to make for incredible races. Sadly, I am now one month removed from my high school cross country career, but to commemorate all the good memories, I have compiled a list of what I consider my best 15 races from my career. This is not a list of my 15 best times, but rather the result that best maximized my potential and/or meant a lot to me. I’ve also taken into account that I have dissected my races from my later years much more thoroughly and critically than in my freshman year. Enjoy!
Note: I’ve added the photos in spite of my always terrible race face because it’s fun seeing the progression over time and the memories.
Honorable Mention: 4A State Championships, Senior (14th, 16:40)
This was my best time and almost best place on the course, and from a mental standpoint it was one of the best races of my career. I made strong moves in the middle mile and stayed in sixth up until just under 2.5 miles, but a barrage of runners sent me out of the top ten and I was passed at the line, not only bumping me from 13th to 14th but also knocking our team performance from 8th to 9th. But given that it was my best time on the course, the strong execution of the first two miles, and the memories of running with my team together for the last time, this race deserves mention.
- Montgomery County Championships, Sophomore (6th, 16:17)
After crossing the line, I initially viewed this race as a disappointment because of a stagnant first two miles where I mentally lapsed, but it was one of the most consistent efforts of my career and ended with a strong kick. Plus, improving from 21st to 6th and 16:44 to 16:17 over the span of a year were positives, and I was able to nab the top underclassman spot in the standings.
- DCXC Invite, Freshman (4th, 17:18)
Unlike my other races freshman year where I was competing against runners two or three years older than me, this time I was matched up against guys my age. It was a test of my limited tactical abilities, and though I made a strong move to break away from the pack at the two mile, I fell out of first in the final 300 meters.
- Wolverine Run, Junior (2nd, 16:40)
Probably the most up-and-down race of my career, I brashly took over the lead after the first mile only to concede it a half-mile later, then took the lead again going into the final 400. In the turn before the last stretch, I didn’t know where to turn and added distance by going a bit down a hill, and I was passed by a fabulous kick from the eventual first place winner, who won by fractions of a second.
- 4A West Regional Championship, Freshman (17th, 17:14)
Having Regionals at High Point Farm, also the site of the Coyote Run that year, helped me build off what I learned in the first go-around and apply it the second time. Though my confidence was poor heading into the race, I performed better than I expected and ran alongside my teammate Cliff for the majority of the race. We also won the region for the first time, an added bonus.
- DCXC Invite, Senior (3rd, 16:34)
My time was much slower than two of my previous DCXC meets, but the extremely muddy conditions obscured what was a very solid effort. I did not challenge for the lead in this one as I let the top two guys get away at the mile, so I had the brunt of the work in the last two miles isolated in third. Winning the overall boys’ title made the day really sweet.
- Glory Days Invitational, Sophomore (19th, 16:50)
This race had two things going against me- the muddy conditions and my slow start (both of which exacerbated the other). But it was great fun moving up in the standings and I had a strong final two miles to place 19th in a highly competitive invitational. The best feat that day was probably just staying on my feet on the hilly and torn-up terrain.
- 4A West Regional Championship, Junior (3rd, 16:48)
Coming off a career-best performance two weeks prior, I was hoping to capitalize from the group-pack mentality once again and possibly challenge for first place, plus avenge my Wolverine Run defeat from the same Watkins Mill course. A loss of focus in the middle mile kept me near the back of the lead pack for most of the race, but I found a gear that I didn’t expect in the final mile and passed five runners in one of my better kicks.
- NXN Southeast Regional, Senior (61st, 16:07)
My final cross country race was my most cross country moment- fighting up a muddy uphill alongside dozens of runners, drenched in freezing rain, summoning every ounce of energy left for a last kick. The conditions were among the worst I had experienced, but I was more composed in the final two miles than in any race of the season and I enjoyed and savored this one the most.
- Frank Keyser Invitational, Senior (4th, 15:30)
The one not muddy race of my senior year, Keyser produced my best time of the season and was the best of my three senior invitationals. I competed against a really talented field and was unexpectedly in first for the duration of the second mile, then got passed by four runners. A late surge helped me into fourth, and looking across the whole duration of the race it was a strong effort that gave me momentum going into counties.
- Track and Trail Invitational, Freshman (7th, 17:01)
This was my “welcome to cross country race”. It was my first invitational and first time competing against a huge invitational field, and I moved up throughout the race well and hit a time that I definitely did not expect in 17:01. Given my obvious lack of experience, it was as optimal a result as I could’ve hoped for.
- Montgomery County Championships, Freshman (21st, 16:44)
My proudest moment was winning the team counties championship my freshman year, and each member of the varsity had arguably their best race of the season. I came in with a positive mentality and made moves throughout the race, and it was the only time my freshman year that I didn’t fade to some degree in the final kick. Reaching the individual milestone of breaking 17 was awesome, but the team performance was even better.
- 4A State Championships, Sophomore (11th, 16:47)
This effort was the first time that I felt like I conquered Hereford. The previous year, I was killed by the hills and finished 92nd, and I believed that succeeding on the states course was nearly impossible. Complicating matters, my race strategy coming in was shot down by my coach on the starting line, and I had to switch to a mentality requiring the exact plan that doomed me the year before. I was in seventh for a good part of the race, and though I faded just out of the top ten at the end and lost vision multiple times in the final half mile, I was jubilant that I’d finally notched an “A” performance on the sport’s biggest stage.
- 4A West Regional Championship, Senior (1st, 16:47)
The day before regionals, Coach Redmond asked us for our goals. After everyone detailed their complex strategies, I responded with a simple “win the race” so convicted and succinct that my teammates chuckled. My strategy was to tune out and stick with the group for the first two miles to conserve energy, then pull away in the infamous Watkins Mill inclines. The plan worked out better than I imagined, and I won first in a non-divisional meet for the first time in my career. The race didn’t require my best effort, but it couldn’t have gone any better.
- DCXC Invite, Sophomore (2nd, 15:37)
The middle two miles of DCXC were nothing special – in fact, I was totally zoned out and tempted to stop for the middle stretches. But I stayed with the lead pack of five runners, including eventual state champ Obsaa Feda, until a tree in the last 600 meters where I planned to make a move, and I composed myself and made perhaps the gutsiest move of my career from fifth into first. But Whitman’s Aaron Bratt wouldn’t give it up without a fight, and we traded leads no fewer than ten times in the last bit. I entered the zone, a state in which I felt totally detached from the pain of my legs and was going into an absolutely crazy kick. I looked like a kid possessed – I just wanted to win that bad. In the final 10 meters, I pulled ahead but in an effort to cross the line first I stretched my leg across and tapped the ground. Unfortunately, the chip was on my chest and I wound up losing by less than .01 of a second, but I scored a 15:37 3.08-mile run and the school record. I got more hugs after that race than any other race of my career. A great memory for sure.
- Montgomery County Championship, Junior (5th, 15:39)
The closest to perfection of any race I’ve ever run. The race featured an unprecedented front pack of 9 or 10 runners through the first two miles, and the pace was incredibly fast. As runners at the front of the pack exchanged leads, I stuck around ninth or tenth with the sole goal of sticking with the pack. In the final half mile, I moved from ninth into seventh, then moved up two places on an uphill before the final 200 meters. In the final meters, just on the heels of fourth place, my legs started to wobble but I managed to get across the line in fifth with a massive personal record of 15:39. The time blew my expectations out of the water, and my team’s second place performance added to the magnitude of the moment. From both physical and mental standpoints, I would consider this my greatest cross country performance of my career.
I’m ready for track.