Back to the Track: A Retrospective on High School Running

One year ago today, I crossed the line at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland after the 1600m state championships, officially completing my high school distance running career.

A lot has happened since then: I’ve moved to Illinois, transitioned from high school and college, and taken the longest break from running I’ve had since starting training in spring of my seventh-grade year. My plans to join the club running team changed only two practices in, and in the months since I’ve bounced between frisbee practice, slam dunking workouts, and Pop-a-shot perfection (a far cry from mile repeats).

Video by Andrew Rowan

But the absence has also provided time to recover from a very mentally draining high school running career and explore what I wanted to do as an athlete. And now that I’m back running regularly, due to great weather, quarantine, and the lack of access to gyms, I’ve gained new perspective on why I enjoy distance running. I only run now when I feel like it, and that’s pretty great.

On the one-year anniversary of my final race (and I haven’t raced since then, either), I want to delve back into my cross country career and reflect on those special four years. While I was racing, I kept a journal about all of my races and training (which is now a 270-page paperback memoir titled Oh We Rollin), and recapping races and wrestling with my thoughts through writing helped me digest it all and understand myself better as an athlete. Today, with the distance of a whole year in passing since I last toed the line, I’m exploring the ten lessons I learned as a cross country and track athlete and ten career hypotheticals that could have been particularly impactful. While I wouldn’t want to go back and restart high school again, I really enjoyed my experience and the ability to look back on those four years is something I treasure.

Lessons

Confidence side of sports – One of the most jarring moments of my career came in the calm before the storm in regionals of my sophomore year track, when I was preparing for the mile that could qualify me for the state meet. Coach Redmond had trained me very well and I had done well in the workouts, and I used that foundation to give me optimism and confidence that I could put it together and break 4 minutes and 28 seconds, the qualifying standard. Just before I headed out to the line, I heard one of the elite runners a year older than me mutter to himself how terrible he was going to do. I couldn’t believe it – here was one of the best runners, a guy I looked up to, and he already discounted himself out of the race. And when it came down to that final lap as the pack thinned out, he couldn’t push himself beyond his limits and will himself to a states spot. I learned right there – there are places you can go as an athlete when you believe in yourself that you just can’t with a pessimistic mindset.

But the real lesson came in my final track season. There were good signs that season, like an overall drop in my mile over the first weeks and a fun race in the Devil Run, but I was drained by repeatedly falling short of my expectations. It was the continuation of a two-year trend of disappointing finishes and frustration that other runners in my grade were improving and leaving me in the dust. It all came together in the first days of May. I combusted in the mile time trial, fading badly on my last lap and falling to third place. I couldn’t take any more disappointment, and the next day I resolved to tell Coach Redmond that I just couldn’t take the expectations and the pressure. More than that, I couldn’t take the pain of seeing my confidence erode during the race, and I had little confidence that if I came to the starting line, that I could put together a strong physical and mental performance and simply do well.  This was May of my senior year, supposedly my peak, and I couldn’t break 4:40 in a time trial when my sophomore PR was 4:26.

I didn’t talk to Coach Redmond to ease the burden of high expectations, and I put myself out there to race the distance double at the county championships, the mile and two mile. For the first time all season, I felt physically great in the opening laps of that mile, and my unfounded optimism and confidence helped me to reach a new personal record by less than a tenth of a second and a season record by five seconds. And about an hour later, I lowered my season-best in the two-mile by another ten seconds. With my confidence back, I wanted to put myself on that line and see what I could do instead of dreading the seemingly inevitable failures, and the combination of my physical training and confidence paid off again at regionals in the mile and two mile. By the time of the state championships, I was brimming with certainty in my training and strategy and wanting to be out racing, a world of change from where I had been only a couple weeks earlier. And when the early thinning of the race put the brunt of the pacing work solely on me for the torturous middle four laps of the two-mile, something that would have been an insurmountable obstacle before became a measuring stick and did not faze me. I had the best performance of my career, a school record in the two mile and personal record by almost 10 seconds (and 15 from early May) and, despite my seventh-place finish, I was content with my career and had learned a valuable lesson that I really didn’t deserve.

All that to point to what I learned about sports – so much of it is what you put there in the arena, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s about having that confidence to go attack a challenge instead of being paralyzed by nerves and failures and put everything on the line because it’s sports and you’re confident you can do well. It’s something I saw not only in running but in the professional leagues I watch like the NFL and NBA. That’s the way I measure a good athlete—have you become confident enough to dominate the battle within, the inner game of confidence? After all, all you can really ask for in sports is a chance.

Rewards of investment and meaning – One of the greatest contrasts in my day-to-day between my time running and my months at college without running was the absence in college of these moments of seemingly extreme importance that come up through athletics. Those big races or performances motivate you to stick to a six-days-a-week training regimen, to monitor your eating and sleeping habits during race week, and look at your teammates in the huddle with a sense of shared despair about the overemphasized importance of that meet in your heads. There’s a mountain to climb, a mix of mundane and monumental, and you’re building toward a great goal that will make the hours worth it.

There wasn’t anything that really replaced running in that competitive outlet and dedication (save for fantasy basketball and Pop-a-Shot), and there were not any real huge days of importance other than maybe exam week that really stood out on my schedule as extremely meaningful. I needed the break for competition because my anxieties about athletic failure and the need to measure up to a standard needed time to settle down, but I gained newfound appreciation for putting in the time and effort for a worthwhile pursuit, and then putting it all together on race day and seeing the outcome.

Failure – High school running taught me a lot about failure, whether that meant going out too fast and burning out, missing out on a states qualification, losing to a competitor in a race, or being part of a team and not meeting shared goals. Failure on the state level was particularly impactful in cross country and track. Nothing could petrify me more than the unforgiving hills of the Hereford state course after my freshman year (I seriously had nightmares about it), and to live up to my potential the following year, I had to embrace the exact strategy that had doomed me the year before and have confidence that I was better trained – to look failure in the face. And of my nine appearances in the state meet between cross country and track (1 freshman year, 2 sophomore year, 2 junior year, 4 senior year), I failed in my goals seven of the nine times. I flamed out spectacularly in four of those, faded to some degree in every year in cross country (I placed in 11th in my sophomore year, 39th my junior year and 14th my senior year, despite holding top ten for the majority of the race), and actually met my true time/place goal only in my final two mile race senior year.

The fact that those performances were on the state level was especially crushing, but it taught me to how to use failures constructively, and when they were the very obstacle to overcoming future failures. With distance running, there’s the terrifying fact that you’re going to be exhausting yourself to the limit and don’t know exactly where that perfect balance in pacing between too fast (so you’ll burn out) and not fast enough (so you’ll still have something in the tank you didn’t use), and to combat that I learned that failure is hard, but the reaction can go a long way.

Post-race outlook – I was a mess after my sophomore regionals race. I was jammed – the leader of the second wave of runners for most of the race, and then when runners started passing me in the last mile, I couldn’t reach another gear – and lost to a bunch of runners younger than I was (in fairness, I was also thrown off mentally by the fact that we just ran the counties course backwards). We qualified for states easily, and I was still top ten, but I moped afterward because I felt I was obligated to mope when I didn’t do well, to make sure it didn’t happen again and give the appearance of my competitive edge. Then a lightbulb went off – I could be competitive and still be gracious after disappointments, and my team environment would be so much better if I picked myself off the ground and acted with poise instead of tantrums. I made a point for the rest of my career to cut the act and it served as a foundational point for my career, absent one or two time trials.

That issue came up on that same course for counties my senior year. I had aimed to win counties even before I was out of middle school, and every year I had been planning and visualizing myself crossing the line first. It was incredibly muddy my senior year, the type of mud that engulfs your shoes, but I still kept the faith and kept the mental wherewithal to stick with the leaders, Obsaa and Eldad from Northwood. I wouldn’t give up first. Those two pulled ahead gradually, but in the final half mile I felt I was pulling closer to Eldad. Then, one runner passed me, then another, then another. I sped up for a bit, and then my legs felt entirely cold in the damp and frigid October air. I dropped from third to 13th. Not getting top three was inconceivable to me entering the race, and instead I totally bombed and lost to runners I’d never before imagined as competitors. The aftermath of that race was one of the least frustrating I can remember, though. I knew I gave it my all and went for the prize, and it didn’t work out. Some of my teammates were crushed and I totally sympathized with them and our lost dream of winning the county championship – their sentiment was genuine and not wrong at all. But I also saw value in picking my head up and keeping poise in chaos.  

Taking care of your body – The most straight-forward lesson. During my cross country and track days, I poured a ton into my training. In addition to those six days a week, I took weight training classes two years, read books and watched videos about running, visualized and reflected through writing, and looked for a (legal) edge every way possible (ah yes, beet powder). I knew that if I slipped up in my training, I couldn’t match up to my competitors and perform as I needed to for the team. College life is a lot different, and the mental and physical discipline of the regimen back then is something I look back on with amazement and perhaps a tinge of envy.

Not every race has a moral to the story – This lesson is specifically antithetical to my own prior beliefs. As I said earlier, I reflected a lot on my races through conversations and writing, and I always tried to learn from both disappointments and successes. But sometimes, there just isn’t an answer. I faded all four years at cross country states, and aside for my first year where I just got overwhelmed, there wasn’t a reason I could pinpoint. My training was in the right place, nutrition and sleep was in order, and the strategy was the strategy I needed to have in place to succeed. And it wasn’t like my home course didn’t have the steepest hill of any course in the county. Reading into it didn’t do all that much good either, though, and learning from races only adds anything of value if it helps you race better in the future. Not all races are that way, and some you just have to let go.

Identity – This is a huge divide between high school and college. I was known primarily for running in high school; most of the friends I hung out with on a daily basis at college didn’t know I did high school running until, like, March. That was a very needed change for me. I wrote down specifically going into my freshman year of college that I wanted to be known as someone who was a nice, fun person and not for any athletic aptitude or achievement. To be honest, that’s how I felt in high school too, and I felt like athletics kind of dominated my perception and obscured anything central to me as a person. Now, it’s better to be known for something good than notorious for the bad, and my friends and coaches knew more than just the outside perception, but the burden of being “the runner” weighed on me in freshman year, sophomore year, junior year, and senior year. Freshman year I remember asking older varsity runners how to deflect attention, because I hated having to react to people saying stuff to me related to running. Not having that be the case in college felt freeing. That does not mean I didn’t enjoy running itself or talking about running, but it was an entirely welcome challenge to reinvent myself in college. If someone couldn’t imagine John Riker without running, then did they know John Riker at all? It’s a particularly applicable and interesting lesson for me in sports journalism, where a lot of the job comes in peeling back the layers and seeing athletes as people more than just numbers or interchangeable parts.

Making the most of a moment—This lesson is what I did best as an athlete in high school. I genuinely enjoyed my high school running career and kept a lot of that experience with me, whether through memory, photobooks, running logs, Oh We Rollin, videos, or memorabilia. From the second I stepped on the field at Frost for my first cross country practice, I knew every second would be fleeting. There’s only so much you can enjoy about a blazing hot Dundee workout, but I tried to soak in as much as I could from the meets, the team get togethers, and everything in between. This past year I took a huge mental and physical break from running, and though it’s always fun to imagine being back running one time, I’m really content with having done my career how I feel was the right way and taking advantage of the awesome opportunity of being a high school varsity athlete.

Decision-making – A huge struggle of mine in distance running, and what I suppose is true of most runners, is making hard decisions in the middle of the race when you’re really tired. The iguana brain always wants to quit, but over the course of training, resisting that urge to slow down or stop kind of goes away (this was really huge my sophomore year, where I couldn’t put out of my mind to stop on the side of the course and it drained me a lot during the DCXC and counties meets). That is the relatively easy part, though. Instantaneously making decisions about what to do, when or how to make moves, in the heat of the race when you know you’ll look back on it later is really hard to master. So many times those instincts don’t pay off – I stepped my foot over the line at DCXC sophomore year and lost by less than a tenth of a second because I didn’t lean with the chip that was on my chest, and lost another race in the final steps because I wasn’t sure of the course and ran downhill a little bit and lost momentum. Other times it does, and you build off that momentum.

As I mentioned before, there were also races that I ran that did not pan out, and that made me examine the decision-making in those races. By my senior year, when a lot of my performances were disappointing in my eyes, I came to value the process more and in just going for it. Senior year counties was the best example – I was going to go for it all because I felt I owed myself the opportunity to see what I could do, and I wouldn’t even be content if I placed second but never tried to go for first. Getting the results is great, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the decisions that position you best for success don’t pan out, and that doesn’t mean they’re the wrong choice.

Team mentality – I really loved being part of a team with a shared purpose. You train together, you win and lose together, you eat team meals and bond together. It undeniably adds a dimension to the experience of sports, and without it sports is really an incomplete experience and you miss out on one of the central joys. One of the reasons I stepped away from running (aside from the cold Chicago weather) was because I felt I had fulfilled my obligations to my team (the Wootton Patriots), and when I was racing, one of my greatest motivations was not letting the team down. To the criticism that running is an individual sport, I would argue that who I was as a racer was shaped by my status as a member of a team and by the care and effort of my coaches and teammates. I couldn’t extricate my team out of my performance because they were a driving factor, whether that’s in the huddle, on the sideline of the course or track, or during practice. It’s also literally a team sport by the point totals, and those shared joys are the best (winning counties as a freshman and DCXC as a senior were some of my favorite memories). Being a part of the team made workouts and road runs much more bearable, and the social environment was one of the greatest supports a runner could ask for.

This is the part of the article where I transition from the sentimental lessons I learned along the way to the questions and hypotheticals that I have wrestled with for a long time. I wrote these mostly because it’s a fun way of exploring the four years, and it’s purely speculative. But I still think it’s of some value. Read at your own risk.

Questions

What if I ran more miles over the summer?

I have this in the Oh We Rollin book. Every summer I would ask myself whether I was running enough miles and looking at the other runners. While my training plans were around 30-40 miles a week in the summer, the powerhouse schools trained their athletes at 60-70. There’s obviously a greater chance of injury with more mileage, but there is also a limit how far you can go with limited miles and only so much a runner can do to close a mileage gap. Each of those summers I had to tell myself to trust in Coach Redmond’s experience and running wisdom, but it was undoubtedly hard to not look over my shoulder.

This hypothetical could have two wildly different outcomes. The absolute worst is that I could miss serious time with injury and lose a lot of the joy that comes with running. I was extremely blessed to never miss more than a day or two with an injury, and I can’t even fathom how much worse it would have been if I was relegated to the sidelines. But now for the more interesting scenario. I think I could have become more aerobically strong with more miles, and closer to the level of the top athletes my senior year of high school at the state level (though I don’t even know if this would be enough – my 400 was a mayonnaise-esque 59 seconds and those guys were talented), maybe good enough for top-five in states. I would have won a couple more invitationals, maybe have slightly better PR’s and challenge for a county title or two. There’s also a darker side. I would have been injured at some point in my career and practically, I would have a lot less time. Boosting the mileage might have even been a source of frustration, especially if I did it to match other athletes. Would I want to match their workouts next? Copy their daily habits? The bottom line is that as someone whose strength was in distance and most definitely not in speed, the gains could have been noticeable but it may not have led to the ultimate prize. In almost any scenario, it would have made for a worse cross country experience. I also think it may have made a slight boost in recruiting, but I wouldn’t be in the running to be the next Oregon Ducks track star or anything else of consequence even if I doubled the miles.

What if I had not taken antibiotics at the end of junior cross country? – I tanked from top 10 to 39th in my junior year at states, only a week after getting 3rd at regionals and running a school record at counties. The closest answer I could find to a difference between those two meets and states was the medicine I started taking in late October. During those weeks, my meets were getting better and better and my workouts were getting worse and worse. Over the course of the next couple months it felt like a turning point in my career. Track season was extremely disappointing and only salvaged by a county-wide war of attrition that spring that helped me make states, and I never regained that confidence in myself until the very end of my racing days.

In one scenario the antibiotics didn’t make any difference and my career turns out exactly the same. Let’s go with the more interesting and far less likely one – I actually do get top ten at states and do somewhat well in the NXR meet a couple weeks later. It’s debatable whether I would have been in better shape going into spring track, but if it really did make a difference, then I enter the year a little bit stronger and with a bit more confidence. I’d liken this to my senior and sophomore seasons, where my racing shape went from decent to great over the year, whereas my actual junior went terrible to good. I’d venture to say that I set PR’s in my two events, qualify for states, and even challenge in the wide-open mile at states. I might get more notice from colleges with better junior times as well. But I don’t think any of this would have elevated me above the guys who would win state championships my senior year and made any substantial results, and my final month of senior year wouldn’t have felt so sweet if not saturated by the confidence slump of the last two years.  

What if I had won DCXC outright during my sophomore year?

In DCXC sophomore year, I traded places with Whitman’s Aaron Bratt for the last half-mile about ten different times, including three times in the last fifty meters. As we broke for the finish line, I told myself to stick my foot across the line to make sure I won the contested finish. If I “crossed” the line first then I won, right? The split-second decision cost me, as sticking my foot out actually arched my shoulders backward and opened Aaron up to take the win (it was one he deserved for his effort, certainly). I scored a PR and school record, but was kicking myself for not winning the race and never did win a big time meet until my senior year.

But if I had pulled it out? Well, DCXC after that race was already jubilation. I got more hugs from people on the team than I’d had in my life combined, and much more attention. People blew that September meet way out of proportion, it was almost dreamlike. The time obviously wouldn’t be much different, and what made that race special, being in the zone and scoring a personal best, wouldn’t have changed. It would have been cool to be on the stage being interviewed, and my mind would’ve been entirely blown. But in the ensuing weeks when the appearance of glamour was torn away – the course was measured at 3.07 miles and the running community didn’t take the meet as seriously, all of the athletes had to give their prize bags back to keep amateur status and the actual postseason meets proved what really mattered — not all that much would’ve changed. And from that meet, I learned to always lean forward, something I did in every meet after that. Those couple inches went a long way.

What if we had won counties during my junior year?

My freshman year was incredible. The varsity team looked really good and blew our competition away, and around halfway through the season, I was like, “I think this is the kind of team that could actually win stuff.” And we won the school’s first county title by a wide margin, setting off a celebration that was highlighted by Coach Redmond dancing to whatever music the DJ was blaring. We also pulled out a super-close regionals finish a couple weeks later. One of my favorite moments ever.

But that was my first taste of cross country. I knew way more and winning just meant more as I grew older, and we had a pretty good shot to win counties again during my junior year. These were all guys in my grade and the grade above, and I now understood that winning wasn’t so easy. We were projected by the fans and experts to be around the 8-10 spots, lower than even our disappointing fifth place the year before. Instead, we balled out. Three of us, myself, Mitchell, and Joe scored epic PR’s and placed higher than expected, and we came within 15 points of beating a much better Whitman team that practically lived in the top 25. If we had made up those 15 points with our 4 and 5 runners? It may be asking for too much already to have Mitchell and Joe run so well, but taking 15 spots between our other runners was reasonable.

I would have loved nothing more than this to come to fruition. It would have been one of the greatest upsets in counties history and the other guys could say that they were a part of the winning varsity squad. That validation would’ve been a huge confidence boost for all of us, and the shared memory of winning when it meant that much and with a score that tight over our biggest rival would have defied words. I don’t think it would have affected our performances at regionals and states all that much, but to bring that trophy back to our school and our coaches would’ve meant a ton. We did get a DCXC Invitational team title the next year though, so I guess that sort of makes up for it.

What if senior year had drier courses?

During junior year at counties, I ran a huge 5K PR in the mid-15s, and the following year I was aiming for something really special. Instead, almost every race we ran was damp, from shoe-soaking counties to muddy DCXC to an absolute monsoon at my final XC race, NXR. Instead of scoring PR’s, I didn’t break 16 minutes in the 5K and didn’t come close to my personal record. My counties time was slower than my time on the course as a freshman by a significant margin.

Place-wise, I don’t think the mud mattered all that much. I would’ve done about the same in DCXC and NXR meets, and while I would’ve probably been more tempered in counties, I can’t say that it would’ve given me the win. I would have certainly broke 16 minutes multiple times, but even then breaking my PR was a reach. It’s a tantalizing hypothetical, but one that I’m fine living with.

What if I had taken the first mile slower in senior cross-country counties?

On the mud-soaked counties course my senior year, I took it out with the top guys and ran the first mile in 4:59, which translates to 4:40s on a drier course. I wanted to win, and instead I petered out and fell to 13th. If I didn’t stick with those guys for the first mile and tried to make up ground, would it have turned out differently?

Well, I would’ve gotten third place for sure. With better pacing I could’ve run a more even race and held off guys I’d gone up against in other races. I wouldn’t have gotten first, as Obsaa was in way better shape than I was and would’ve created a gap I couldn’t close. But could I have passed Eldad, who stuck to Obsaa and faded a bit late but kept second? That would depend on whether he stuck to Obsaa because he thought I was going to stay with them. If that was true and I was with the chase pack, he might have lagged off Obsaa, run a more even race, and stayed out of my grasp. If not, maybe I do get second. But as I said earlier, I was going for the win, and I was fine afterward with my process and wouldn’t have even been content with second place. Once the sting wore off, this one wasn’t such a burning question.

What if I had attended Richard Montgomery?

Here’s the case for attending RM. I continue my magnet school learning instead of dropping out in sixth grade and do the program at RM, eventually finding running as something to do in high school. The difference once I’m part of cross country at RM is that I’m teammates with Rohann, a TikTok celebrity now but also Virginia’s top runner now and a MoCo legend, my middle school archrival Mark Unger, and perhaps the best speed-distance talent I’ve seen in Garrett Suhr in the year below me. Our distance squad had guys more inclined for the 4×800 (which I fell far behind quickly) and I was a freshman when that year’s famed seniors were at the peak of their powers, so having a teammate who would challenge me every workout would be an interesting change.

For one, I wouldn’t have had a better coach than Coach Redmond, and I wouldn’t have had a better experience than I did with the Wootton team. I think that would be impossible, and I don’t say that out of disrespect to RM. As a racer, I think I would have been faster especially with strategy with teammates in meets, but I would have grinded myself out with insecurities about being the top runner at practice and possibly messed up workouts. I don’t think it would vault me into the upper echelon of the guys competing my senior year, and the difference in training certainly could have resulted in more injuries. I would have worn a much cooler Rocket singlet and supported a superior football team, but I’d leave that trade on the table.

What if coronavirus had ended my senior track season?

One I’ve really thought about recently. My character arc (borrowing from my film studies minor) during senior track plays so much into how I see my whole career, and not having that last redemptive moment would have been devastating. Sure, I didn’t reach the top five in my two-mile race, but I conquered myself and won that inner game of confidence after all of the struggles. I also would’ve ended on a mediocre indoor states race and would not have had the opportunity to run in the Devil Race, one of the greatest distance running inventions of all-time. I would have had great moments over my career and enjoyed the experience overall, but I would’ve seen my career as a relative downward arc that didn’t live up to the initial joys. Knowing how invested I was in running, it’s not hyperbole to say that I would’ve been traumatized by the experience of not having a senior track season after all of the hype and preparation, and I would have really been done with running after that break. Of all of the fun senior things I got to do that spring like prom, my last day of school and graduation, states by far meant the most to me. I would’ve come to terms eventually with ending on a sour note, but the aftermath would not be pretty. My condolences go out to all of those seniors who did lose their track seasons this year – that really, really sucks.

What if I had not run in high school?

Alright, so we’re taking running out of the equation. I’ll also take out basketball, which my eighth grade year really proved to me that I didn’t have a serious future in the sport. As far as other school activities, I would have still done the school newspaper Common Sense, taken the same classes, and been involved in my church and the FCA chapter at school. A lot would have changed.

My friendships would have changed. I’d probably still know my best friend Joe Poho from newspaper, but overall the bonds forged between teammates through all those years of training would have been lost. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to find another sport that leaned into my strengths, either. Something that was special about distance running is that my effort was proportional to my performance, or at least more than in basketball for me. Baseball wouldn’t have been an option given my lack of experience, and my weeklong lacrosse career wasn’t especially promising in sixth grade. Tennis, rec sports or weight training are the most likely options, though I doubt I could’ve made the competitive Wootton tennis team even with practice.

The interesting option is football. My mom wouldn’t let me play growing up, but if I’d really pestered during high school, maybe I could have filled in and experienced what it’s like to play under the Friday Night Lights. If I’d bulked up, I could have played quarterback at some point and lived out my childhood dream of beating Churchill. Of all of the hypotheticals on this list, it’s also the one where I’d most certainly be injured. I’m also not sold on the community being a better fit for me than running. In short, high school would have been extremely unbearable without distance running, and I would have had a much different understanding of myself and a less-than-fully-realized competitive mentality.

What if I was someone faster?

In running it’s very easy to look sideways. I did it when comparing mileage over the summer, and I certainly monitored race results of my rivals during cross country and track season. Several of them are running Division 1 cross country and have county and state titles to their names. Eldad even lapped me in the two-mile during indoor states.

I don’t think it would have mattered, and of all of the athletes I competed against, I had the rare opportunity to compete injury-free for four years at the varsity level, for an awesome and caring coaching staff and with a fun team. I had a lot of ups and downs and times where I was really frustrated and lost, but I ended up in a place where I could claim victory – not over all other competitors like some of my rivals, but on the fears and mental roadblocks that had been holding me down. Even if I was faster, I’d always be measuring myself up against the faster level, and where I finished my career I was at a point where I could find contentment that is rare in the heat of competition.

I wouldn’t trade all the memorable road runs, banquet videos, spaghetti dinners, running conversations, strategy sessions, friends, struggles and experiences with any other runner in the state, no matter how fast. Honestly. High school cross country and track was a fantastic experience. It’s one that is in the rearview mirror now and one that I look back on occasionally with a smile, and I’m content being where I am with that as a chapter of my life. Save for a few hypotheticals, there aren’t a lot of ways it could have been better, and I am so grateful for all of the teammates, coaches, and competitors who made it so special. I may be onto Pop-a-Shot domination now, but it’s always fun now and again to look back on the Glory Days.

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