Distance runners a support system

Back when I first started running, there was one thing that I absolutely loved about the sport: the mutual support that everyone gave each other. In just about every single race I’ve run in high school, a stranger from a different team has shook my hand and wished me luck.

At the 2012 Hancock County Cross-Country Meet, I pulled a hamstring and fell at the conclusion of the race. Two kids from Greenfield-Central took the time to pick me up and carry me back to my tent. In distance running, everyone respects and supports each other, regardless of how fast or slow their competition is.

I took up running during my freshman year, after traveling to my cousin’s cross-country meet. After watching it, I realized how foolish I was not to run. I immediately emailed my school’s cross-country coach when I got home, and since the numbers were short at Eastern Hancock, he wasn’t reluctant to let me join the team.

At the end of the season, with just about a month of training, I went on to become our top runner at the sectional. I was determined to beat our top guy, so I stuck with him the entire time and beat him by five seconds, with a new personal record of 20 minutes, 45 seconds, a full 1:19 faster than I had ever run. I sometimes wish I could use that same mentality in my races today.

I was born with a tumor underneath my kneecap, which also wrapped around my knee. I’ve had three surgeries, countless hours of rehab, physical therapy and X-rays. All of this happened before I was 12. Now, I’m proud to say I’ve become one of the fastest runners in Eastern Hancock history. In the fall, I was just nine seconds away from cracking the program’s all-time top 10.

My cross-country season ended when I fell near the finish line at the Rushville Regional, short of advancing to the semistate. I was attempting to become the second male Eastern Hancock runner to get to semistate. I’ve signed my letter of intent to run at Indiana University East, and am a two-time all-conference runner/regional qualifier.

Starting this month, in my senior year of track, I hope to become a conference champion in the 3,200 meter run, advance to the regional with my 4×800 relay team, and bring my 3,200 time into the 10:20s.

The challenges that I’ve faced with running and the success I have had have taught me so much. I have learned not only a lot about the sport itself, but it has also helped me learn more about myself.

I’ve learned that, to be a distance runner, you have to have guts. I have so much more heart than I’ve ever given myself credit for. When you get to the last half mile of a cross-country race, and you’re mentally and physically drained, your mind starts telling you to slow down and quit. The only thing stopping you from doing what your mind tells you to do is your heart.

When I ran at the Asics-Marion Cross-Country Invitational last year, my ultimate goal was to break 18 minutes for the first time. When I approached the 4,000 meter mark, I passed a clock that read “14:30.” I knew that if I wanted to break 18 minutes, I was going to have to run my final kilometer in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, something my mind didn’t like the thought of.

Sure enough, after hearing the roar of the crowd and seeing all of the runners in front of me that were falling off, I took off sprinting. Not only did I break 18 minutes, but I closed the last kilometer in 3:14, running that new personal record of 17:44. I later found out that I placed 24th, which meant that I passed 28 runners in the final mile. Going up on the awards stand and getting a medal at one of the biggest meets in the state was definitely the highlight of my high school cross-country career.

Like I said in the beginning of this column, cross-country is known for its exceptional sportsmanship. Over the years, I’ve seen remarkable examples of that sportsmanship that makes the sport so respectable.

While I’m starting to notice changes in the way runners behave themselves, I’m hoping that the sport stays in its golden age. I hope that kids who are just getting into the sport become as passionate as I have during the past few years.

Official track and field practices have begun recently, and our distance team has a few new freshmen. It is my goal as captain of the distance team to bring all of us together as not just a group of kids, but a family.

I can only pray that, after I graduate, these kids have more success than I ever even hoped of. We have a small group, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.