For three years Christian Noble watched the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships telecast from afar and wondered.
On Saturday, the Mt. Vernon senior finally put his curiosity to rest as he competed among the nation’s elite runners at Morley Field at San Diego’s Balboa Park.
“I really never thought I would be on that stage,” Noble said. “I didn’t even think I would make it out of the regional. I thought, maybe top 20 at regional, but I did better than I ever thought. This was a pretty neat experience.”
Noble finished 33rd overall out of a field of 40 of the country’s top boys runners at nationals with a time of 16 minutes and two-tenths of a second. The Lee University signee advanced to the premier event with a 10th-place run in 15:21 during the Midwest Regional conducted at the University of Wisconsin during Thanksgiving Weekend.
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“I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to be able to come out here and compete with 40 of the nation’s best,” Noble said after completing his final high school cross country race. “It was definitely an eye-opener and kind of made me realize I belong out here, being a part of the top 40 in the nation. It was pretty awesome.”
The third runner in Mt. Vernon program history to compete nationally, Noble once again put himself in line with former Marauders greats — Jeff Wheeler and Mike Mundy.
Wheeler was Mt. Vernon’s last individual IHSAA state cross-country champion in 1983 and a state runner-up in 1984. He competed at the nationals in San Diego in 1985 when it was formerly known as the Kinney Cross Country Championships.
The All-American placed seventh at nationals before continuing his career at Indiana University. Together with Mundy, a three-time top-20 state placewinner and a top-20 national finisher for Mt. Vernon head coach Bruce Kendall, the duo helped secure the school’s best team state placement at eighth in 1983 and fourth in 1984.
Wheeler applauded Noble’s season-long accomplishments, culminating with a trip out west, which bridged a 30-year gap between generations.
“It’s really good to see a program from a smaller school like Mt. Vernon have success, especially for Mr. Kendall to see him have continued success,” the 48-year-old Wheeler said. “A school the size of Mt. Vernon is fortunate to have the caliber of coach as Mr. Kendall.
“In my day, we had a lot of fun because Mt. Vernon was even smaller back then, and we were able to compete with the Carmels and so forth, which made it even more enjoyable.”
As a member of the Midwest Team, which swept both the boys and girls national team titles in San Diego, Noble worked collectively with his interstate and central Indiana rivals to score 34 points. The West Team was second with 50 points.
The Midwest boys had five runners in the top 13. The girls placed five in the top 10 to win the team championship with 26 points.
Carmel’s Sarah Leinheiser, the 2015 girls cross-country state champion, was the highest-placing Indiana competitor at eighth (17:41.7) for All-American honors.
Carmel’s Ben Veatch, a two-time state champion, was the top Midwest runner for the boys team, taking third (15:09.6) at two spots behind Loudoun Valley High School’s (Virginia) Drew Hunter, who won the event in 14:55.7.
Noble kept stride with the leaders through the first two miles of Saturday’s race, holding at 10th and staying within the top 15 for All-American placement.
In the final stretch, however, the course got the best of him, Noble said, as he fell back behind the front pack.
“The course was hard. It’s definitely a man’s course. The first mile is downhill, then right when you get to the first mile maker, you go up this monstrous first hill,” Noble said. “If you watch it on camera, it looks deceiving. It’s probably one of the worst hills I’ve seen in my life. It’s make or break.
“Going into that second mile and hitting that hill the second time around, I just reacted to it really bad. It kind of broke me,” Noble added. “But I’m still really satisfied with my performance no matter what time or place I got because I made it here. Only 40 of us can say that. No one can take that from me.”
Throughout his career, Noble hasn’t let anything slip away.
A three-time sectional and regional champion, he claimed his first semistate title this cross-country season en route to a fourth-place finish at the state meet in Terre Haute and All-State honors.
Slowed by leg injuries his first two seasons, Noble took 16th at state as a junior before posting record times this fall. His school-best time of 14:55 at the Delta Regional broke Wheeler’s mark of 14:57.3 set in 1983 as he won state conducted at Indianapolis’ South Grove Golf Course.
In his junior track season, Noble won sectional and regional in the 3,200-meter run and eclipsed Wheeler, once more, running to a seventh-place finish at state in a record time of 9:14.78.
“I always joked with Mr. Kendall that I wasn’t too worried about the track record, but the cross-country record he could never allow that to be broken, but he did,” Wheeler laughed. “Records are made to be broken, though, and that’s a good sign. It’s progress. You don’t want records to stay around forever.”
Noble’s place in program history won’t fade anytime soon — nor is it done being written.
Set to take a two-week break after 18 intense weeks of cross-country training, he intends to keep pace when indoor track season begins, setting his sights on the two-mile and 5,000-meter events.
“It didn’t actually hit me that it was my last cross-country race until I crossed the finish line. I thought, ‘Wow, my season is over. I’m going to go eat a lot of food and not run anymore for two weeks,” Noble joked. “I’m going to take my first break in three years, and enjoy time with friends. After that I’m going to hopefully qualify for the New Balance Indoor Track Nationals (in New York). … I’m also going to go for the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina, then it’s off to Tennessee (and Lee University).
“Until then, Christian Noble is off the running map for about two weeks.”
2015 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships
Boys National Finals Results (Top 15 named All-American)
Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015
At Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.
1. 14:55.7;Drew Hunter;12;South;Loudoun Valley H.S.;Purcellville, VA
2. 15:07.9;Phillip Rocha;12;West;Arcadia High School;Azusa, CA
3. 15:09.6;Ben Veatch;12;Midwest;Carmel H.S.;Carmel, IN
4. 15:14.7;Garek Bielaczyc;12;West;East High School;Salt Lake City, UT
5. 15:15.6;Paul Roberts;12;Midwest;Lyons H.S.;Boulder, CO
6. 15:16.6;Andrew Jordan;12;Midwest;Watkins Memorial H.S.;Pataskala, OH
7. 15:20.9;Conor Lundy;12;Northeast;Fordham Preparatory School;Yonkers, NY
8. 15:21.0;Jake Brophy;12;Northeast;Central Bucks H.S.;East New Hope, PA
9. 15:27.6;Seth Hirsch;11;Midwest;Millard West H.S.;Omaha, NE
10. 15:28.6;Michael Vernau;11;West;Davis Senior H.S.;Davis, CA
11. 15:29.0;Finn Gessner;11;Midwest;La Follette H.S.;Madison, WI
12. 15:29.1;Dylan Scarsone;12;West;Canyon (Anaheim) HS;Orange, CA
13. 15:32.0;Jonathan Davis;12;Midwest;Oakwood H.S.;Oakwood, IL
14. 15:32.6;Gannon Willcutts;12;South;Western Albemarle H.S.;Crozet, VA
15. 15:33.0;Noah Affolder;11;Northeast;Carthage Central H.S.;Fort Drum, NY
21;15:43.1;Brayden Law;12;Midwest;Homestead H.S.;Fort Wayne, IN
33;16:00.2;Christian Noble;12;Midwest;Mt. Vernon H.S.;Greenfield, IN
1. MIDWEST 34
2. WEST 50
3. NORTHEAST 67
4. SOUTH 74