Have you ever seen a pack of teenagers jogging around town and wondered what it is inside them that drives them to run for miles on end?
It’s not easy to be a high school cross-country runner. It takes long hours of effort, often with little fanfare.
This week is when these hard-working young men and women take center stage as the compete Wednesday at the annual state cross-country meet at Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City.
But before these athletes can get to that point, they have to start a long arduous process.
American Fork head boys cross-country coach Timo Mostert has been coaching for 31 years and has seen a lot of runners as they have developed their skills.
He said Monday that even though some claim to hate running, there has to be a fundamental appreciation for what running is.
“I’ve known some kids who were pretty good who said they hated running, but they might’ve just said that for the effect,” Mostert said. “I think there has to be some(thing) deep inside that says maybe I will go two more blocks and get an extra half mile or four more blocks and get an extra mile. There has to be an inner compulsion where they know it will make them better.”
Since running success doesn’t usually get the same glory as high-profile sports like football or basketball, Mostert said the motivation is much more internal.
“I think a lot of the top kids in the state are striving to find out what their potential is, to see how far they can go,” he said. “It’s a personal quest for excellence. I know when I was in high school, something drove me. I wanted to help the team but I also wanted to see how fast I could get, how much better I could get. I wanted to see what was the end of the road for me.”
It does make a difference, however, to be around others who are similarly driven.
“It’s nice to have someone with whom you can run,” Mostert said. “In high school, I always had a pack of guys I would run with and that is more fun than running by yourself all the time. Even having one guy can make a difference.”
All of those lay the foundation for a runner to have success but to be at their very best for the big fall high school races — including the state meet — Mostert said the refining work begins at the beginning of the summer.
“I think the keys are a good training plan that starts at the start of the summer,” he said. “If you wait until the start of school, it’s too late because you haven’t developed a base. You have to be really consistent and have a summer of good mileage. That means you need to have kids who are willing to make the sacrifice of putting in the miles and the time, sacrificing video games or social life to support the team and strive for excellence.”
While talent does play a role, he explained that in this sport determination and drive is a bigger determiner of success.
“Talent helps but I’ve had a few guys who started really slow who worked their way into being decent athletes and placing at state,” he said. “I’ve also had guys who had a lot of talent but didn’t want to work, who didn’t have that drive and consequently didn’t measure up.”
The big test of who will rise to the top in cross-country in 2018 takes place on Wednesday at Sugarhouse Park starting at 10 a.m.