It might be the best group of elite high school distance runners we've ever seen in an outdoor 5K field. At least, that's what expectations have brought us entering the Texas Distance Festival on March 18 at Southlake Carroll High.
While fans will see a tremendous array of talent battle on the track for just over 12 laps, there will be much more working behind the scenes. What exactly are these athletes, many of whom are signed to major college programs, thinking as they navigate a remarkably competitive race? What sort of pressure is attached to their quest for a PR or a win? For many, it will be their first and only opportunity to run at the 5K distance in high school.
MileSplit caught up with a few of the elite runners of the 5K field and asked about the pressure it takes to compete against top competition and whether the reputation of signing with a major program prompted them to put more expectations on to themselves.
Here are their answers:
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Reed Brown, Southlake Carroll (Tx.) High, senior
Oregon University signee
I definitely feel pressure to live up to the goals that everyone makes for me, but I feel like I also put those same expectations on myself. I always strive to be better, so that pressure I put on myself helps me achieve those goals. I also feel a little pressure to run fast for Oregon, but I think that's because the culture we're entering into is to run fast, so I will try my best not to let them down.
The distance festival will bring out the best in me because we're bringing some of the best runners from around the country to race and as always the Texas competition will be incredible as well. Adding those guys will just make it that much better of a race. I think having a race like this will bring out the best in everyone because we know we're all friends - though secretly we all want to beat everyone else so we can have those bragging rights later on. I'm hoping it's going to be a fast, fun race with all of the guys.
Noah Affolder, Carlisle (Pa.) High, senior
Syracuse University signee
I feel like there's a reputation for runners who are signed to big named programs. You have to be able to bear the responsibility. But I definitely feel like those who are signed have owned it and proven it. No one is being asked to go run a 5K time with track speed in their legs. I think a lot of us are in the full swing of track, so I'm not really too worried about having too high expectations.
Of course, I want to run fast and I want to compete against my friends. And to say I did it in high school. But I'm going out there to have fun with my friends and to try and run a fast time. If I run 14:30, I don't think people will be ashamed of me because they expected I run a 14:05. At the same time, if I run well, I don't feel like I deserve bragging rights for the rest of the year, either.
Cooper Teare, St. Joseph Notre Dame (Ca.) High, senior
University of Oregon signee
I think after signing to a major program like Oregon, it doesn't necessarily put more pressure on me, but it's more motivation for me to work hard and make the most of my senior year. It's important because I want to be the best that I can be for my current high school -- as well as Oregon next year. And representing well is always a great feeling. One thing about this 5K field is the sheer number of incredible and nationally recognized athletes participating.
I know most of them from previous events and from races, so as much as it is a fierce competition, it's also sort of a get together. We can push each other -- but as friends as well as competitors.
Connor Lane, Cardinal Gibbons (NC) High, senior
Stanford University signee
I'm thrilled to get this opportunity to run against an incredible field in the 5K at the Texas Distance Festival. Running with this talented group of guys will push us all to big PRs, so I'm really looking forward to it! I try not to put any pressure on myself to perform, no matter who I'm racing or what the race is, so performing up to any standard never really crosses my mind in an intimidating way.
If anything, my (signing) to Stanford, along with the experience I've gained racing on big stages, gives me confidence in what I'm capable of doing. Stanford coach (Chris) Miltenberg always has such an excited, positive attitude towards races - same as my current coach, Nick Mangum, actually - and I know he's going to give me chances to run well while still building toward long term goals. I still get nerves before big meets, but that allows me to be aggressive and go for a win, instead of racing with the fear of losing.
Seth Hirsch, Millard (Neb.) High, senior
University of Wisconsin signee
It's definitely important to perform up to the standards that others have for me, but ultimately it's more me trying to meet my own expectations. I don't feel a ton of pressure because I know if I focus on myself it's more me-versus-me. Then everything else will fall into place. Usually I feel my own expectations are greater than the expectations of others, so if I just focus on hitting my times and let my competitive nature take over, then I'm confident I'll be able to perform. .
I know it's got me to Wisconsin in the first place. So I really just try to focus on myself and my own goals instead of trying to please everyone. Because at the end of the day, I have to hold myself accountable for how I run more than anyone else. I think the 5K at the Texas Distance Festival will be bring out the best in me, because whenever you get such great runners against each other, it's hard not to bring out your best. I'm usually the one that has to do the pacemaking, so getting the chance to race with guys who can push me and lead a fast race is super exciting. It will hopefully allow me to get a nice PR.
Daniel Viegra, Pflugerville Hendrickson (Tx.) High, senior
Wake Forest University signee
Personally, I don't believe there's any standard set by myself or Wake Forest and to say there is -- or could be -- would just be an arbitrary statement anyway. Having said that, I still want to use this race as a building block. This race will be an excellent opportunity to race a distance that most high schoolers aren't accustomed to, so I'm looking forward to seeing how things pan out.
With Reed (Brown) in this race, it really has me exited to run with some great competitors and run a fast race. I think it's going to be an event where there's really no pressure to perform. Everyone will be able to just go out there, be relaxed and click this off as a good touchstone for the year to come.
Daniel Bernal, El Paso Eastwood (Tx.) High, senior
Furman University signee
I'm very fortunate to be coached by a great coaching staff at Eastwood. They don't ever place pressure on any of their athletes -- my mother is also a great supporter when I run badly or when I run well. I believe, as hopefully many do, that the best way to race is to have fun prior to the event and to chase people during it! I personally never ponder about a particular time to hit, or a placing... I simply race to chase. It's important for me because I feel that when I am racing without a concrete goal, I tend to feel looser and better at the starting line.
When I begin to plan my race down to specifics, I feel tighter, more nervous. The atmosphere at any meet is vital to me, and I usually put myself in favorable environments even if the meet doesn't provide them. Some phenomenal guys are gonna be running at the Distance Fest and I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to race them. I'm not looking to do anything spectacular. It's still early in the season. I do, however, wish to exceed my limits and get out of my comfort zone and enjoy the ride. I'm definitely looking forward to spending some time with all these great runners and hopefully becoming friends with some of them.
Alex Maier, Flower Mound (Tx.) High, sophomore
Personally, I try not to put extra pressure on myself to perform. Obviously I want to perform and exceed past the expectations and goals I set for myself, but I feel that by having the desire and will to prepare for and achieve those goals, it helps me perform better as an athlete. The 5K has some of the best high school runners in the nation, and having this high quality of a field will give me more experience as a runner for these types of races in the future.
It will allow me to challenge myself along with some of the best which hopefully will bring out the best in me. I'm not really concerned with what other people expectations are for me. I'm doing something I love doing and striving to be the best that I can at it. In my opinion, those are the best reasons any athlete or individual has for their endeavor. Whether or not others are impressed is out of my control, so I don't worry about it.
Ashton Endsley, Abilene (Tx.), High, senior
University of Arkansas signee
I don't feel like I have felt any pressure to perform to a certain standard -- even after committing to Arkansas. The only pressure I do feel is when it comes to myself, because I like to set big goals. Throughout my high school career my goals have always been to run each race the best I can, to improve my times and to learn something from each race.
I am really looking forward to this weekend because I know I'm going to be able to compete with some great competitors and hopefully put in a fast time. I typically do not get to experience this level of competition until later in the season. Also, I love competing, because I am surrounded by some great distance runners who all share my love for the sport.
London Culbreath, McKinney North (Tx.) High
I think every runner holds standards for themselves, whether they're committed or not. For me, I definitely hold myself accountable to reach standards that I've put in place for myself. However, most of that pressure is relieved from the hard work and hours of training that has helped me get to this point. So there is a sense of pressure to exercise ultimate performance, but the main goal is to improve - whether that's at the Distance Festival or another meet.
I think the 5K will bring out the best in me by allowing me to prove myself in the face of competition and against others. It will also serve as a chance to improve. For me it's not about focusing on others, but more in how to raise my own standards. I'm concentrating on what I'm gaining from every meet. I'm not trying to impress the seniors. Ultimately, I want to see what I can do.
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