Regardless of how the Green Hope High boys perform at the Manhattan Invitational on Saturday on the famed Van Cortlandt Park 4K course in New York, there's one thing for certain.
It will flash by quicker than they can blink.
And that's in a very literal sense. The Cary, North Carolina-based team is flying to New York on Friday and flying back on Saturday at 7:30 PM out of JFK International Airport, just five hours after their 2:15 PM start time in the elite Eastern boys race.
"The kids are going to be kind of smelly on the plane," said Jason Bochert, who coaches the program. "But obviously, we think it will be worth it and the kids will enjoy it."
If it all feels a little surreal, that's because this has been a long time coming for the Falcons.
The program, which is ranked No. 8 nationally in the Flo50 rankings, has slowly but surely made its way up the ranks of North Carolina's elite in class 4A, going from an eighth-place finish at states in 2014 to fourth in 2015 to second in 2016.
They've been hoping for an invitation to Manhattan for the past two years, Bochert said. And the team should have some ideal performances, with the 4K playing to the team's mile strength: Green Hope has five of its runners who have logged mile times under 4:26.
But Green Hope knows this season is the year to put everything together. Six out of the team's top seven are all seniors. There are a lot of goals on the table.
"A big thing for the boys on the goal cards is to win the state title this year," Bochert said. "That is something that weighs very large on us and is present in practice. The boys talk about it; I talk about it."
So is a potential trip to NXN with a top-two finish at NXR Southeast.
And so, not surprisingly, there's an urgency with every meet on the schedule.
That has been especially present since the Oatlands Invitational, when the Falcons travelled to Leesburg, Virginia, on September 16 and went head-to-head against the No. 1 team in the country, Loudoun Valley (VA). The Falcons still finished second, but they underperformed.
Senior Peyton Barish led the way with a fifth-place nod in 16:14.00, but the rest of the scoring five crossed the line in the 20- and 30- finish-poles. Loudoun Valley put four in the top 13 and its fifth in the top 20.
"When it came down to it, I think being on a foreign course, that really hurt us in some ways," Bochert said.
Some of that may have been naiveté for a team emerging among the national's elite, but perhaps more of it was trying to live up to expectation, too -- plus, it didn't help the Falcons were without their No. 5.
Bochert made sure his team responded at the Great American Cross Country Festival nearly a month later on October 7.
"That's our home course," he said of the WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary. "We meet there every week for meets and practice. It was like being in your back yard. You get to sleep in your bed. It's the same routine. It's very relaxing."
It was no coincidence the Falcons ran well, finishing second with 87 points, just 25 points behind the Vikings again and ahead of No. 12 Louisville St. Xavier (KY).
The Falcons had three in the top 16 and its four and five in 24th and 27th, compiling an average of 15:48 and significantly higher speed ratings overall.
Bochert knew his team would have the talent this year, but one significant change he made heading into the 2017 campaign was in scheduling. The team raced much earlier in 2016, toeing off in late August, and by the end of the season felt a little burnt out.
"We learned a lot from last year," he said. "With a slower ramp-up, hopefully their legs won't feel as dead or beat up. I think when November came around last year, they kind of just were tired. They were beat up. And once you get beat up, you can lose that hunger and fight."
While Barish has competed in four meets this season, he's only truly raced in two, Bochert said. The team's full scoring contingent has really only raced at Great American.
And Manhattan will provide a third critical junction in the Falcons' season -- it comes just four days before the team's conference championships, a signal into the beginning of the North Carolina postseason.
It's important to get a sense of where Green Hope fits within the national scope, but the Falcons also have to be cautious about their state season.
"We looked at the schedule and we tried to do things in two week blocks," Bochert said. "We will be creative in how we approach conference and regional and we'll definitely let loose in the state meet."
There's no doubt, though, that the Falcons are among the cream of the crop in the Eastern Championship elite race.
It will feature some stout competition featuring the likes of Corning (NY), Fayetteville-Manlius (NY), Christian Brothers Academy (NJ), Princeton (NJ), and Bolles (FL).
The Falcons could continue to raise their profile with a win over nationally ranked CBA.
"I don't know how we'll do, but I'll tell you this," Borchert said. "The training has been great. It's been better than we've ever had it. We'll have a full squad. Just having that is a mental motivator. Everybody is going to be there. We'll be all in."
Meet The Scoring Seniors:
Jason Bochert offers a little of insight into each of his runners.
Peyton Barish: "He has an unbelievable engine. He's a really good aerobic runner. He might not be fastest on track, but he can hang with anyone on the 5K. He's an engine."
Ian Delgado: "He's the speed of the group. He's run 1:52 in the 800. I hate to say this, but he sandbags at times a little bit. But he's a true talent and he has a lot of potential. It's been fun working with him."
Finn McBride: "He's a workhorse. Finn is not afraid to get out there and grind out a hard workout. He's not afraid to lead. And I'd have to say he's one of the most disciplined kids we have. He has good mile speed."
Ares Epps: "He's a silent assassin. He's a quiet kid, a good kid. But he can really run with the best of them. He's a grinder, one of those kids who gets in there and practices. He works and he can hang."
Ryan Kemper: "The boys joke. They call him, 'Dad.' He's more of the responsible one in the group. He's a leader and a captain for our squad. He's not afraid to speak his mind amongst the group. He's the first kid to get up and lead practice and stretching.
And No. 6
Daniel Vo: "He's a fighter. They're all grinders. He's a vocal kid. He speaks his mind, which is good. He's a good kid overall."