* Cherry Creek's Parker Wolfe made a move late into the RunningLane XC National Championships that earned him a coveted big-moment win
Photo Credit: Chris Wells/Alabama Runners
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HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA -- Nearly 11 minutes into the final cross country race of his fall season, Parker Wolfe finally decided to move on his target.
It had been the Kamari Miller show for just over two miles at the RunningLane XC National Championships at John Hunt Park, as the Marietta senior had set a blistering pace to open the primetime race, covering the first mile in just over 4 minutes, 30 seconds. He was through two miles in 9:22 -- a time that was just 14 seconds off his personal record from the outdoor track and field season in 2019.
But tellingly, Wolfe, the future University of North Carolina Tar Heel, did not fear. He sat.
"That's not really what I usually do in races like this," Wolfe later said. "I hung back."
But with a statement-making win within his grasp and the race approaching a little over a half mile remaining, Wolfe laid down the hammer just when Miller was, for the first time, beginning to feel the pull of lactic on one of the course's big hills.
Wolfe's experience at elevation -- he raced above 5,000 feet for much of the season -- was omnipresent as he slipped past Miller within seconds and then began to hammer the ensuing downhill. The elevation profile of Huntsville was just 600 feet.
"I wanted to hammer from the gun. Just take it out really hard and try to run fast today. I knew I was going to be the man that everyone wanted to beat, so I just tried to come out and embrace it." -- Kamari Miller
The Cherry Creek senior did not let off the gas from that point forward, taking the championship race on Saturday in a new personal and course record of 14:26.94. It marked his second performance under 15 minutes on the season, the fourth of his career, and his fifth straight win since beginning the season in September.
Without a true universally accepted national championship race to test his mettle -- both Team Nationals and Foot Locker had been axed over the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19 -- Wolfe was satisfied that the opportunity granted him a respite.
"I'm super pumped," he said. "I've been waiting for a race like this all season. We haven't had that in Colorado yet. Foot Locker and Nike got canceled, so I'm really excited to be out here and racing like this."
The honor also offered a fun, lighter moment for Wolfe. In trying to create a distinct brand for a new race, the organizers at RunningLane bestowed a championship belt for winners of the boys' and girls' races -- much like something you would see in the WWE.
Wolfe raised his belt to the sky during the awards ceremony.
"Pretty much every race was just much better than I thought it could be," he said. "I came into Liberty Bell, after COVID, just hoping to break 15. And came out and race a great race. Every race this season has been better than I ever could have imagined."
But he wasn't alone.
In a representation of the talent encompassing the boys field at RunningLane, a total of 32 boys broke 15 minutes for 5,000 meters on the day -- a mark that possibly may be the fastest single cross country race of all-time. Organizers had tried to figure out the previous record; the fastest race they ever found had 10 under 15. Fourteen performances from the event are now inside the nation's top 20 times on the fall season.
While Miller led for much of the way, the final straightaway proved to be difficult. While he sttill scored a personal record time of 14:37.19 -- just one second off the previous course record -- he fell to fifth.
Miller later broke down his start.
"This is probably the fastest I've ever taken a race out," he said. "I wanted to hammer from the gun. Just take it out really hard and try to run fast today. I knew I was going to be the man that everyone wanted to beat, so I just tried to come out and embrace it."
Much like Wolfe, Skyridge's Creed Thompson used some smart late-race tactics to earn runner-up honors in 14:34.43. American Fork's Nate Jaster reportedly made up nearly 70 runners over the last miles to finish third overall in 14:35.31 and help American Fork to a team title.
Mary Persons senior Justin Wachtel was fifth in 14:36.08, Cherokee Trail's Christian Balcer was sixth in 14:38.83 and Mountain Vista's Harrison Witt was eighth in 14:39.36. Niwot's Zane Bergen was eighth, Oshkosh North's Jack Scherer was ninth and Thompson's brother, Davin, rounded out the top 10.
Elevation training may have played a major factor on a flat course in the South.
Seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 13 athletes hailed from states that featured elevation profiles. Indiana state champion Izaiah Steury, who was undefeated heading into competition, opened with a 4:34.62 mile -- the fastest he's ever run over that first stretch -- and finished 17th.
"Not every race you're going to be the top guy," Steury said. "So it's exciting to see other guys have better competition, so they pull you further along and give you experience -- today was that for me. More of an experience day. And see how it feels to run that fast, which was really exciting. I'm really excited to see what we can do when you learn from your mistakes."
Wolfe's future UNC teammate, Sully Shelton, finished 18th overall, although the Harrison senior went into second at one point and truly tried to challenge himself. He finished with a new PR of 14:48.83.
"Parker and I were together; he's going to be my teammate next year and he's one of my best friends," Shelton said. "I just wanted to push together. We had a great time. The only race this year I've enjoyed, even though I was hurting the last little bet."
Wachtel, meanwhile, wanted to make a lasting impression on his final race. A year ago, he had run a career best 14:26 for 5K at the Asics/Alexander Invitational in Georgia -- it was the fastest returning time in the country in 2020. But up until Saturday, he had yet to break 15 again.
"At the two mile mark I said to myself, 'This is my last race. I wanted to deliver on it and make it what I wanted it to be. The whole last K, the whole last 600 I was just grinding to get in there."
Miller understood that signficance, too.
Upon reflection, the race -- not the overall finish -- and his effort was what mattered to him most: It was a test of what he was capable of accomplishing when faced with national competition.
He was satisfied.
Event 1 Boys 5k Run CC Gold ======================================================================= Name Year School Finals Points ======================================================================= Results - Men 1 Wolfe, Parker 12 Unattached 14:26.94 4:34.43 (4:34.43) 2 Thompson, Creed 12 Skyridge 14:34.38 1 4:35.11 (4:35.11) 3 Jaster, Nate 11 American Fork 14:35.31 2 4:44.44 (4:44.44) 4 Wachtel, Justin 12 Unattached 14:36.08 4:34.73 (4:34.73) 5 Miller, Kamari 12 Blue Devils 14:37.19 3 4:30.68 (4:30.68) 6 Balcer, Christian 12 Unattached 14:38.83 4:35.97 (4:35.97) 7 Witt, Harrison 12 Vista Nation XC 14:39.36 4 4:35.29 (4:35.29) 8 Bergen, Zane 11 Real Trainin 14:39.69 5 4:36.62 (4:36.62) 9 Scherer, Jack Unattached 14:40.21 4:39.47 (4:39.47) 10 Thompson, Davin 12 Skyridge 14:41.68 6 4:38.13 (4:38.13) 11 Packard, Brayden 12 American Fork 14:43.83 7 4:37.59 (4:37.59) 12 Haug, Lukas 12 Unattached 14:44.24 4:38.59 (4:38.59) 13 Le Roux, Erik 11 Unattached 14:44.86 4:34.95 (4:34.95) 14 Strand, Ethan 12 Unattached 14:47.22 4:34.93 (4:34.93) 15 Shorten, Jackson 11 Unattached 14:47.24 4:39.15 (4:39.15) 16 Montague, Gabe 12 Wickham Dist 14:47.40 8 4:35.62 (4:35.62) 17 Steury, Izaiah 11 Unattached 14:47.86 4:34.62 (4:34.62) 18 Shelton, Sully 12 Hoya TC 14:48.83 9 4:34.86 (4:34.86) 19 Cole, Walker 12 Grind Group 14:49.71 10 4:36.87 (4:36.87) 20 Brush, Miles 11 Unattached 14:51.46