* Hartland's (MI) Riley Hough midway through a race this fall
Photo Credit: Timothy Arrick/Daily Press/USA Today Sports
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Little by little, Riley Hough is chopping away at history.
And that's important for a lot of reasons.
But let's start with his latest accomplishment, his ninth straight win to start the 2021 fall season. On Saturday at Portage Central High School, he swallowed his competition whole and pocketed a nicely-tuned victory in a new meet record time of 14:37.10.
It toppled the man himself, Dathan Ritzenhein, the state-record holder and the only individual with a faster time in Michigan all-time. Hough surpassed the Rockford (MI) High School legend on the PCHS course.
But more than that, it once again showed what's possible. It showed that Hough has the talent to win a national title.
While two others ran faster on this very weekend across the United States -- Tyrone Gorze in 14:29.30 at the Crater Twilight 5K and Colin Sahlman in 14:29.40 at the Asics Clovis Invitational -- you have to look beyond the scores.
Hough has raced nine times over eight weekends of action. In some weeks, he's raced twice.
And he's still won nine straight times.
And he's still getting fitter. Not only is that 14:37.10 a new U.S. No. 5 time for 5K, but it also marked his third performance under 15 minutes on the season.
His top three times on the season -- 14:37.10, 14:41.20 and 14:53.20 -- in fact, are the fifth, ninth and 24th fastest performances overall ...of any athlete.
Beyond that, five of his season best efforts are inside the top 100 performances nationwide. Only Hunter Jones, a fellow Michigan athlete, has as many sub-15 performances on the season (3).
And yet, if times aren't your cup of tea, then look at the speed ratings.
Hough now has three performances over 190, his fastest being his 198 from this past weekend.
Only Sahlman, arguably Newbury Park's No. 1 runner on a team full of outright studs, has a higher speed rating this season. And it was his performance at Clovis that did the trick, netting him a 199.
So what's the goal here?
Perhaps there's a quite obvious one.
A year ago, Hough ran the second-fastest 5K on record in Michigan history on the Michigan International Speedway course, finishing in 14:49.62. He very famously beat Hobbs Kessler on that day -- though few realize it was in different heats.
Only Ritzenhein has ever run faster. Back in 2000, Ritz posted a U.S. No. 1 all-time 5K effort of 14:10.40.
Nationally, no one has ever run faster at the distance all-time.
A few athletes over the last years have tried -- Nico Young, Ryan Schoppe, Leo Daschbach and Cole Sprout, in particular -- but it's a record that stands alone for a reason.
Few high school runners have that engine, or have been afforded the chance to get on a course that allows them to go after it.
If we were to read the speed ratings to decipher whether it was possible, one would think not.
Young's 2019 season was pretty epic: He logged speed ratings of 205, 202, 201 and 201.
Hough hasn't gone over 200 just yet.
But we'll say this: Since 2020, Hough has run under 15 minutes a total of six times. And at this time last year, he was roughly 11 seconds slower.
Hough understands the principle of measuring oneself, of racing in the moment, of taking it up a notch when it's needed.
While all cross country races are different ... while all courses, all weather, all terrain, all competitors ...they can change year over year, there remains one present: A fast time.
There's a reason why Ritzenhein is considered one of the all-time GOATS of cross country. He claimed two national titles and ran the fastest time ever recorded.
Can Hough claim the nation's fastest time? Can he win a national title?
The beauty in all of this is that nothing is preordained.
While Hough is inching closer to each of those markers -- a national title and a historically fast time -- nothing is guaranteed.
What comes next is up to him.