* Groendyk won a Colorado 5A state title last month and is one of the top seeds entered for the RunningLane Cross Country Championships.
Photo Credit: Bobby Reyes/MileSplit Colorado
"At the end of the day, it's you against you and how badly you want it."
By Ashley Tysiac - MileSplit
It was a rush like no other for Fort Collins senior Christian Groendyk when he crossed the finish line at the Norris Penrose Event Center as a Colorado Class 5A state cross country champion.
In fact, he believes only winning an NCAA title could probably ever top the magnitude of that elusive state win.
"Everything has just been about state," Groendyk said. "There's something special about winning a state title that nothing else can really touch."
It was a feeling of extreme joy and accomplishment he had never experienced before. Going into his senior season, perhaps only Groendyk knew that a state title was within his reach.
His 2022 season to remember included that state title, as well as a new 14:48.00 5k PR to win the Liberty Bell Invitational and a trip to Thailand in October representing Team USA at the World Mountain Running Championships in the U20 division.
What's left on the docket is a trip to the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships, where he finished 100th overall a year ago as a junior.
Just three years ago, Groendyk didn't even make the final cut for the Fort Collins varsity squad that placed fifth at states. He watched from the sidelines as an alternate.
Groendyk then placed 52nd in 2020, and later notched a ninth-place finish as a junior in 2021.
"This cross country season has been something I've dreamed of for a while," he said.
There's been no magic formula to the sudden burst onto the national scene, according to Groendyk.
His story, he said, is just one of an average runner turned national contender after multiple years of never-ceasing dedication and trust in the sport.
"A lot of people have asked me what I've changed, what I've done differently, and really nothing (has changed)," he said. "I've always trained like this, done everything I can to be good and this is just the year everything is coming together."
As a self-proclaimed running "nerd," Groendyk has been a student of the sport from the very beginning.
How could you not be, he said, especially when Colorado has bred and continues to produce historic distance runners from the prep level up to the pros? He was born here, trains here, competes here.
When Groendyk began competing as a freshman, he had peers in his state that he looked up to.
He watched in awe as state legends like Valor Christian's Cole Sprout and Parker Wolfe of Cherry Creek -- now both among the elites in the NCAA -- won state titles and contended at nationals. Wolfe even won the first installment of the RunningLane XC Championships in 2020.
Deep down, Groendyk said, he knew that someday he could work his way up to that level.
"I've always had that confidence in myself that I belong here," he said.
That's not to say that the progression from varsity alternate to state champion didn't grow exponentially without any hiccups. Rather, it was a process of slowly breaking through the smaller barriers along the way.
First came an iron anemia diagnosis at the end of a trying sophomore year, but iron supplementation helped Groendyk bounce back from workout and training fatigue he had been coexisting with throughout 10th grade.
Then came a significant time goal -- breaking 16:30 for the 5K -- which Groendyk accomplished in the second race of his junior season.
Eventually, becoming a contender in 5A became more of a reality after running 15:30.00 at the Liberty Bell Invitational in 2021, which later resulted in a top 10 states finish.
From there, it was a gradual domino effect, as Groendyk then broke the Fort Collins 3,200m school record during the outdoor season and clocked a personal best 9:04.72 for two miles in his last race of the season at Outdoor Nationals.
Groendyk entered his fall senior cross country season with just one goal written down: Win a state title.
That was it. There were no time goals, no meet wins.
All he wanted was a state championship.
"Even qualifying for nationals, it's awesome, it's super cool, but Colorado always has been and always will be one of the most competitive states in the country," he said.
Groendyk first began to gain attention in Colorado with a marquee win at the Liberty Bell Invitational, securing his first sub-15 minute 5K performance of 14:48.00.
The performance was good, perhaps even excellent, but that brought his aspirations for a state championship into a clearer view.
"Just to run that time really validated everything I've trained for this season," Groendyk said.
Then came the victory he had been prepping for on Oct. 29 at state.
He stretched his arms out wide as he ran through the finish in 15:13.5, good for third all-time on the Norris Penrose course and a win by nearly 10 seconds.
In the weeks after marking his state title dream off his check list, Groendyk has shifted his mentality toward a different priority -- having fun.
He now sees each race opportunity as a bonus.
"I like racing," Groendyk said. "I'm someone who trains to race."
Groendyk's love of racing led him to follow up his title with unique postseason endeavors.
First came a trip to Thailand as part of the U.S. U20 team competing at the World Mountain Running Championships a week after the state meet -- an opportunity he set his sights on tackling when he saw former Fort Collins teammate James Gregory compete for the U18 team at worlds back in 2019.
Originally set for last November and then delayed to 2022, the grueling trail championships were something he was curious about. When Team USA came calling in September, he couldn't refuse.
Groendyk would go on to place second among Americans and 25th overall in the Junior Up and Downhill Mountain Race.
Now comes another test at the Garmin RunningLane XC Championships.
Groendyk isn't new to the course at John Hunt Park in Huntsville, Alabama, either. Last year, he placed 100th in the top race, clocking a time of 15:09.16.
"RunningLane last year still is the most fun I've ever had in a race," he said. "Just the environment was awesome, super fast, great course. I just really want to enjoy myself."
He currently ranks as the top entry in the boys championship field, which is stacked with other state champions and nationally-ranked boys. He's seeded at 14:15 with an altitude conversion.
His postseason victory lap doesn't end with RunningLane, either.
Groendyk said he hopes to qualify for the Champs Sports Cross Country National Championships. He'll line up at the Midwest Regional on Nov. 26 for one of 10 bids.
If you had asked a younger Groendyk if he would be a favorite to win a national title come senior year, let along become Colorado's best, he may have had some slight doubts.
But he has always been working for that chance.
This year, that dream became a reality.
Perhaps, though, maybe he can add to it on Dec. 3.
"At the end of the day, it's you against you and how badly you want it," he said.