* Ventura's Anthony Fast Horse is the top-ranked distance runner in California and among the nation's title contenders ahead of NXN
Photo Credit: Raymond Tran/Milesplit
It's our chance. It's time for someone else to take over. That's how we've thought about it. It's someone else's turn.
By Cory Mull - MileSplit
- - -
Like most runners with big dreams, Anthony Fast Horse once envisioned a future where he was on the California state podium, reigning supreme.
That was well before that dream was on the verge of becoming true, though.
"I always wanted to be good," Fast Horse, 17, said recently, just a few days ahead of the CIF State Cross Country Championships, set to go down on Nov. 25 at Woodward Park in Fresno.
"I never understood the concept of how good I could be."
That's because four years ago, Fast Horse, a former skate-boarder with long hair and a smooth stride, was barely a runner. He ran just once over the cross country season in 2020, his freshman season.
But like most of these stories, something clicked -- or in other words, Fast Horse found a passion for running. He reached states as a sophomore, then shifted into sixth gear as a junior, claiming a fourth-place finish at the CIF Division 2 Championships.
Miraculously, he qualified for Nike Cross Nationals that same year.
"When I made NXN I said, 'What?'" Fast Horse said.
Thing is, hardly anyone noticed. Newbury Park was still the talk of the country.
But perhaps that served Fast Horse just fine, because today the University of Oregon signee is arguably the top distance runner in the Class of 2024.
He's ready for his moment.
"Nobody expected California to have guys this year," he said. "It's our chance. It's time for someone else to take over. That's how we've thought about it. It's someone else's turn."
Photo Credit: Nick DeGeorge/MileSplit
- - -
Fast Horse is one of four siblings in his household, the son of a truck driver and a caretaker. He's part Native American and wears his identity through his mane, a long flowing flock of hair that flutters in the wind.
"For me, being Native American, it represents a part of me," he said. "My hair is famous now. Everyone notices me."
Prior to this year, Fast Horse said he resented that identity. Now, though, he says he's trying to embrace it. "It lets me know that someone is always watching," he said. "It's a deep part of my running. I connect more from my surroundings."
What's interesting is that Fast Horse has become one of the nation's best runners at the same time while his teammate, Sadie Engelhardt, has firmly entrenched herself among the country's top females, too.
Both the Ventura girls and boys teams could theoretically qualify for NXN.
Few would have anticipated this before this year.
But that's where Josh Spiker, 41, enters the equation.
Pulling The Strings
The first-year Ventura High School head coach didn't really want to coach this early in his life. He figured that would happen later into his 50s. Spiker and his wife own a running store in Ventura, Mile 26 Running Company, and operate an event management business. They also raise a 3-year-old at home.
Taking on coaching would be a financial burden -- Spiker would spend less time from his shop and company.
But when an opportunity opened up, he decided to jump at it.
"The more I thought about it," Spiker said, "I said, 'Man, this team is really good. Me being competitive, I said, 'Ah man, the time is now.'"
Spiker couldn't have been a more perfect fit for the roster. Born and bred in Ventura, in 2000 he was second at the CIF Outdoor 3,200m final -- behind future (and former) American marathon record-holder Ryan Hall.
He went on to the University of Wisconsin under future Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher, where he ran the 1,500m successfully, clocking a best of 3:40.
Nearly 20 years later, the position leading Fast Horse and Co. wasn't lost on him. Spiker's athletes today are, in some ways, representations of his past.
"Some of what I went through in high school and college, I use that to inform him," Spiker said of his work with Fast Horse. "It gives him more confidence and allows him to understand what these big meets are like, what college will be like, to dream big."
Few would argue on Fast Horse's ascension this season. After finishing his junior outdoor season with PRs of 1:55.60 in the 800m, 4:08.48 in the 1,600m and 8:51.40 in the 3,200m -- all elite times -- he's unleashed a totally new side of himself this fall.
Fast Horse opened the year with a runner-up finish at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, clocking an exceptional 3-mile time of 13:48.10 -- eighth-best in high school history -- before going on to win the Clovis Invitational in 14:32.50, which was the seventh-best 5K effort in California history.
"Some of what I went through in high school and college, I use that to inform him. It gives him more confidence and allows him to understand what these big meets are like, what college will be like, to dream big."
"Just a year ago, I was running 30 seconds behind them (Newbury Park)," Fast Horse said. "To make that jump, to get to that next level, it's exciting."
His training hasn't changed all that much. Fast Horse has still hit in the 60s for mileage most weeks and went up to a high of 67 a couple weeks over the fall.
The potential difference? Spiker has asked him to be more precise in workouts.
"It's just workout intensity," Fast Horse said.
"He's super efficient," Spiker said. "He just has that race day mentality. He might not have a great week of training, but when he gets to the line, he sets the intention that he will win and he will run fast."
What makes Fast Horse special, Spiker said, is the kind of intangible that most great runners have.
"He's very good at hurting," Spiker said, adding later, "When he's in the zone, he's a metronome."
Photo Credit: Raymond Tran
- - -
Finishing The Year
There are but two missions left to finish out 2024.
The California state championships and NXN.
The line of thinking for Fast Horse? Go for it.
California runners have won the last two NXNs -- Nico Young in 2019 and Aaron Sahlman in 2022.
"The dream goal is to win it," Fast Horse said of nationals. "That would be the goal. I didn't imagine I would be there. But now I have to put myself in that mainframe or it won't happen.
Four years ago, Fast Horse could only imagine that day.
On Saturday, he'll be well on his way toward making it a reality.