The start - 84+ runners lined up across the start line. That's 14 6-man teams. This is the Championship course used in the Footlocker National Championships. It's roped off the way a championship should be roped off. There is a nervous energy as the 84 boys (ages 14-18) line up. The starter calls them to the line and holds them. It seems like a long time to us watching and the the runners it was an eternity. They all begin to lean, Bam the gun goes off. Both Marco and his running mate slip on the wet grass needing their hands to keep from falling flat.
84 runners sprint off the line up over the small hill and then quickly funnel into the dog leg loop. It's important to get out quick or else you are caught in the loop. Marco comes through the dog loop in the lead back of 30 runners. The eventual winner is already setting pace 400 meters into the race. Around the pool and then down the hill to the technical section of the course. Marco is composed and running tight with a group of 5-6 runners.
At the 1 mile mark it's straight up the first of two trips on Upas Street. Off the hill and it's rolling back to the start finish. Marco is in 20th place at the half way point and a gap to 19th is forming. This has been his MO for the last couple races. Back down the dog leg, around the pool and he's holding steady.
He runs by my friend and uber coach Greg. Greg knows Marco well and yells to him to catch the boys in front on the downhill. Back up Upas they go and then I see from a long distance Marco hitting the down hill like he was doing a downhill mountain bike race. No breaks and charging he goes. He catches the two boys by the bottom and then turns on the jets. He's chasing hard.
To finish this 3.1 mile course you have cross the street and go straight up the start hill. At the start it's a mere nuisance. At the end of the first lap it's just another hill on this tough course. At the end thought it looks like a wall. Marco hits the bottom of the hill in 17th place but is looking gassed. He's muscling up and over and it's easy to tell that he's done. He lets one runner pass him as they race to the finish.
18th this year 36th last year.
40 seconds faster this year.
He's the first runner at SDA to medal in CIF in two years and only the second over the last 4 years.
At the Mary and I get to the finish corral just after he crosses the line and see him talking to his math teacher. The math teacher who only days earlier says he expects struggling students to seek him out. (that was not a good meeting). But here is the math teacher giving our son a high five. He says "I didn't know you were a runner" Eyes wide open to the success of a runner. The math teacher was at the race to watch his daughters who are at the other high school in town run. He saw Marco running and ran to greet him at the finish.
Next up was the top runner in San Diego. He walks up to Marco and shakes his hand. He had won his race just 30 minutes before and now he was there acknowledging the effort Marco put forward.
On to the awards where the top 20 are called out to receive their medal and recognition. The race was absolutely stacked. In the team competition there were 4 teams with in a very small number of points. They were all bunched at the front. The rules are 3 teams qualify and then the next 5 racers not on a team qualify. The only stipulation for them is they have to finish in the top 14. Marco was the 5th non team qualifying member across the line but because he was 18th he doesn't get to go. But his eyes were opened for the future. It's like a switch went on. Who knows where it leads but clearly success is an eye opener.
It's a good life.