Saturday morning…I woke up and knew that it was no ordinary day. Within 5 hours, it will be done…all the miles during the summer, the 18 mile long runs, the 6 by one mile repeats workouts, the countless 8 mile morning runs and 80-100 mile weeks, the freezing ice baths and the burning core workouts, the hours of foam rolling my calves and and ankles, the struggles with injuries, the commitment of getting sleep and eating well. Soon all that work will come down to one race, a mere half hour of the most intense racing of my life! Only 10 kilometers and it will be done. With a lot on my mind I tried to stay within myself and keep focused. I met up with the team for a quick 2 mile shake loose 4 hours before the race. Then breakfast, the usual…peanut butter and banana sandwich and a homemade oatmeal banana “cookie” Then we had some time to relax before we headed out to the course. I went back to the room and spent some time reading Romans 12 and meditating on what my goals were for the day. First and foremost, I want to honor God by demonstrating good sportsmanship, being a good teammate, and running to the best of my ability. Individually, I had the All-American status on my mind, meaning I would have to finish in the top 40 of the best DII athletes in the nation. As a team, I wanted us to represent USF and most of all God. To be on this stage is a huge blessing.
We got to the course and before we knew it, it was time to get lined up. Next to our box was Adams State, the defending national champions and favorites. All around us, 31 other teams that wanted to test themselves on this stage just like we did. Runners set…BOOM! At nationals, the field starts unbelievably fast…almost a sprint! I settled into the crowd, hundreds of runners surrounding me and jostling for position. Suddenly, a guy lost his balance and fell immediately to the right of me. I could hear gasps of breath and grunts as a few other runners collided with him and collapsed as well. We were a stampede, a seemingly ruthless mob…and that could have very easily been me fallen and my race ruined! I looked behind, hoping Bobby or Ethan (who had tucked in right behind me) had not been in on the trample, but I could see nothing. With them in my thoughts, I continued with the stampede because I didn’t really have any other choice. I needed to refocus on my race and just hope for the best. Mile split…4:55. The next part of the race, another runner pinched me off a little and I stumbled. I regained my balance and accidentally cut another guy off, and he cut a gash in my leg and a hole in my shoe with his spike. I tried not to worry about it, and once again I was just lucky that I was still on my feet! I was probably in about 100th at this point, but finally I was starting to move. I didn’t even focus on how far I was into the race, I just focused on staying calm, keeping my breathing under control, and trying to relax. Adrenaline was still on my side. I also needed to keep moving in order to give my goal a legitimate shot…this took a lot of focus because it is so easy to just settle with the runners around you. At the halfway point, I finally found a teammate! I ran with Matt for a while and tried to keep him motivated and work together with my teammate. He definitely helped me through that portion of the race…we have gone through a lot of hard work together, and I was reminded of our workouts and gained confidence. But I needed to put a surge in because I was still in 70th place. Down the hill and back up…and I was starting to get tired. I finally had moved up to mid 50s, but that had taken so much work! My mind started playing tricks on me, trying to convince me to slow down…it’s okay if I finish about here, I still have next year…if I’m close to my goal, that will be good enough…I’m tired and I need to settle. Then it got to the turning point in the race…a mile and a half to go. I could sense something…someone. It was my twin brother, where in the world did he come from?! Bobby was having a successful season, but he hadn’t pushed the pace and led the cougars for a while (injuries and lower mileage had kept him from maximizing his potential)! He didn’t have to say anything, I could just feel it…his body language suggested “we can do this Bill, let’s go.” He was so calm about it. It was eerily similar to Outdoor track conference 5k where we placed 2nd and 3rd together. We pushed back and forth, then Bobby took command. I focused in on Bobby and zoned everything else out. “You’re in 45th and 46th,” I heard my dad yell across the field. Half of a mile to go. I still didn’t know if I could do it…but Bobby is right there in front of me. Just follow him, if he can do it you can do it. I had to trust my body. 600m to go…one guy had collapsed (today was not his day), which means I only needed to pass 5 more. Then Bobby and I surged past 3 more. 400m to go…I could tell he was feeling good, and he put a few seconds gap on me. Another guy passed, I was in 41st place! But the race was coming to a close…who was behind me ready to out kick me? Can I do this?! Around the corner to the last 100m stretch…and two guys were right there…RIGHT THERE! That will be it, all I need to do! I dug deep and focused, arms flailing everywhere (see the finish video to verify this), my face grotesquely gasping for air, a quick glance of desperation to the sides with my peripheral vision, and I stumbled across the finish line! God deserves all the credit, he has given me life and a strong “Will.” 31 minutes and 16 seconds later, and it was done. Bobby placed 37th overall and I placed 39th! 1.9 seconds slower and I would have been disappointed and waiting for next year. But not today! Bobby and I became All-Americans!!
As a team we placed 18th in the nation. This was Matt’s first experience at the national level. After the best season of cross country a USF cougar has ever had, Matt had to settle with 77th place. He has a few more years and with the hard work he puts in, I have no doubt he will accomplish any goal he has in mind. He has been the best roommate I could ask for…always keeping things in perspective, showing dedication and consistency like I couldn’t even imagine. Ethan finished 200th, and is ready to get a few things figured out to keep him more consistent. His joy and dedication will pay off with experience, and this race taught him a lot. Cody was right behind Ethan at 202nd. As a freshman, what an honor to get to run at nationals! He has many more to come. Hogie came in at 241st, and showed a lot of heart. With only cross training, an all out 10k takes so unimaginable courage. He was able to push through obstacles, blisters, and pain…and also learned a lot. 18th in the NCAA DII Nation is not too bad, for a team that was 9th in the NAIA GPAC Conference only four years ago. And all of us are back for next year, hungry as lions to accomplish even more at the national level…watch out DII!
Afterwards we ran a 0.8 mile cool down (don’t tell Coach Watley, it was supposed to be 2 miles). Then we celebrated at Hu-Hot: getting Dr. Pepper’s and smores and eating like starving animals. Following that was nap time, we were exhausted, and the Bear Grylls badlands episode kept us entertained. After the NCAA banquet buffet, we ate even more food at a Sushi place (gotta eat Sushi while we are in Washington!), and also ate at a local ice cream place. Did we really get 5 more pieces of pie and a pie shake for each of us after all the food already?! Yes. A beautiful scenic overlook of Spokane and “Ace Ventura” on TV back at the hotel made for a fun night with my teammates…my brothers…a celebration of a lot of hard work. But now it’s time to get ready for the next chapter. I am so proud of my teammates, and love spending every day running with them. My coaches are excellent Christian role models that help us keep things in perspective. We want to be the best runners we can…but at the end of the day there is more than just running, jumping, and throwing. Thank you family and friends for all your support, we wouldn’t be here without you! A huge shout out to all of our parents, brothers, and grandmothers who made the trip and were amazing cheer leaders! Also a shout out to those who watched the live stream back at home! And stay tuned for more exciting things from Cougars Distance. #IndoorYet?