By Willa Moffatt,
After taking eighth at the Western regional qualifier, the Davis High men’s cross-country team’s top runner Michael Vernau crossed the finish line in 10th place at the Footlocker Cross Country National Championships, held on Dec. 12 at Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif.
Vernau’s journey to a top-10 spot and All-American Honors started on Thursday with a quick run, roommate assignments and gear distribution from Footlocker. Friday was spent doing a pre-meet course run, sleeping, an athletes’ dinner and talking with professional runners, which “motivated me to be disciplined,” the junior said.
Saturday was race day, and according to coach Tim Groth–who traveled with Vernau and his parents to San Diego–Vernau went in with a clear plan.
“He and [head coach Bill Gregg] had talked about running smart,” Groth said. “The whole year has been ‘you don’t have to kill yourself in the first mile,’ [and] he definitely showed that today.”
Vernau himself was confident he would achieve his goal as long as he stuck to the strategy.
“I knew I had a top 10 finish in my legs as long as I raced smart and luckily I managed to be disciplined enough to give myself a good position,” Vernau said.
Going into the first mile, Vernau was in 22nd (out of the 40 national qualifiers), which Groth said was not at all worrying. Vernau made a big move at the beginning of mile two when he surged on a downhill into a top-10 spot. On the final straightaway he held off another runner’s surge to secure a 10th-place finish.
Vernau finished the 5K in 15:28.6, which Groth called “probably the best cross-country race he’s ever done.”
“[Vernau’s season] has to be one of the best individual male cross-country seasons at Davis High,” Groth added. “I don’t think we’ve sent any guy to Footlocker Nationals [before].”
Though he was eighth in the West last weekend, Vernau was the third runner from the West to cross the finish today. Drew Hunter of Virginia won the race by nearly ten seconds, while California state champion Phillip Rocha–who has raced Vernau in the past–finished second.
Despite his enjoyable Footlocker experience, next cross-country season Vernau hopes to qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals meet in Portland, Ore., which he missed by 1.4 seconds this year. “I’m a shameless Nike fanboy,” he said.