Contrary to popular opinion from people that don’t understand the nuances of both, track and field and cross country are in fact two separate sports.
There is different training, different running surfaces, different elements to deal with depending on the area of the country and different mindsets when an athlete goes out there. One thing that is universal across both sports is winning.
For Toms River South senior harrier Chris Marco, he has not felt the feeling of winning a championship race in the fall during cross country. A year ago at this time as a junior, Marco, while a promising runner by all accounts, had not quite come into his own. It wasn’t until last spring that Marco really began to turn it up.
In the spring, Marco went on a tear that not many people saw coming, going 7-2 in championship races across 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters. That span of nine races included wins in all three distances at the Ocean County Championships and a remarkable 1,600-meter win at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, where he ran 4:07.31, a meet record and the 12th-fastest time ever run by a New Jersey boy.
His monster season led to him being named Asbury Park Press Athlete of the Year.
“Everything started at counties, I wasn’t expecting to do that at all,” Marco said. “That opportunity doesn’t come around much and to have that momentum was huge. I went into the Shore Conference and state meets not worrying about anything and the season couldn’t have played out more perfectly.”
Marco knows that last spring was last spring and that won’t mean much as he tries to have an equally-successful cross country season as a senior. He’s training differently now, but the fact remains he wants to win, something he didn’t really completely understand how to do until his breakout spring track season.
Marco noted more than once last spring that it was a new feeling beating the runners he was beating because many of those kids were beating him during cross country a few short months prior. Now, the tables have turned, Marco is the hunted and how he responds coming off last spring is among the biggest local storylines this fall.
“There was a little bit of a slowdown after the spring season, we got into a lot of endurance work as opposed to the high intensity stuff for track,” said Marco, who noted he was up to running 65 miles per week by the end of August. “Track and cross country are just two really different games, but I hope that I can keep that momentum going. It helps to remind myself where I was because my (cross country) history wasn’t too good.”
As a junior, Marco ran three times on Holmdel Park’s vaunted state championship three times. He ran 16:36 at the Shore Coaches Invitational in early October, before going 16:25 and 16:33 at the Group III meet and MOC, respectively. The 16:25 stands as his Holmdel personal best.
On first glance, those Holmdel times are respectable, but not state championship caliber. However, things have changed now. Marco is a different runner, a state champion on the track and a 4:07 1,600 runner. It’s now up to him to do something with what he has gained over the past six months.
“I’ve definitely got a lot of confidence coming off state championship in the mile,” Marco said. “I feel like I brought myself to a whole new level of strength. I still know the competition out there is great, but I’m ready to hop in there and make my mark.”