Leon cross country runner Sukhi Khosla stopped 10 yards past the finish line, turned around and looked at his time on the digital race clock.
A guttural noise of excitement exited his worn-out body, and a fist pump followed. He needed a second look to prove he wasn’t dreaming.
The junior had just shattered the previous Apalachee Regional Park course record of 15:18 set by Andres Arroyo of Colonial at last year’s state meet.
Khosla sprinted mindlessly to the finish and crossed in 14:59.45 to win the Elite boys race of the FSU Invitational over Mac Macoy (Vestavia Hills High, Ala.) and Tyler Bennett (Ft. Myers) on Saturday morning.
“I’m pretty excited,” Khosla said. “I wasn’t really paying attention to the time. I was going more for the win. Right as I finish, I look at the clock and see :59 and think ‘That’s awesome.'”
Khosla, who last year at ARP finished 11th in the pre-state meet and 13th at state, needed a bit of time to get fully healthy, both from illness and bodily injury. He’s trained hard, working to improve. Now the rest of the state must take notice. There’s no way not to.
“There was a lot of hype on this race,” Khosla said. “I ran the fastest time in the state at Alligator Lake, but people still said I hadn’t raced against some of these guys– Bennett, (Brandon) Marquez, (Nick) Diaz. I raced the Niceville guys, but it didn’t feel like they were running all out. It felt good to actually beat them all in a race.”
Niceville’s Nicholas Morken finished fourth, followed by Miami Sunset’s Diaz and Timber Creek’s Marquez.
It turned out to be a stellar Saturday morning for area schools, as Chiles, paced by Cade Zimmerman’s 15th place finish, captured the team victory over Belen Jesuit, while North Florida Christian senior Griffith Rutherford won the Varsity A boys race, finishing in 16:10.
“We had a good day today, the guys prepared well and I’m proud of how they competed,” Timberwolves coach Scott Gowan said. “This is one of the best and largest meets, and they were focused. We came out here (Friday) to be around the big teams and practice like we do when we travel. They came out here and put it together.”
Avery Bartlett (22nd, 15:46), Ty Murray (42nd, 16:02), Sean Turner (54th, 16:15) and Jared Grigas (57th, 16:19) comprised the rest of Chiles’ scoring.
Lincoln’s Hunter Scott finished third (16:16) behind Rutherford, and tried to hang past the two-mile mark, but Rutherford pulled away at the end. Wakulla’s Albert Smythe finished 20th.
“Coach has been talking to us a lot about pushing that second and third mile because that’s where my times are slowest at,” Rutherford said. “As soon as I got to the two-mile mark, I just tried to pass him and extend the lead as much as I could because I knew that (last) hill was going to kill everyone. I wanted to get up to that and push it as best I could.”
Wakulla senior Maddie Harris took 12th in the Elite girls race, crossing in 18:30, while Leon’s Audrey Dogan took ninth (19:39) in the Select girls race.
It was quite a sight to behold as ARP has morphed in one year’s time into a behemoth that held 212 teams on its sprawling and well-groomed grounds. Over 2,000 athletes from six states competed in the day’s 10 races.
“It’s icing on the cake that this happens to be the state meet course,” Maclay coach Gary Droze said.
“It’s a testament to how much passion there is for cross country in this town. When you combine (FSU coach) Bob Braman’s vision with folks from Gulf Winds Track Club like Brian Corbin, who has made this an absolute priority for his life– he flew back from Texas where he lives now to be the lead vehicle for the race– you get that kind of devotion and good stuff’s going to happen.”
Also noteworthy, in the Varsity A girls race, Chiles senior Ashton McMurray claimed seventh place in 19:29, with Maclay freshman Caroline Willis two spots back in 19:56. Connor Daughton grabbed seventh in the Varsity A boys race (16:11).
Aucilla’s Braden Mattingly (ninth, 17:35) and Gatlin Nennstiel (11th, 17:40) performed strong in the Varsity B boys race, while Florida High junior Amanda Toothman snagged seventh on the girls’ side (21:00), guiding the Seminoles to a fourth place team finish.
But the morning belonged to Khosla, who woke everyone up with a blistering run, but one that wasn’t without a little bit of nerves as he exited the woods, runners on his heels.
“I knew Bennett and Macoy– he won FSU Relays last year– would go with me,” said Khosla about making his break. “Coming up the last hill, I could hear yelling about reeling me in. And I was scared. I don’t want to look back ever so I was just going as hard as I could.”
The redesign on the course also moved the finish line 50 yards farther than last year. Khosla almost sprinted too soon, but a descent aided his stride. His desire did the rest.
“He’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime type kid to coach,” Leon coach Andrew Wills said. “Anytime you see a good runner, like Arroyo last year, it’s always fun to watch them. It’s obviously fun to coach them, too. He’s special.”