On hills or in footlights, McDonogh's Thomas looks to expand horizons

On High Schools

High Schools

September 24, 2004|By MILTON KENT

IT SHOULDN'T come as a big surprise that McDonogh senior Tristram Thomas got a big kick out of the Hereford cross country course that just about everyone else thinks is a run through a gauntlet of villains.

For Thomas, the competition in the Bull Run Invitational, and the run across its hilly and exacting layout, was just one more opportunity to venture out from the safe and expected and to try something different.

"The first time you see it [the Hereford course], you're sort of shocked at how difficult it is, but you come back for many years after that and, actually, it almost gets fun, even despite its incredible difficulty," Thomas said.

"The conditions weren't great Saturday, but it was great to go out there and run the course. That's why we run the course, to get in the hard course, to do the difficult work."

Indeed, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan made for an even more challenging day than expected, with times typically a minute or so slower than usual because of the wind and rain.

At the end of that day, however, Thomas, the reigning area cross country Runner of the Year, not only posted the best time (17 minutes, 18 seconds) among those in the small-schools grouping, but a better time than anyone else.

Remarkably, his coach, Andy Gill, said Thomas might have posted an even better time if he hadn't pulled away from his nearest competitor about halfway through the race.

"You tend to run faster if someone is with you, pushing you along," Gill said. "He's pretty good about pushing himself, but I still think he would have been faster [with someone out with him]."

That Thomas, this week's Male Athlete of the Week, outworked the rest of the field for the win is what Gill has come to expect of a runner he calls the most talented and hardest-working he has had.

There are McDonogh runners who log more miles in a week than Thomas, Gill said, but no one spends more time in the pool or in the weight room or running in the early morning than Thomas.

And in a sport that appears to be singular and solitary in nature, Gill said Thomas has embraced and basks in the team concept of cross country, in which the lower the score, the better the finish for a team, since more of its runners cross the finish line before the opposition.

"You're out there doing your own thing, but before the race and after the race, you are a close-knit group," Gill said. "I think he enjoys that part of it and he gets that camaraderie, that team aspect of it. I think that's pretty important to him."

Though he ran indoor and outdoor track earlier, Thomas had never run cross country until high school, and even that connection was something of a fluke.

He was cut from the school's JV soccer team as a freshman and accepted Gill's invitation to run cross country. Three weeks after joining the team, he was the varsity's No. 3 runner.

He seemed on the way to stardom, finishing second in the Meade Invitational two weeks after moving to third in the team rankings. But the next day, Thomas was suffering from appendicitis, which kept him out for the rest of the season.

Thomas captured the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Asociation title in his sophomore and junior years and was looking forward to the spring outdoor track season in the latter year when he suffered a stress fracture while performing as one of the Jets in the school's production of West Side Story.

"We jumped over walls. We did dance steps," Thomas said. "I don't think the dance steps were a huge factor with my muscles and tendons or anyone's muscles and tendons. I think jumping over the walls, bouncing over fences and the fights and falling all over the place in shoes without much support over a long period of time really made the stress fracture."

Some, in Thomas' situation, with a promising running career ahead, might have pondered giving up something that could muck all that up.

But, if you're Tristram Thomas, where's the fun and adventure in playing it safe, in doing the expected?

"I like to involve myself in a bunch of things and learn about a bunch of different things," said Thomas with a winsome smile. "In that case, I guess I went overboard. But it was fun every minute of the way and I loved every minute of it."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.