It’s been building toward this, and now Mt. Lebanon High School junior Patrick Anderson has reached an incredible place. This Saturday, December 8, he will race in the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship in San Diego, otherwise known as the high school national championship.
“I’ve been running since seventh grade, and since high school putting in the work every day. It’s just kind of all come together at the end of this year,” Anderson, of Midway Road, says.
He qualified by finishing sixth at the Northwest Regional November 24 in the Bronx, New York. The top 10 advanced, and he turned in a personal-record (PR) time of 15:38.6 in the 5,000-meter race.
Before regionals, Anderson won the state Class AAA title and was the WPIAL runner-up.
“It’s a great conclusion to a spectacular year,” Lebo boys’ cross country coach Mike Agostinella says.
Anderson has studied some names and times in advance of the national championship, and he has some familiarity with some of the top runners from the Northeast.
Generally, Anderson’s tactic is to immediately go to the front of the pack and stay with or near the leaders in the outdoor, overland races. He’s not sure whether he will stick with that strategy for this race.
“I might not decide until I’m in the race what the plan is going to be, but I do usually like that strategy,” he said. “The state win and then a PR at regionals has built up a lot of confidence. And even track workouts in the past two weeks, just hitting some of the times that I have has definitely put a lot of confidence in me going into the national meet.”
Anderson has never participated in a national event.
“This is my first one. The debut,” he said.
Anderson is somewhat unconventional for a distance runner.
Most fit a certain physical profile–slender, wiry and built for stamina. Anderson wrestled up through eighth grade, and he’s built a little differently.
“I’ve always been a runner with a lot more body mass than some of the other guys,” he says. “Coach considers me a strength runner, and I think that works to my advantage a lot of the time. I ran in middle school and wrestled at the same time and they kind of worked together. I ended up choosing running.”
It seems like it’s been a good choice. At the regionals, many of the runners were seniors. Anderson has another year of high school to further hone his running and his resume.
He’s setting up a strong path toward running in college.
“I am pretty much describing him to college coaches as the real deal,” said Agostinella, who has been coaching 53 years, including 10 years as the Pitt head coach.
“He has been contacted by people from the Southeast Conference, from the Big Ten, the military academies, from all over the country. Everybody wants to get their pitch in to Patrick.”
First, there is the race in San Diego. Anderson was scheduled to leave Thursday morning, along with his parents. His mother, Meghan, was a WPIAL 400-meter champion in her day.
“She was more of a half-miler,” Anderson said. “I think that’s where I got a lot of my talent from. We share a lot of experiences.”
Agostinella planned to surprise Anderson by also traveling to San Diego.
Not only will this be the highest level of competition Anderson has faced, but it will also be on a flatter course than he’s used to in a city known for its perfect weather.
“The course at San Diego is not as physically challenging as some of the courses we have here, based on our hills and other things,” Agostinella said. “What that means is, it’s going to be extremely fast. So there’s not going to be a lot of obstacles. The pace is going to really move along quickly. Some of our workouts have been pointed in that direction to prepare him for that.”
Some of the preparation is simply rooted Anderson’s talent. That shined through at states, when he used a leg kick to move up from third, passing the two lead runners over the final quarter-mile or so.
“The one thing that Patrick has that a lot of distance runners don’t is, he is exceptionally fast,” Agostinella said. “He just turned up the boost (at states), and off he went.
“Pat is very, very aggressive. He’s probably the most aggressive distance runner I’ve worked with on the college or high school level.”
The national championship race Saturday at Balboa Park in San Diego begins at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
UPDATE: Anderson finished 29th of 40 at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship. He ran the 5,000-meter national championship course at Balboa Park in San Diego in 16 minutes, 16.4 seconds. That was off of his personal best of 15:38.6 that he ran in finishing sixth at the Northeast regional championships. With most of the runners tightly packed from the start, he was running 18th at the one-mile mark, but the lead pack thinned out and picked up the pace over the second half of the race.