NCAA XC Nationals: Inside the Mind of a Champion
Updated: Mar 30, 2021
Guest Author: Conner Mantz, @connermantz
(Photos courtesy of @byuphoto)
It was a cold, rainy November morning in Terre Haute, Indiana. I was already freezing at the starting line before the gun went off. But this was it, the moment that I had been training all season for — the chance to win a national championship.
From the moment the race started, I knew it was going to be tough. It seemed like I was carrying mud with me on every step.
We got out well. We were on the far right, and behind Matt Owens we were able to pack together well and get good positioning.
However, the race conditions made it seem like this 10k would go on forever. At 2k I felt pain in my legs much earlier than I normally do. At that moment I knew that it would not only be a battle between the best runners in the country, but a battle within myself.
Coach Eyestone’s words echoed in my head as I pressed forward “Just win the race that you’re in. That’s it. Win your race.” I knew I needed to do my best for myself and my teammates.
Around that 2k mark, Peter Seufer of Virginia Tech took off. I was in a good position in the lead pack and I tried to catch him for a couple seconds, but it was too painful. I knew I needed to conserve my energy for the rest of the race.
Slowly as we went, we reigned him back in, gaining ground every 200 meters or so. Coming around one of the loops, I threw my hat off. It was so wet that it became annoying, so it had to go.
Toward 8k we caught Seufer and we were all one pack again. That’s when Edwin Kurgat turned on the jets. I knew deep down I couldn’t catch him since I was in so much pain.
Approaching the last straight away I was in fourth. Joe Klecker of Colorado was ahead of me and Seufer was already kicking.
My muscles were screaming at me but I had one thing in mind — win my race. I kicked. Somehow I was able to pass Seufer at the finish line for third, just behind Klecker as well.
At the finish line I collapsed. Soaked. Frozen. Exhausted. Covered in mud. I just curled up on the ground till my teammate, Danny Carney, pulled me up. A second later Jake Heslington crossed over the finish line and said, “Guys, I think we won!”
At that moment I realized we had three finishers in before Northern Arizona had even crossed one. The feeling didn’t hit till they officially announced that we had won.
Rain-soaked and exhausted, the feeling of winning a national championship with my team was indescribable. We had won our races.
Brigham Young University's 2019 Men's Cross Country Team, NCAA Division I National Champions!
Click here to read more about the BYU Men's Team winning nationals and the BYU Women's Team winning Runner-up.
Click here to read all about how the NCAA DI college cross country championship works.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Conner Mantz was named All-American after winning the NCAA National Championship with the Brigham Young University Men's Team and placing third individually as a sophomore.
He is a three-time Footlocker All-American and member of the 2015 USA Junior World Cross Country Championship team. He ran for Sky View High School.
Conner is studying Mechanical Engineering at Brigham Young University. He enjoys hiking and playing the guitar, has three siblings and is originally from Smithfield, Utah.
Follow Conner on Instagram at @connermantz.