Two-time PIAA AAA Cross Country Champ Craig Miller saved his best race for last, the Foot Locker FInals at Balboa Park in San Diego. And that's not easy, considering that his season officially ended five weeks before at Hersehypark in the PIAA State Championships with his second consecutive title.
Miller during introductions at
Foot Lockers (photo by Dyestat)
Miller, who doesn't seem to ever be surprised by anything in his races, was surprised at the slower than usual times in the Finals. The weather was warm.. but Miller said many considered it a result of "all the dew" every morning. Either way, he was pleased with his race, "but my time wasn't great."
Miller's success in the big races is a mark of a special talent. The physical part is obvious in the performances. It's the mental aspect that is even more rare. His first All-American came in his first adidas Outdoor Championships in June, when, as a sophomore, he finished third in a 4:06.76 to two of the nation's best, Victor Gras and Gavin Coombs. He set the US freshman HS 1600 record pushing the pace against seniors who didn't expect him to be there. And he was no less intimidated in facing the current leaders of cross country two weeks ago at the Northeast Regional, or in the Finals.
The hoopla surrounding the event is legendary, but Miller said it wasn't hard to get or stay focused, because "once you warmup, you realize there's going to be a big race." He stayed in a pack of runners "10th to 16th" much of the race. That was fine for Miller in his first Foot Lockers. With a goal of getting top 20, he really had no idea that top 15 was All-American. Miller settled in behind Northeast champ Chris Barnacle, figuring if he stayed with him, he'd realize his other goal of the race - "to beat as many of the other Northeast runners as I could." Only Barnacle (6th) and John Martinez (14th) finished ahead of him.
Miller felt comfortable through the mile and two mile, and didn't really look for or see the moves being made ahead of him. "they are just faster runners than I am." But he did push the final mile, and on the last big hill was passed by Martinez and one of the runners from the west. "Toward the end, I was pretty tired." But his 15th place finish is the best by a Pennsylvania runner since Council Rock runner Danny Coval's 7th place in 1999.
Having his best race in the last race can be credited to two factors, Miller's mental toughness, and coaching. To Miller, the key problem with having the PA state meet three weeks before the regional qualifier is one only of focus. "If you keep running at intensity and keep mentally focused, it's possible. And a big part is coaching. He (coach Terry Lee) gives me the workout and times. I couldn't do it by myself. Plus, he doesn't put pressure on me. I just try to improve from year to year."
Miller was accompanied by everyone in his family except twin brother Brad. Brad had been running with Craig much of the season, and seemed poised for a great state meet when he lost a shoe near the start. The course at Hershey does not reward those racing in one shoe and one sock on the other foot, so his 9th place finish was no small feat. Craig would like his brother's company should he earn a return trip in 2005. "I hope he decides to run it next year and we both make it."
Craig's goals, while not fixed, are constant improvement. He feels his best event is the mile, and that the 800 is his next best, rather than stepping up to the two-mile. "I hopefully will improve my PRs in track. I just try to run fast every race or set a record."
But first it's into the pool Monday, where Brad has been contributing to the Manheim Township team since early November.
And the other Foot Locker surprise for Miller? "Cormier surprised me with his win. He surprised all of us."