A Gritty End To Anderson's Magical Season

How hard was Patrick Anderson working in pursuit of a national championship Saturday in San Diego?

So intensely that the Mount Lebanon senior blew a hole in the toe box of not just one but both of the New Balance spikes that had carried him to victory each time he hit the starting line in 2019. By the time he crossed and then tumbled over the finish line of the 41st Foot Locker National Championship, arguably the greatest cross country season by a Pennsylvania boy was history.

"I did notice my feet were kind of hurting part way through the race, (but) I was just focused on holding a place and running hard," Anderson said, not knowing when his size-9.5 spikes gave out on him on the two loops around Balboa Park.

"I had holes up in the top of my spikes and my (big) toes were cut up and bleeding. I don't know what happened. They're the ones I've run in all year ... the only race they've ever lost."

Although the third-place finish was Anderson's lone non-gold-medal run of the season, the effort put an exclamation point on another chapter in Keystone state running history. The performance was the second-best ever by a Pennsylvania boy in the Foot Locker finale, only surpassed by the runner-up effort from Upper Perkiomen's Mike Connelly in the event's fourth year in 1982.

"I didn't realize that," Anderson said of the historical significance of his finish. "Over 41 years, there's not even a guy from all the states that has ever won. That's definitely a good feeling to be up there and mentioned in that kind of a statistic."

Outside of California, Anderson was simply dominant in 2019. Not including dual meets, the University of North Carolina signee won each of the races he contested in August through October by at least 13 seconds. Four of those big meet victories were by more than 23 seconds each.

"One of the big things is confidence," Mt. Lebanon boys' coach Mike Agostinella said of a reason Anderson was a force in 2019. "Having done the stuff that he did last year and being a two-time state champion now, that really increased his confidence a lot. I've been telling him since a little before the state meet (that) he's a different runner this year. And it really proved out obviously result-wise."

From the first of three record-setting runs at California University of PA through the successful defense of his Class AAA state title in record time, Anderson never finished outside the 15:00s. A year ago, Anderson dropped below 16:00 only twice.

"The end of the summer when I was dealing with some tendonitis in my knees and had been cutting back a little bit on some training, I was almost kind of worried about the season ending," Anderson said of his preseason outlook on XC 2019. "I definitely did not think that (I would be so consistent) going in.

"Especially last year running my best of 15:38 at regionals and that was a big PR. Then this year to be running under that or around that for pretty much every race, definitely a little bit of a shocker I think."

Anderson worked his way up from a 22nd-place finish in 2017 to the top of PA's Class AAA stack a year ago, thanks in large part to a series of epic confrontations last fall with North Allegheny's Zach Kinne and Dan McGoey.

"I think the first race where I beat Zach Kinne (at Tri-States) at Cal U was probably one that I could look to that opened (my eyes) that, 'Hey, I can do this,'" Anderson said of a pivotal race in his high school XC career. "And winning a state title last year kind of boosted it for this year."

Anderson got the best of the NA duo in their final duel of 2018, grabbing the gold medal by a handful of seconds over Kinne and McGoey. According to his coach, that race typified when Anderson is at his best - going one on one with other national-class athletes.

"The way he operates is that time is secondary to him, and I think that's because he has so much talent," Agostinella said of Anderson's main motivation on race day. "Primary is running head on head with various kids."

In Saturday's finale, Anderson was able to employ the race strategy that had been so effective over the past two seasons, placing himself near the front and right where he wanted and needed to be to improve on last year's finish in California.

"That's exactly where I wanted to be, but also it didn't necessarily feel smooth and easy," he said of the pace set by eventual winner Josh Methner of Illinois. "The pace right from the very start of the race was (fast) and you were working to stay up there with those guys. It was definitely a tough race from the gun, but I was exactly where I wanted to be position-wise."

When Methner broke the race wide open just before the start of the second loop, Anderson and Michigan standout Carter Solomon were at the front of the chase pack as the rest of the field was left with heavy legs.

"It definitely takes a toll," Anderson said of the picturesque layout that has crowned Foot Locker champions for decades. "I think I felt tired and kind of dead after the first loop.

"That first loop runs pretty fast going out and racing those guys. Coming back for the second loop, it definitely is hard just to hang on and hold position and a place at the front of that (pack). To fight your way back up and down the hill again a second time definitely is not easy."

Already a few days into a well-deserved break in training after his 15:18.0 run and spot on the Foot Locker podium, Anderson will be back on the roads in a few weeks in pursuit of indoor and outdoor track honors, adding to the legacy he will leave behind at Mt. Lebanon as he heads to Chapel Hill next fall.

"I thought Patrick really got the best out of himself," Agostinella said. "He has been able to hold his peak. He has really been able to keep hammering away even though it's the end of a long season.

"One of the great things about Patrick is his humility. He is so humble. I've had other kids who have come to this meet, obviously not done as well as Patrick, but somewhere along the way they got a little self-involved. Pat never has, never did. That's the legacy I think he's leaving. He's a great teammate in addition to being a superstar talent."