Race photos by Don Rich, Patty Morgan and Lex Mercado. Team photo courtesy of Max Norris
Hello Pennsylvania runners and fellow fans of Cross Country! My name is Max Norris and I am currently living my dream come true; not only have I come back, stronger than ever, from what I thought was a career ending injury, I have achieved my ultimate goal in the sport of Cross Country last week - qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals. Before I begin my first journal, I want to thank Mr. Rich for giving me this opportunity to offer some food for thought to my teammates back at Harriton High School, but really to all Pennsylvania runners out there who are looking to improve. Let me share with you some of what I have learned during this journey.
"Not all injuries heal with rest."
I wish I could have heard this Ryan Hall quote before I had already missed eight months of crucial training last year. Unfortunately, I had an adductor strain that kept me sidelined during indoor and outdoor track my junior year. I had pediatrists tell me, "it's all in your feet"; chiropractors say, "it's all in your back" and myofascial release therapists claim, "it's all in your head." Finally I found a physical therapist, (my eighth) who realized that we had to target the problem - my adductor. We used the graston physical therapy technique which involves breaking down the torn muscle's scar tissue using a stainless steel claw. It hurt like hell, but finding this last doctor changed, and in many ways saved, my life.
"Never, never, never give up."
For most of my summer, I was limited to biking and swimming. I had gone eight months with so little improvement in my adductor that, truth be told, I no longer viewed running as a part of my future. To stay in some sort of shape, I biked to work most days, but I was usually getting in as little as 20 miles per week. Sometimes, when I was feeling motivated, bored, or some combination of the two, I would do long, hard hill repeats on my bike or 35+ mile long rides like when I volunteered at the 20in24 ultra marathon in Philadelphia this past July (where my dad ran 50 miles in 2011!) Sometimes I would also go to the pool to do long, 90 minute swims or 10x2 minute aqua jogging intervals with 90 seconds rest. I owe a huge thank you to all my friends, especially Isaac Jennings, Anthony Vallejo and Jerry Delaney who helped me stay motivated during my eight months off by training with me during pool workouts. In terms of cross training, my coach has our team lift weights two to three times a week and do core for about seven minutes every day, which is led by our "Captain Core Karen". Some kids on the team slack a bit with their cross training but I promise - the work is well worth it! I've been bench pressing, doing curls, lunges and obviously, (Jack Curtis's favorite) lateral pull downs since my freshman year and I believe this extra effort pays great dividends!
"The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt."
My life changed on August 1st when my physical therapist gave me the okay to try running every other day. My leg still did not feel very great, but my mind was finally at ease when I realized there was hope. I was shot down once more however, because my adductor still ached and I skipped an entire week of training, biking included, that second week in August, because I was so devastated. But once official practice began, I started having so much fun with my team that I was inspired to alternate days running and biking once more. Looking back, it's amazing that my coach wrote me a personal 16 week training program to peak for nationals back then, before I had even run a single stride, yet alone a workout or a race. Sometimes I make fun of him for conducting psychology experiments on our runners by giving us such lofty goals to help us subconsciously redefine our limits. Truth be told however, I think he actually believes what he says. Thank you so much Mr. Klick, not just for writing an amazing training program, but for being the only person on this planet, including me, who believed that I could make nationals this summer!!!
"Where you invest your love you invest your life."
After 6 weeks of building base with easy runs, I started running workouts in mid-September. It felt amazing to run "fast" again and during this period I continued to increase my mileage from 50 to 60 miles per week. Thanks to my summer cross training, I was able to regain my strength and speed much quicker than I had expected, and I managed to enter my championship season undefeated! By this point, I was already so thankful to be healthy again, committed to college, and back to being myself, but I was also growing more ambitious; this is my senior year after all. I started running in 8th Grade when I heard about a local senior, Ben Furcht, who qualified for Foot Locker Nationals in 2008. Ever since, qualifying for this race has been my ultimate goal, so week after week, I started to dig really deep during my workouts and week after week, I pushed my body to new heights. I started to hit my times on mile repeats much faster than my coach planned for me to go, without even exerting more effort. My long runs became longer than ever before not because I would run for more time, but because my legs seemed to have a mind of their own as they carried me to new distances. I hoped with all my heart that if I qualified for Foot Locker, some underclassmen in my school district would be inspired to start training like I was when I read about Ben back in 8th grade, back when my mile PR was 6:13. I hoped that my school's sports programs could slowly begin to improve, which they have!
"When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly has developed in more ways than physical.
Is it raining? That doesn't matter. Am I tired? That doesn't matter, either. Then willpower will be no problem."
Over the past several years, only the winner from my districts race has gone on to make nationals. I felt after my fourth place finish however that I had a slim shot at snapping that streak because my time of 15:23 was solid and my coach drilled into my brain that I was no where near peaked. After witnessing Tony Russell's fitness first hand that day, I knew going into States that I was racing for second. To some, (possibly the runners who placed 2nd and 3rd at Districts) this mindset could have been a bit disheartening. However, I was already on cloud nine by that point with how my season was progressing and on the morning of November 3rd, I was astonished to see how many of my friends had taken the two-hour bus ride to come support me for States, and even more surprised to see all the "I Love Max Norris" T-Shirts, the posters, and best of all, the Maxs on Sticks!!! When people come to support you in a race, not only does it make you feel good knowing that they care about you, but it also adds tremendous motivation because you do not want them to have wasted their time for naught. In fact, I was so pumped that morning that I exceeded everybody's expectations (except my coach's obviously) and I placed 4th in what was definitely the most competitive XC race in PA history! Props again to Tony for breaking the course record!
"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
It is imperative to be extremely motivated. It is easy to make up for a lack in natural talent if you can find something that makes you tick, something that makes the pain feel inconsequential during workouts, and before you know it, you will become immune to the physical discomfort on race day. Also, learn as much as you can about the sport you care about. I have read Running With the Buffaloes, Running With Joy, Once A Runner, Daniel's Running Formula, Pre, The Perfect Mile, Roger Banister's Autobiography, Dual in The Sun and I have watched all three Prefontaine movies, Spirit Of The Marathon, The Jericho Mile, The Real Maine and Forrest Gump (if that counts). I would recommend them all. What you learn from these books and movies is that running is a form of art, and no matter what type of art you find interesting, mastery takes patience, dedication, and soul.
I entered the most important race of my life, the Foot Locker Northeast Regional Championship with these ideas in mind. I arrived in New York City the day before race day with my dad and my great friend and teammate, Anthony, to jog the course at Van Cortlandt Park for the first time. Immediately upon stepping foot onto those famous grounds, I knew I could make it to San Diego. Like Jonathan the zombie, "I like turtles", and seeing the tortoise and the hare statue and all the signs along the course kept me feeling lighthearted, yet focused. In fact, I wanted to be in 10th place with a mile to go because that is where the tortoise and the hare have their back-and-forth battle; I knew nobody would pass me in a section of the course I loved so much.
Twenty-four hours later, the sound of the gun reached my ears, and I was running. Even without any real speed workouts since 10th grade, I have been able to take the lead of every one of my races this year from the start. Getting out so well at Van Cortlandt was so much fun because I was running right behind Edward Cheserek, but I did not dare pass him haha! I slowed down and was comforted by all the familiar Pennsylvania faces I saw that first mile. Coming from arguably the top XC state in the nation this year was a true advantage that day; I was keenly aware of my competition. I simply ran right behind Brendan Shearn for the next two miles because I knew he would qualify and the next thing I knew, I was pulled across the finish line and dragged into that wonderful, white tent, where we worked on our paperwork in sheer bliss. Sure enough, Pennsylvania not only won the race, but we have four great guys heading to nationals as we all finished within six seconds of each other.
The first few days after qualifying, it was difficult for me to sleep because I was so overjoyed in being able to persevere through the hell that was my junior year and to have come out from nowhere to achieve my greatest goal as a senior. Now I have gotten my sleeping back on track (what am I talking about I am writing this and it is after 1:00am) and I have continued to do some of my staple workouts that I have done throughout the season, only much faster now than they were previously. Last Wednesday I ran 6xK in 2:55-56 with 2 minutes rest between each K followed by 4x200. Saturday I ran 4x1600 in 5:12, 4x400 in 68, and 4x200 in 31 with 60 seconds rest between each rep. I am still following the plan my coach wrote for me in September and later today he has me running 16x200 in 32. After that, it will be time to rest and enjoy my flight to the Pacific! San Diego will simply be icing on the cake on my already dream-come-true season, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I am going to give it everything I have. As etrain11 put it, "The biggest surprise […] is Max Norris who stunned me with his 7th place finish" but he believes I have "All American potential out at Foot Locker." It was also very kind of him to say, "having met some of his family at states, I know that this couldn't have happened to a more deserving family so congrats." I owe complete gratitude for my accomplishment to my friends, my teammates, my ex-teammates, my parents, my extended family, my teachers and my coaches for all the support they have given me, through the good times and the bad.