Penns Valley senior Chris Colwell never tried it before. He didn’t know whether it would work. And his coach admitted he harbored his doubts.
But both couldn’t have been happier — or more surprised — at the finish line during Tuesday’s Mountain League Cross Country Championship race.
Colwell, who routinely leaps out to first and helps the pack keep pace, watched a brand-new strategy pay off with a personal-best and first-place time of 16 minutes, 21 seconds. Instead of his usual style, Colwell decided to hang around in last for a change. A week ago, he simply figured he might as well try something different.
“Everyone in the Mountain League has raced against me for four years, and people come prepared for this race and they know the guys who race well here,” Colwell said. “So I just wanted to switch it up and, in a way, get in people’s heads.
“I’ve never done that in a race before. I’ve never tried to win from behind, so that’s new for me.”
Colwell paced the Rams, who captured their fourth straight Mountain League Championship after boasting six of the meet’s top 8 runners. Colwell began near the tail-end of the group and then decided to make his move about halfway through the 5-kilometer race.
He passed by everyone and then just kept getting faster. While some of his competitors collapsed after the run, some dry-heaving others face-down in the grass, Colwell smiled and jogged toward a checkpoint.
“I was sort of doubting it,” Rams coach Terry Glunt said with a laugh, referring to Colwell’s strategy. “But he broke his PR on this course by 30 seconds. He just annihilated it today and he said he still felt like, if he could’ve run another 5K, it would’ve been faster. He felt that good at the end.”
Tyrone’s Zach Kohler was 21 seconds behind Colwell, at 16:42. He was followed by Bellefonte’s Brett Pope — and then by five consecutive Rams: Colton Sands (fourth, 16:51), Brendan Colwell (fifth, 16:59), Mark Bierly (sixth, 17:05), Sammy Gray (seventh, 17:21) and Charlie Romig (eighth, 17:25).
Sands, a freshman, also set a personal record. But the fourth-place finisher couldn’t say enough about the teammate who finished a half-minute ahead of him.
“Chris is a really good mentor,” Sands said. “He’s really knowledgeable, and he’s a great runner.”
The Lady Rams, who captured the regular season conference title, finished second Tuesday at the Mountain League championship. Clearfield finished first, by seven points, while Bellefonte came in third.
But Penns Valley’s girls were far from disappointed. Five of their seven runners finished with personal records, including runner-up Karly Smith — who finished 28 seconds behind Clearfield’s Abby LaBorde (first, 20:26). “We did our best and we PR’d,” Smith said. “So it’s OK.”
Bellefonte’s Amaya Rothrock was close behind in fourth (21:16).
“I started pushing myself a lot toward the end,” Rothrock said, “because I could hear my coaches yelling at me, literally, like screaming at me, ‘You can do better!’ ”
For Colwell, the big winner Tuesday, it was difficult to envision just how he might’ve improved. One man in a Penns Valley sweatshirt approached him, patted on the back and just commented on his time: “That’s insane.”
The dozens in attendance, some with camping chairs and many more dressed in extra layers with a chill in the air, murmured about the fast time, about how Colwell was so far ahead of everyone else. It wasn’t expected, not even by Colwell.
But with one-tenth of a mile left, after someone shouted his time, he knew a personal record was within grasp. And, 50 meters from the finish line, he knew he locked it up.
“This isn’t a fast course by any means,” Colwell added, still smiling. “So to do it on this course is awesome.”
Mountain League Championship
Boys’ team results
1. Penns Valley 23
2. Tyrone 74
3. Clearfield 75
4. Bellefonte 87
5. Central 121
6. Philipsburg-Osceola 158
Girls’ team results
1. Clearfield 38
2. Penns Valley 45
3. Bellefonte 56
4. Philipsburg-Osceola 129
5. Tyrone 129
6. Bald Eagle Area 154
7. Central 155