Sachem North’s Christopher Tibbetts has thought about the race since the moment it ended. Through winter and spring track, summer training and a vacation to Hawaii, it has driven him like a steep downhill — full steam ahead until the goal is achieved and the memory of last year erased.
An early race mishap at Nike Cross Regionals at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls sent Tibbetts into a tailspin. It was the biggest race of the year, and because of something largely out of his control, it quickly became more about just finishing than winning. Booking a ticket to compete at Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon, the biggest high school race in the country, was out of the question.
“I had never run at the course before,” Tibbetts recalled. “Everything was going well, and 150 meters into the race, [the course] funnels. Somebody stepped on the back of my heel and ripped off my spike. Normally, on a course like that, you could deal with running with one spike off and one spike on. But, I didn’t realize that halfway through, it becomes all gravel. It was just a bad race after that because I wasn’t able to put my foot down fully. It hurt a lot. I pushed myself to finish the race, but it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.”
Lauer didn’t get his desired result either, a 13th-place finish and an end to his stellar cross country season without a cross-country trip.
Tibbetts, along with his teammate Jonathan Lauer, were the talk of Suffolk cross country last season. They placed first and second at the Suffolk Divisional Championship — a race that, by and large, features the best talent in the county — and first and second in the Class A race at the Suffolk State Qualifier.
Lauer won both, with Tibbetts right behind him.
This year, both seniors are ready to change that. Yes, they want team success. Yes, they want county championships. Yes, they want state championships. But, most of all, they want a plane ticket.
Both runners increased their summer mileage this year, starting the long run to Oregon with hot summer days looping around their neighborhoods. A Dec. 3 trip to Portland was all the motivation they needed.
Lauer raised his summer running by about five miles, hitting the pavement for anywhere between 65-70 miles in a given week. Tibbetts also increased his running by five miles and estimated that he clocked 60-65 miles per week.
“The mileage adds up over the weeks, so hopefully it will give me more endurance, let me get some faster times, go harder for longer periods of time and have all the steam I need for the entire race,” Tibbetts said.
“I think my body is reacting very well to the mileage and I’m confident going into this season,” Lauer said.
They know their bodies. They know their goals. And, perhaps just as important, they know the courses. Suffolk’s dynamic duo both feel their experience gives them a considerable advantage, especially when it comes to navigating Sunken Meadow State Park, the place where almost every Suffolk race of substance - including Divisions and the State Qualifier - is held.
It’s a grueling course, one with two leg-pounding hills that ensure only the strong survive. Sunken Meadow rewards training and punishes apathy, just the way they like it.
“I’ve run this course so many times, Lauer said as he walked the course with Newsday last week. “I know the ins and outs of it. I’ve been running since I was a freshman and it’s definitely a big help.”
Lauer and Tibbetts hope that, even though they’ve run it far less than Sunken Meadow, their time on the Bowdoin Park course last season will create the same homely effect at this season’s Nike Cross Regional. Because, as great as last year was, they both want a better ending.
“Hopefully that won’t happen again,” Tibbetts said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to produce a good race and fly out to Oregon. I’d really like for Jon and I to go. I think that would be great.”