There were signs that St. Anthony’s Matthew Payamps was primed for an exceptional cross country season — namely, major roles on the Friars’ indoor and outdoor track state champion 4 x 800-meter relay teams last track season. But even still, Payamps was skeptical. He hadn’t been happy with any of his past fall campaigns, with a combination of injury and inexperience resulting in frustrations. But with some early season victories under his belt — and the bulk of the season yet to come — Payamps’ opening month could not have gone better.
“I didn’t really know what to expect on the cross country side, but I’m feeling pretty confident in how I’m able to push myself and how I’m able to compete on the cross country course,” Payamps, who lives in West Hempstead, said. “I’m a totally different runner than what I thought I was going into the season and I’m still learning.”
Cross country is a totally different animal anyway. 5-kilometer (3.1 mile) runs through the woods require a different level of strength, endurance, and racing acumen than circles around a well-kept and standardized track do. But like many St. Anthony’s runners before him, Payamps has shown he’s able to do it all.
He won the top race at the St. Anthony’s Invitational in 16 minutes, 30.89 seconds at Sunken Meadow State Park on Oct. 5. Before that, he had won the championship race in 15:49.79 at the Ocean State Invitational in East Greenwich, Rhode Island on Sept. 22 and the 4k varsity B race in 12:57.62 at the Regis Invitational at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Sept. 15.
He was the top runner on Long Island and was ranked 11th in the state as of Tuesday, according to speed ratings on tullyrunners.com.
What’s even more impressive about the Ocean State and Regis Invitational performances is that Payamps used them more as tempo runs than hardcore, win-at-all-costs races. This is common practice in September, especially within successful programs. Not wanting to burn out before championship season, which begins in mid-to-late October, runners will take it easier in races that, frankly, don’t matter as much. It’s a simple edict — lay down a time, stay in shape, and continue progressing toward the bigger late-season races. Wins in the process are gravy.
“We went into those races not fresh at all,” Payamps said. “We had hard workouts and we were doing a little bit of volume before the races. At least for me, I took the races as hard workouts and kind of tempoed through them. I stayed as relaxed as I could for the first mile, really tried to get away in the second mile, and tried to cruise it in for the remaining part of the race.”
The St. Anthony’s Invitational — perhaps with a little home-game enthusiasm involved — was a bit of a different story.
“That was the one that I went out hard and tried to go out and run as fast as I can,” Payamps said. “I wanted to get good practice with that before [the Manhattan Invitational], where I know that I’m going to have to be pushed to my potential with all the great guys in the race.”
The Manhattan Invitational, scheduled for Oct. 13, is one of the top midseason litmus tests in the sport. It’s arguably the biggest meet of the regular season and, as such, is a different kind of week for St. Anthony’s. They’ll run in the Eastern States Championship race.
“I’m going to go for the win there, be as competitive as I can be, and have a little ‘mini-peak’ for this week,” Payamps said. “We should be feeling good and ready to go…We usually don’t work as hard during the week of Manhattan — still putting in some work and some good volume, but nothing too hard on the workout side. We just want to make sure we’re feeling a little better than we had been in the earlier races and just be prepared with all the great runners that go to that race.”
Payamps surely is one of them.