All-conference, all-area, all-region, all-state, conference champion, regional champion, state champion, Mr. Cross Country, Foot Locker National Finalist. Those are a few of the things Connor Mora accomplished during his senior cross country season at Cedar Springs High School. The most recent is qualifying and competing at the Foot Locker National Championships last Saturday, December 8.
The Foot Locker National Championships consists of 10 girls and 10 boys from each region, adding up to a total of 40 boys and 40 girls competing in the races. In order to qualify, a runner must place in the top 10 at regionals. Once they qualify, they are flown out to San Diego, California, for an all-expenses-paid trip to race at nationals. Many runners become professional in the years after this race, proving that it is the most prestigious field of high school runners in the nation.
It was a chilly 28 degrees when Mora raced to an eighth place finish at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Nov. 24. For nationals on Saturday, Dec. 8, the temperature was hovering around 70 degrees with clear skies and sun at race time.
“There’s not much you can do about the temperature change and not a ton you can do to train for it,” commented Mora. “I actually enjoyed it a lot, it’s great getting to run in warmer weather again.”
In preparation for the event, Mora trained specifically for the national course. The 5K course is made up of a loop they run twice. There is grass and dirt throughout the course, with a steep hill that they run up and circle around before coming down a long, steep downhill.
“I’ve done a lot of hills—practicing my downhill for the big downhill on the course,” explained Mora.
Along with the physical preparation, comes the mental preparation and focus that is essential in the competitive atmosphere. The field Mora competed against included the defending Foot Locker national champion, the 2012 Nike Cross Nationals champion, numerous state champions, and boys with impressive track and cross country credentials leading into the race.
“It was a lot of focus,” expressed Mora. “Getting ready knowing that you’re not going into the race being the best one, that you’re racing the best of the best.”
Each runner was introduced by name and accomplishments before they jogged to the start line, confirming that any one of the 40 boys had a shot at the crown. After all of the runners were introduced, the boys lined up by region on the start line. This is when it hit Mora that this race is a special thing to be a part of.
“This is the biggest race I have ever ran in my life,” said Mora. “It’s a pretty awesome experience and an honor to compete out in California against the best guys.”
Mora got into a good starting position after the gun went off. He did not have a strategy going into the race because he knew anything could happen in the fast field of guys. He instead went in with an open mind, ready to adjust to anything. This allowed Mora to run to a 29th place finish with a time of 15:58 on the tough course.
“I wasn’t 100percent satisfied (with time and place), but I was satisfied with the experience that it gave me and the opportunity to learn a little bit more about racing at this level,” explained Mora. “Overall, I was satisfied with everything I took away from it.”
Mora is in the process of deciding where he will continue his running career after high school. He has taken official college visits over the cross country season.
“Right now I am still undecided,” he said. “I have narrowed it down to a few colleges but have yet to decide.”
As for his accomplishments this season, Mora humbly credits others for helping him get to where he wanted to go. “Without the support that I have had and my team, my coach, my parents, and all of my friends, my successes would not have happened. I am really thankful for all of them.”