By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Noah Gade has had a knack for making some big strides for the Stillwater High School cross country team over the last four years.
But after finishing eighth with a time of 15:03 in the Foot Locker South Regional cross country meet, the Stillwater senior will be going where no Oklahoma runner has gone before — to the Foot Locker National meet in San Diego, Calif.
“It really cool,” Gade said. “There have been a lot of good runners to come through Oklahoma, and to say that I was the first to qualify for the Foot Locker Nationals, it’s something else.”
Saturday’s regional race has been on Gade’s mind since he finished 30th in last year’s regional as a junior.
“That was one of his goals,” Stillwater coach Dan Zeroski said. “Last year he finished 30th and his goal was to qualify for it. He did and he reached another one of his many goals. We’re always proud to see him set goals like that and reach them.”
At times Saturday there were plenty of nerves. For Gade, failing to qualify would signify an end to his high school career.
As he crossed the finish line, those nerves turned into excitement as the Class 6A state champion earned an all-expense paid trip to San Diego for the national meet on Dec. 8.
“You’re sort of on edge the whole race, trying to cross that finish line as quick as you can and get it out of the way,” Gade said. “It was elation really. You cross and the lead official whisks you off into a tent and you give him your information and contact. It’s really fun and I’m really glad I got to experience it.”
It wasn’t just that Gade earned the trip to California with Saturday’s eighth-place finish. Gade also turned in a career-best time, proving that he is hitting his stride at the right time.
“It’s always nice when you can run your best race when it really matters,” Gade said. “If you go out there and run a (personal record), you can’t ask for anything more.”
According to Zeroski, what may have helped Gade was the fact that he had competed in the same high-stakes meet last year and had trained his body to start peaking at the regional meet.
“One thing that really helped him a lot was he went last year and ran a personal best 15:30,” Zeroski said. “He knew what to expect. He’s been there and done that, so I think it helped him be a lot more relaxed this year than he was last year.”
“I think it helped a lot,” Gade said. “It wasn’t just for the race itself, but also from a mental standpoint. I knew what it was going to be like and how the race was going to start, but I also knew how to approach it and how to control the pressure because it is such a big meet. That really helped a lot this year.”
Gade may be headed to the national meet in two weeks, but don’t expect the Stillwater senior to take it easy. Gade already has a goal of competing and showing the rest of the nation Oklahoma has some talent when it comes to cross country.
“There’s definitely some good competitors from all around the country,” Gade said. “The guy that won the Foot Locker South today ran a really impressive race. I’m just looking forward to getting another chance to compete and having it be at the highest level of high school cross country.”