Fairfield Prep senior Christian Alvarado, who placed 39th last year at the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championship meet, worked with Jesuits' coach Bob Ford Jr. on their goals for him before the season began in the late summer.
Scribbled on a piece of paper was the desire for Alvarado, of Fairfield, not only to return to the championships in San Diego, but to finish in the top 10 there as well. The 15 fastest finishers will be named All-America after the race on Saturday.
A lofty goal but not unrealistic since he qualified for the nationals in 2012 by placing ninth at the Northeast Championships in the Bronx, N.Y. Most high school athletes tend to improve from year to year. Thus far in 2013, Alvarado has raised his expectations -- and he has met them with few bumps in the road. Alvarado, the SCC Champion, was runner-up in the Northeast meet on Nov. 30 to punch his ticket for a return trip to San Diego. He has been fine-tuning his base of conditioning and his competitive edge since.
Alvarado is ready to go. He joins 39 others for the chance to be the National Champion. The top 10 finishers in each of four regional championship meets qualify for the nationals.
Ford said Tuesday night that from a physical standpoint, off his recent training, Alvarado is ready to run a strong race. "Mentally, I think he's ready," Ford said. When Alvarado was asked if he's set for a fast performance, he said definitely. "My mind is in the right place," Alvarado said. "I feel I have a lot to prove to myself." He was next to last in the 2012 race.
Last year, Alvarado battled some minor injury issues and was not quite at his best on Balboa Park's Morely Field course. He went out too fast in the first mile and did not have enough energy for a strong finish. This year, he's not planning to trot in the first mile, yet he won't be aiming to be in the lead at the first-mile marker that should have the front-running pack -- Alvarado included -- reaching it in approximately 4 minutes and 40 seconds.
"I went out tremendously fast (last year)," Alvarado said. "I have to be ready for that. I'm definitely going to run the race that much more relaxed. I have one race left in my cross country career. I'm excited. I'm really looking forward to it."
Ford characterized Alvarado's training in the last several weeks as getting him accustomed to running at close to 4:40 per mile, while yet having enough in reserve to push to the finish line. "Last year, he was unable to hold it," Ford said of Alvarado's fast pace at the start. "He needs to run a pace that he's comfortable with. He has to try to be more patient this year.
"He's not going to be surprised; he ran it last year," Ford said. "He's not going to get too excited." Alvarado said running the race last year, with a familiarity of the course, will work to his advantage. As far as finishing in the top 10, "I feel it's attainable," Alvarado said.
A fast finish on Saturday only would add to his list of elite accomplishments for the season. He was undefeated in the regular season, won his conference championship meet and the CIAC Class LL state title, both in October. Alvarado then won the State Open, but soon began to battle a sinus condition and placed fourth at the New England Championships in Manchester, N.H., on Nov. 4. He ran an invitational on Oct. 5 and merely shaved a half-minute off the course record at the Woods Trail Run 5K in Thetford, Vt. At the Northeast Championships at Van Cortlandt Park, Alvarado was in the lead until the final 500 meters when Mickey Burke, of Henrietta, N.Y., pulled even, pushed ahead and edged him by three seconds.
Alvarado and Ford left Thursday morning for California. Alvarado's training called for a run later in the afternoon on the West Coast. Tuesday became a rest day -- one is built in each week -- and that was taken then because of the wintry weather. The race is 5,000 meters long, or five kilometers, which is approximately 3.14 miles.
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