Somewhere in the hills of Southern California, Conner Henderson is lining up against the best of the west today. The cross-country runner will represent South Tahoe against about 200 of the best high school runners in the Western United States at the Foot Locker Regional Championships. Elite runners from as far South as New Mexico, as far North as Alaska, and as far West as Hawaii will converge on Mount San Antonio College, situated just outside of Los Angeles, for the 5K national qualifier. The top 10 runners from each of the four regional championships will advance to nationals in San Diego on Dec. 8. “It's pretty much the biggest high school cross-country race in the nation. I'm just going to to go in and lay it all out,” Henderson said. “Normally, I have a game plan to stick with whoever is in front of me for about a mile in. Then I just go for it.” As a two-time defending state champion, Henderson's game plan seems to be effective. He smoked the Nevada state championship course this year with a time of 16:37, 13 seconds faster than second place. He also captured first at regionals (17:04), a good 11 seconds ahead of his closest competition.Henderson's best 5K time, though, is 15:48. It's a time well within the top 100 who will be running today. It's also a time that defines Hendserson as one of the best in the world of high school running. For someone so speedy, Henderson was surprisingly relaxed two days before the big race. The calm attitude is nothing new. The senior seems to be in no particular hurry to speed through life. “In Conner's case his free spirit, his damn the torpedo's mind set, frees him to race more relaxed,” Henderson's track coach Dan Wilvers said in an email. “But don't be fooled by his ease, make no mistake there is a ferocious competitor in there, and a very smart runner.”The calm is actually a big part of what makes Henderson such a smart runner. It seems more natural rather than practiced, but either way it gives him a huge advantage on the cross-country course. “That calm is rare among runners because of the intense nature of racing and the objective standard that a clock places on a performance,” Wilvers said in an email.Henderson got his nerves out of the way last year when he ran in the same regional championship as a junior. He finished 66th out of about 200, and got a taste of the same tough roller coaster of a course he'll be running today.This year, Henderson is shooting for top 50. He's hoping for top 25. It will be his last high school cross-country race before he hits the college track. “We had such a fun group of kids so it's kind of sad it's over, but it brings college a little closer and I'm looking forward to that,” Henderson said. Henderson is in the process of applying to colleges all across the Western states, including University of Hawaii. Where ever he eventually ends up, running will be a part of his future. “He should be a big asset to whatever program he lands at next year,” Wilvers said.
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