Before every race, first-year Isaiah Thompson performs his pre-run ritual of listening to “My Moment” by DJ Drama.
“I remember being in high school and (being) injured before a race, but when I listened to that song, I ran and I won (the) Division V CIF,” said Thompson.
Hailing from Valley Center, California, he was a late bloomer to cross country. He actually spent his second year in high school playing basketball.
“I started getting really serious about cross country and track my junior year,” Thompson states. But during his senior year, “I started having significant drops (in my run times) and that’s when I started getting noticed by colleges.”
Courtesy of UCI Media Relations
One year later, Isaiah Thompson is named the Big West Freshman of the Year. Just last week he claimed an individual championship in the 25th annual Vanguard Invitational, hosted in Costa Mesa.
Cross country is a sport with no time outs, no benches and no breaks. It is one large race of highly competitive runners, facing the natural elements. Male collegiate runners dominate either an eight kilometer or a ten kilometer course, which is between five to six miles. The athletes run in rain and heat, challenged by steep hills and forced to navigate through uneven surfaces until they reach the finish line.
Coming into his college career, Thompson had his sights set on the 800 meter race in track and field, but his success in cross country is only his first stride in making his mark in UCI athletics.
The runner owes his work ethic to his competitive spirit. “I remember (when I was 12, my friends and I) would line up to see who was the fastest. I just wanted to win and ever since then I’ve had this competitive drive that pushes me … Coach says I will probably be running the 1,500 meter race as well, but I can’t wait to come out into the 800 and (mess) with some records.”
For UCI’s distance team, the end of track season signals the beginning of cross country season. While other students enjoy their leisurely summers, distance runners are hard at work, training and logging hundreds of miles on their running shoes. At the end of August, the team comes together to begin the competitive season.
According to Thompson, the cross country meets begin with low stakes but as the season progresses, the stakes become higher until they culminate at the Big West Conference Championships. This year’s championships are scheduled to take place in just a few short weeks.
“I’m excited for post season,” said Thompson, as he sets his sights past Conference to the 10,000 meter Regionals and National races. “Everyone wants to run at that elite level and get recognized.”
In his first collegiate cross country season, Thompson placed 13th overall in the Big West Conference meet.
Not only being the fastest freshman for UCI, but also in the entire conference, Thompson became the first Anteater to earn the title of Big West Freshman of the Year last season.
Courtesy of UCI Media Relations
While discussing his success, Thompson accredits much of it to his team. “Our team is close knit. Having the same schedules, we wake up together for 7 A.M. practice. It is not easy running cross country in college,” said Thompson.
In regards to UCI men’s cross country team placing second in the Vanguard Invitational, Thompson said, “It’s a great step in the right direction for our team this season.”
Thompson and fourth-year teammate, Alex Tebbe, aim to place Top Three in Big West Conference championships this year. Thompson hopes the two can lead the team to a Big West title. “The team is totally capable of taking it,” Thompson confidently said.
Looking ahead at the rest of the season, Thompson approaches each meet with a simple strategy.
“I go into each race calm and normal. If I think about it too much I’ll stress myself out.”
Thompson is confident that he is, literally, willing to go the distance. At the end of his first year, Thompson leaves competitors in his dust as he pushes himself to break records and win titles in the many races to come.