Zac Williston is taking us to the starting line. He’s lining up for the Division 1 boys’ cross country state finals with his Pioneer teammates and the best distance runners in the state at MIS – a place known for fast speeds.
It was Williston’s fifth trip to the states but the first time he was lining up to run with the Pioneer varsity team. While the weather was clear and cool, the course was muddy especially at the starting line where Williston and the Pioneers waited to run.
“I felt really calm going into the race, unlike some of the other guys who were so pumped for it,” he said. “During the first mile, I ran 5:10 which is right on pace for my goal time of 16 flat. The second mile didn’t go as planned and I ended up getting kicked from behind in a muddy section of the course and hurt my hip. I dropped back to seventh man on our team while I tried to push through the pain with not much luck.”
Around 500 meters from the finish line, Williston got an adrenaline rush and picked up the pace.
“I was passing people on the inside but ran out of room,” he said. “I had to weave through the other runners until I had a clear shot to the finish for the final 10 meters. All the pain that I pushed through instantly hit me at the finish line.”
Williston was able to find a few teammates and walked to the “meet and greet” area where he saw the rest of the team along with families, friends and a few Slauson teachers who came to show their support.
After the race, it was a full bag of mixed emotions.
“Well, I was in a lot of pain but happy for Nick (Foster) for winning the race,” he said. “Nervous about how we did as a team, overall. When I found out we finished sixth, I was bummed at first but then realized that we were sixth out of the top 25 teams that qualified for Division 1.”
Pioneer finished sixth in the state but more importantly the seniors finished a long, successful and rewarding run together as teammates. What started in sixth grade at Slauson ended on Saturday at MIS in Brooklyn. They will run track together in the spring and then head their separate ways.
The five seniors – Williston, Foster, John Florence, Paul Sutton and Ethan Mielock – didn’t meet at Pioneer. They have run for seven years, including three at Slauson under the direction of Coach Jon Strite. But the relationships and friendships started even before Slauson.
“I’ve known Nick since we were in the 8-and-under age group together at Huron Valley Swim Club,” Williston said. “In ninth grade, Nick and I both played travel soccer together while running track at Pioneer. We would run five miles after our soccer practice since soccer conflicted with track practice. We were really fit but very tired that spring. We both decided to drop soccer and stick to just running.”
Seems to have worked out for both runners.
“Paul is my neighbor so we’ve gone to school together since first grade,” said Williston, who plans on studying engineering in college. “John and I used to race each other in local 5ks when we were in elementary school. John would always win. Ethan and I played on the same basketball team at the Y in second grade.
“It’s been so much longer than just seven years together, with lots of memories built up. We’ve become a family. And, we know each other’s families. When we train together, we can have discussions about what’s going on in the world, talk about Ethan’s obsession with technology, John’s with music, and we all talk about cars. We just understand each other.
“No matter what happens, we know at the end of the day our teammate will get the job done.”
Foster finished first overall in D-1 for the second consecutive year. But while he was all alone at the finish line, he credits his longtime friends and running mates for helping push him along the way.
“I never thought about it being our last race until last week,” Foster said. “It’s really incredible that we’ve been running this long together. It’s been awesome running with these guys. It’s cool to see how far all of us has come. We certainly made each other better.
“We’ve all been the best out of our group at some point and also have all gone through some tough times as well. It always helped knowing that these guys had your back and were there for you.”