The reality of what Squalicum senior Patrick Gibson is about to do finally hit him Thursday morning, Dec. 6, when he was checking into his San Diego-area hotel.
"I just got my roommate assignment, and it turns out it's the kid that just won the Nike Nationals last week," Gibson said in a phone interview. "I've never met him, and it's pretty exciting. ... It's kind of crazy. If you look back to where I was when I was a freshman, I never would have imagined I'd be here right now. It's kind of mind-boggling."
Gibson, along with weekend roommate Sam Wharton from Tippecanoe, Ohio, will be among the 80 fastest high school boys' and girls' runners in the nation when they battle it out at the 34th Annual Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Balboa Park in San Diego.
Also among the runners in the boys' field will be Edward Cheserek from Newark, N.J., who is the defending race champion and the top-ranked high school runner in the nation.
"It will be very cool to compete against runners like that," Gibson said. "I'm excited about it. I'm sure they'll be nice guys, and competing against them will be an honor. I'm more looking forward to getting to know them and spending some time with them than I am racing them. I'm not sure I stand much of a chance, but it should be fun."
Don't sell Gibson short, though, as he brings his own impressive credentials into Saturday's race, as a two-time Class 2A state cross country champion and the defending state champion in the 3,200 meters from last spring. His time of 15 minutes, 13.6 seconds on the 5,000-meter course at Sun Willows Golf Course was the second-fastest run at any level during the state championships.
And at the legendary Mt. San Antonio College course last weekend at Walnut, Calif., Gibson finished ninth with a time of 15:48.
"The course at Mt. SAC is a different monster than anything we run on, and that's saying something because we have a lot of hills in our area," Gibson said. "They have three hills that are just ridiculous. My thought was to push the back side and not go out too fast. I was like 50th, and then I started pushing the back side, and I moved up into the top 10, and the top 10 started to separate itself with about a mile to go."
Though Gibson said he was "a little scared" in ninth place, he was able to hold that position to advance to this weekend's race.
"It was one of those races where being 10th was as good as being first," Gibson said. "I just wanted to punch my ticket."
And now that he has, Gibson will get to run alongside runners such as Wharton and Cheserek on a course that has helped launch a number of distance running careers, including Olympians Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Kara Goucher.
Gibson, who took a recruiting trip to Notre Dame earlier this fall and said he hasn't had a chance to do much since then, said he expected his parents to join him in Southern California a little later on Thursday, and older brother Danny, who is now running at Loyola Marymount, was expected to drive down for the race.
"I know the race is probably going to go out a little bit quick, because kids are going to be excited," Gibson said. "What I've got to do is lock in on my pace and run my race. It (the pace) could be sporadic, but it's really key for me to lock in on what I need to do and not get sucked into what everybody else is doing."
In 2006, former Sehome and Stanford runner Jake Riley placed 14th at the Foot Locker Championships.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
FOOT LOCKER CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 8
Where: Morley Field at Balboa Park, San Diego
Broadcast: Live at footlockercc.com
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.