Simon Holden has a long list of impressive accomplishments since he got serious about his running career four years ago, but the most recent may have been the one he wanted the worst and certainly the one he had to work the longest to acquire.
Just last Saturday at Nashville's Percy Warner Park, the senior Red Raider won a state championship in cross country, covering a hilly and challenging 5K course in 16 minutes, six seconds and beating his nearest competitor by 18 seconds.
It had been a long road to this latest win. He had run this race each of the past three years, posting a time of 17:51 as a freshman and 18:15 as a sophomore when "I did really bad as I went out too hard, thinking I had a shot at winning."
Last year, he got a whole lot closer as he finished second, but he's spent virtually every training mile since then preparing for one of the biggest wins of his career.
So what did he do on Sunday to celebrate his latest state title? He went kayaking for most of the day.
Holden has been a very coachable young man. He's good at following race strategy devised by Baylor coach Jan Gautier, who has been his varsity coach these past four years. Such was the case last Saturday with the best runners in the state present to watch.
"My plan was to do what we had to do to win. I tried to go out with a conservative first mile, because I didn't want to die and get beat like I had done in previous years. I felt good for the first half and then coach Gautier told me to take off at that point," the soft-spoken fellow said before a short run and pool workout on Monday afternoon.
"That course always hits me hard and it was kind of windy on Saturday. That last uphill climb looks a lot worse than it is, but I really felt good at the end. I finally won the race I'd been trying to win for the last three years. All of a sudden, it's now what? I can't afford to dwell too much on it as I hope to keep getting better.
"I was really hoping to break 16 minutes in that race. I'm knocking on the door as I'm getting faster. Maybe the Foot Locker race in Charlotte will be a breakout day for me," the son of Alisa and Horace Holden continued.
"I had already won several state titles in track, so it was really important to win in cross country this year. I don't think winning on Saturday has fully set in yet," Holden smiled.
Simon finished fourth at the ever-competitive Tennessee Classic on this same course back in September. It was the only race of the season he didn't win. He would be the first to tell you that he enjoys all kinds of outdoor activity and that he prefers running trails as opposed to roads, but he also has a huge liking for track.
Just last spring at the state meet in Murfreesboro, he proved just how strong and fast he was by winning the 3200, 1600 and 800 runs on the same day. As if that wasn't enough, he came back and ran a 51-second quarter in the 1600 relay as he helped his teammates finish third in that race.
He was the 1600 state champ as a sophomore.
"Brandon Lord was a senior when I was a freshman and my goal has been to be a better runner than him. This spring, I'm going for the school records in the 1600 and 800," he added, noting that Oliver Townsend has those marks of 4:09 and 1:53.
Gautier has watched this young man get faster, stronger and more mature as the years have passed. She has her own history of being a dominant runner, so she easily recognizes talent when she sees it.
"Simon has been a diamond in the rough the whole time I've coached him these past four years. He was a lacrosse player before he decided to be a competitive runner. He will probably hate me for saying this, but he was a chunky kid in the seventh grade," Gautier said with a laugh.
"I remembered him running in middle school and I was shaking the bushes trying to find guys to run cross country. He's always had good speed.
"He did exactly what he needed to do on Saturday. I told him to go on the downhill section at the halfway point. He was in total control. I can tell when he's ready to race. He had a lead of about 100 meters by the time he reached the second mile mark.
"My only disappointment was him not breaking 16 minutes. He's worked so hard and he deserves it," she praised the three-time Runner of the Year in the Chattanooga Cross Country League.
"I must admit I was nervous before Saturday's race. I knew he was well prepared, but there have been things go wrong before as so much can happen in a three-mile race. He ended up running a near-perfect race.
"Simon is the complete package. He's always the first one to ask what he can do to help and he's the kid you want your daughter to marry. He has the respect of every athlete on this campus.
Dillon Clemmer also earned All-State honors in Saturday's race. He and Holden have been the Baylor captains this year. Alex Dunn joins them as the only three seniors on the team.
"These guys have been with me from the beginning. I'll miss them next year," Gautier concluded.
High school cross country has ended for Holden at Baylor, but he's hoping to do well at the Foot Locker regional race in Charlotte on Nov. 24, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The top 10 advance to the national championship race, which is always held at Balboa Park in San Diego.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)