Since 1988, the Plymouth Big Red cross country team, boys or girls, have seen postseason after postseason go by without a team or individual making it to National Trail Raceway for the state championship meet. That is until 2016.
Plymouth senior Nathaniel Redden punched his ticket as the first cross country runner since Wendell Burton, who made the trip in 1988, during Saturday’s regional cross country meet in Tiffin. His 21st place finish in a time of 17:19.09 allowed him to grab one of the Top 26 spots.
“It means a lot and is kind of amazing to think that in a way I kind of made school history,” Redden said. “I broke the drought and it makes this so much better and mean a little bit more. Not just to me though, to the whole school.”
Plymouth has been known as a basketball school in recent years, but for the fall of 2016, it is a cross country school again. Plymouth High School has a rich history on the trails as the only state championships in school history came in the sport in 1971 and 1974. The facts make it even more impressive that Redden has been able to bring the sport back to the school.
“It has been a while and cross country is tough,” Plymouth coach Jay Follett said. “It is not easy at all to get out and track is the same way. It is such an individual thing and you don’t have those other people to rely on like in team sports. I am super excited for him and very proud of him. He has put in so much work and has gone above and beyond.”
On the season, Redden has 12 Top 10 finishes out of the 13 meets the big Red have competed in during the 2016 campaign. But it was at the Firelands Conference meet where he set a new personal record of 16:51.38 where he finished fifth. It was a vast improvement from his 17:34 as a junior. Redden credits his winter and summer workouts for his first ever trip to National Trail Raceway. As a freshman, Redden took on the course in a regular season race and ran a 20:54, a long way from his new PR.
“I had to put in more work than I ever thought I would have to,” Redden said. “My first couple of years, I didn’t know what it took to make it to state. I wanted to get there, but I just didn’t prepare the right way. It was like a dream at that point and I might make it if I get fast enough. Over the winter and summer I really stepped up my training. I gave up wrestling to do indoor track and I think that helped. Over the summer I ran more miles than I ever have before. I finally realized what it really took to get here.”
During the winter, Redden admitted to running 50 miles a week and 65-75 miles a week over the summer. But it has been a bonding friendship with St. Paul’s Jared Arnold that has taken him to the next level. The FC rivals are far from it when it is not race day.
“Jared and I have a really good relationship,” Redden added. “We do all of our long runs together and this whole season we have meet at the Willard reservoir and run 12 mile runs every weekend. Then at the meets, all three of us talk and cool down together, but when it comes to race time we are pretty cut-throat competitors.”
“They pal around together and it is neat to see that between conference teams,” Follett added. “We do have 17 total boys and one girl out running at the state meet this week. It speaks to how strong the conference was this year; it was tough. A lot of people do not think of the Firelands Conference as a cross country power so it is cool and it speaks about Nathaniel. He is one of the strongest ones in there. He was fifth at conference, seventh at district and 21st at regional.”
For Follett, he is hoping that other kids interested in the sport will take notice of Redden’s dedication and success and provide a reboot to the program with hopes of starting a new streak of sending kids to state for a number of consecutive years instead of the drought.
“It will be great if it got more kids out for the sport and inspired them to run, but I hope it inspires the ones we have, the kids that are already out to want to work harder to achieve what he has. I hope it inspires kids to want to do the same thing.”
Follett and Redden have discussed the expectations for Saturday with a reachable goal and adding in the ultimate goal of All-Ohio status.
“An All-Ohio finish would be fantastic so Top 25 would be ideal,” Follett said. “It is a very tough field. Maplewood is very tough and has a strong seven. We have Chad Johnson from Colonel Crawford who is an absolute beast. Individually it will be tough, but I would love to see a new personal record. That is goal No. 1; everything else would be gravy.”
Redden will be in action again on Saturday for his final high school race at the state championship meet. The feat still hasn’t sunk in for the senior.
“It seems surreal still and I had to convince myself that I really did it,” Redden said. “I just kept telling my self that it really happened; I am really going and I have that one more week I have always dreamed of having.”