At the end of his Nike Cross Nationals race, Tanner Norman reached out and placed his hand on the shoulder of Southwest region teammate Joe Benson.
In moments of complete exhaustion, it's difficult to remember--much less explain--all the things you do, but this one gesture seems more transparent than most.
For the preceding two days, Norman and Benson shared the NXN experience as Southwest region teammates. They shared meals together, talked, and laughed together. And, in the frenzy of the final moments of the NXN race, Norman fought hard to hold off Benson's final charge. Benson would end up getting past Norman at the finish, but the rush of the final surge to the finish would take Norman by McKay Johns, another Southwest region representative, for 8th place.
In that moment, Benson's bent-over figure was the most familiar, and maybe only familiar, thing in Norman's world. The gesture of putting a hand on the shoulder of a fellow combatant who had earned the place ahead of Norman is an act of appreciation almost any runner can relate to.
What fewer runners can relate to is an 8th-place finish at the national championship of high school cross country. Even in Norman's own mind, that finish was a bit more than he had dared to hope for. In private conversation, he confided he was hoping for a top-15 finish, but 8th place cuts than goal almost in half. And, the extra seven places aren't easy places to come by.
Even a top-15 finish would seem like an ambitious goal for someone who finished 7th at the Southwest regional race. Perhaps the Southwest region is the toughest region around, but Norman still ended up needing to beat four of the the six people who beat him at NXR-SW in order to claim the 8th at nationals.
It also meant finishing ahead of several guys who were champions of their regional qualifying races.
Perhaps most importantly, it meant maintaining composure after a start that didn't go as planned and working his way up through an unforgiving field for the first two miles of the race. Norman first worked his way toward the outside of the field then picked his way through the mass of contenders along the flank, where matters of traffic were a bit less bothersome.
Norman's top-10 finish marks the third time in the last four years that Colorado has had a top-10 male at NXN. It might easily have been four-of-four had Paul Roberts adopted a slightly less ambitious race strategy in 2015. As it was, Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th.
So, as much as Colorado has excelled in girls finishes at NXN, the recent boys finishes have also trended well ahead of the national mean.
Norman's NXN finish marked the end of a very successful cross country season, and career, for the TCA senior. Norman went unbeaten in Colorado his senior season and suffered only one defeat in Colorado his junior season, earning state titles both years.
Norman finished second at Desert Twilight in September, but evened that one up by finishing ahead of Daniel Bernal, the Desert Twilight champion, at NXN. And, as mentioned before, Norman finished ahead of four of the six individuals who came in ahead of him at NXR-SW.
Next year, Norman takes his race to Iowa State University. Whether he redshirts that season or joins the regulars on the Iowa State traveling squad remains to be seen, but he has now closed the books on one of the most successful Colorado high school cross country seasons in recent memory.