In a typical 400-meter race involving the section’s best competition, Kolton McCrossen often begins the final turn well behind the top three to four runners. For the Live Oak High junior, it can be a little unnerving at times to see a couple of competitors ahead by five to 10 meters with around 110 meters to go. However, it’s a position that McCrossen thrives in, knowing he has a superior finishing kick.
In the St. Francis Invitational on March 16, McCrossen showed once again why he thrives in the biggest races. He started the final turn in sixth or seventh place before blowing by several runners and finishing in second place in 50.96 seconds, which at the time was good for the second best mark in the Central Coast Section this season. A week later in the Avis Kelly Invitational at Gilroy High, McKrossen won the 400 in a personal-record (PR) time of 50.28 seconds.
“I was in no place to get a medal (at St. Francis) and just stuck to my form and started passing everyone like I usually do,” said McCrossen, who along with fellow junior Brandon Miner are the only boys on the team who have a top 10 mark in the CCS. “I got to the guy in first place and he beat me only by nine-tenths of a second.”
McCrossen doesn’t actually use a running watch to track his pace; rather, he goes by feel and instincts. It’s a successful strategy that can only be employed by a runner who knows their body and what is happening within the race.
“I run the race with no watch and maybe in the last 50 meters if there is a clock (scoreboard), I’ll look at it,” he said. “But normally I just run from start to finish with no idea of the time. It’s about me making sure I’m in a position where I’m not going to get blown out.”
McCrossen employed this exact strategy in last year’s Blossom Valley League Finals, when he came around the final turn in fifth place before roaring down the home stretch to finish in second in 50.88 seconds. That earned him a berth to the CCS Trials, where he finished in a then-PR of 50.86, good for 11th place, three spots out from advancing to the CCS Finals.
Brimming with confidence, McCrossen not only plans on advancing to the CCS Finals this season, but he hopes to earn a top three finish and advance to the CIF State Championships.
“I’m feeling set that I can run (the 400 in) 48 (seconds) by the end of the season, which hopefully would carry me to state,” he said.
McCrossen puts every ounce of energy he has into running, employing a can-do attitude and putting in long hours to achieve his potential. A year ago, McCrossen took off five seconds from his 400 time from the start of the season to the end, a huge improvement for a mid-distance sprint event. Once the track season was over, he decided to take a different challenge by trying out for the football team.
“I heard conditioning for football was pretty bad, and yeah, it was pretty bad,” he said. “But I wanted to keep in shape in the off-season and did it for the conditioning aspect, because I can’t catch a football to save my life.”
McCrossen only went into games when there was a blowout, and he ended up being in on every snap in the second half of the team’s blowout win over Westmont playing the safety position.
“I was pretty nervous that game, but once I got in there, I had a lot of adrenaline and even made three to four tackles,” he said.
Like McCrossen, Miner had his breakout season on the track last year, when he finished in seventh place in the 110-meter hurdles race in the BVAL Finals to earn a berth to the CCS Trials, where he took 25th. Miner’s time of 16.82 seconds in the league finals was a marked improvement considering he ran the 110 hurdles in 17.59 seconds in the season-opening scrimmage.
Miner has carried over a strong 2018 campaign to this season, as he nailed two PRs in a span of nine days, the first being a 16.19 second mark in a dual meet against James Lick on March 14 and the last being a 15.89 in the Avis Kelley. Save for a bout with shin splints, Miner’s season has been solid.
“I’m battling the same normal injuries every year,” he said. “Other than that, things are pretty normal. My goal overall is to get a sub 16, so seeing that race (James Lick dual meet) wasn’t as good a race as it could’ve been, I think on a peak performance day I can definitely drop a sub 16- or 15-second time by the end of the season.”
With excellent guidance from Live Oak High coaches Cindy Armstrong and Omari Carr, athletes like McCrossen and Miner are feeling confident about future races. Miner has been working on his speed while shoring up a technical issue.
“I have one big issue with technique, and coach (Armstrong) has definitely helped me to fix that,” Miner said. “Going over the hurdles, I usually have my lead leg too straight. But in the race with James Lick, I was able to bend my leg a little more so I could get down faster, which allows me to run it faster. … I really can visualize how I’m supposed to do it (fix a technique flaw) and then transfer that to the races.”
In addition to the 110, Miner does the 300-meter hurdles and the high jump, the latter in which he has a PR of 5 feet, 8 inches. Miner nailed a huge PR of 42.07 seconds in the Avis Kelley, which was good for second place. Before the start of every race, Miner finds the right balance of getting hyped but not too excited.
“I hype myself up and then calm myself down,” he said.
Miner started doing track only after he earned a black belt in tae kwon do in the sixth grade. Even though Miner stopped mixed martial arts at that time, he credits tae kwon do for building and developing the leg muscles that serve him well today on the track.