It's only been five years since River Hill senior Rahul Reddy got into long distance running. He joined the Howard County Striders as an eighth grader and then proceeded to run for the Hawks the following year, where he competed in one B-race before being promoted to the polarizing River Hill A-squad.
"It was actually something that I thought of, which is kind of interesting because you see people pointing out, 'Oh you should try this, you should try that,' but for me it was more a self motivation sort of thing," Reddy said. "When I came on I did not expect to make the A team, but coach [Earl] Lauer kept coaching me and he believed in me when he was coaching. Then in the last few years coach [Paul] Hugus has put a lot of faith in me, so they've helped a lot with my training. They are the faces of River Hill cross country."
Now, four years later, Reddy has taken the mantle that former teammates Trent Rose and Chris Heydrick held before him — leading the Hawks to county, region and state titles en route to being named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier boys cross country Runner of the Year.
It's the fourth-straight year a River Hill runner has been named Howard County boys cross country Runner of the Year (Chris Heydrick in 2013 and 2014 and Trent Rose in 2015).
"Coming in I wanted to repeat that same legacy that they had left for me," Reddy said. "I wanted to go out there and win counties and regions just like they did and lead the team to success. I knew that was sort of the pressure I had throughout the season and I knew beforehand that I had to keep it up. I wanted to maintain that status and I wanted to keep it up throughout the years. So definitely the influence of Chris and Trent over the years has proven to have a toll on me."
No program has set a higher standard for cross country running than the River Hill boys team. In the program's 19-year history, the Hawks have won seven state titles and finished second three times. But they reached even bigger heights recently, winning each of the last three state championships. With Reddy leading the way, River Hill capped off its title with the most dominating team performance in state championship history.
"It's definitely the hard work," Reddy said. "It starts in June when we do the summer training and it ends in November. So those five months we really push and our coach really encourages us. It's a little bit of both. We're lucky to have coach but we work hard for it."
Reddy was the Hawks' top finisher and crossed the finish line in 16 minutes, 2.91 seconds — just 2.26 seconds behind 3A state champion Ryan Lockett of Poolesville — to earn second place.
Reddy was emotional after the race, knowing it was his last of his high school cross country career and realizing his chance to win an individual title was seconds out of reach.
"The first thing that came to my mind was that this was my last cross country race and I felt a little sad that it was over for high school, but I was a little sad at first that I couldn't win it because I was that close and it kind of just flew away," he said. "So I was kind of mad about that, but Trent came by and he told me that was probably the best state race he's ever seen."
It was a successful season overall for Reddy, who was the top runner at the county championships (15:58.5) and at the 3A East region meet (16:09.1). He led a standout senior class that featured Jacob Parker, Ben Oldhouser and Kevin Reynolds, along with freshman Anish Nanjappa, who all had top-25 finishes in each of the postseason races. Reddy credits much of his success this season to a change in his preparation.
"One of the main things that happened this season was I kind of laid off of the training a little bit," Reddy said. "In terms of mileage I wouldn't go as hard as I usually would and that was primarily because I wanted to make sure I was still healthy enough and not getting injured. Beforehand I was hitting about 40 miles a week, but throu
ghout the season I was hitting around 35. I sort of followed a low-mileage system throughout the season and that sort of shaped my training. I think it varies from runner torunner, but it definitely benefited me that I laid off a little bit because I was more rested. And it was my senior year so I was kind of stressed out, so definitely the difference in mileage helped a lot."
The Hawks cruised through the postseason, winning the county championship meet by 25 points and the 3A East championship by 33 points for a third straight year. The state championship meet, however, was one for the record books. Their 119-point margin of victory is the most in the history of the state championships.
"In my opinion I think it was this year's team that was the strongest," Reddy said. "Statistically if you look at the times, our times this year were much faster than they were last year and the year before. Last year I believe I ran a 16:54 and I was the second-fastest runner on River Hill, but this year our fourth runner, Anish, ran a 16:55. So I think that this year was much stronger."
Reddy said when he entered the program his freshman year he never imagined he'd be a part of such a dominant run.
"I've been running with them for four years now. … I never actually did imagine that it would happen," said Reddy of winning three-straight state championships. "But it is amazing that it did."
Although the bar is always set high for the program, there has always been a sense of light-heartedness with the team, especially throughout this season.
"We are a team and we all crack jokes," Reddy explained. "We have very good team chemistry, so like I said in the past we all know what we have to do. We are kind of [lackadaisical] about it in that … because our team chemistry is so good we are able to support each other and keep a calm mind while training. We're not necessarily stressed out or worried about other teams. We just do what we need to do."
Though his goal of winning an individual state championship in cross country is no longer achievable, he has his sights set on winning gold in indoor and outdoor track.
"I definitely want to win an indoor state title and I definitely want to win an outdoor state title, so whatever happened in cross country has actually fueled me to try harder in indoor and outdoor," he said. "I thought I gave it my all throughout the season. I definitely have some regrets, but I mean overall it was still an amazing season. And apart from me, we won our third state team title, so nothing beats that."
Reddy is confident that, even after he and the rest of his talented senior class graduates, the underclassmen will hold the same standard set before him.
"I am confident that we will be back at the top," he said. "Because we have returning runners like Jake Downing that will lead the team and Anish will be up there, too. I am sure they will lead us again tothe top."