Late start, quick finish

The Baltimore Sun

In his first year running cross country, Howard senior Joey Thompson came away with the Class 3A state title, completing the course at Hereford in 16 minutes, 16 seconds to add to the three state titles he has won in outdoor track.

Thompson, who runs the 800 meters up to the 3,200 in indoor and outdoor track, plans to run in college and has narrowed his choices to North Carolina-Greensboro, Duke and Bucknell.

Running has become a big part of Thompson's life. Growing up, he played basketball and football in the neighborhood, along with soccer.

After playing three years of soccer at Howard, he decided to try cross country this fall. Along with capturing the state title, Thompson also won the county championship with a win over Atholton standout Graham Bazell.

Thompson, who maintains a 4.0 grade point average, ran in the Foot Locker regional race in New York on Saturday.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make running cross country?

Mainly the terrain. The distance wasn't too bad - it was more the hills. People would tell me that I would be running on a relatively flat course and even on a quote-unquote flat course, I don't think I ever saw a really flat cross county course.

How did it feel winning a state title in cross country?

It was great. I had won other state titles in outdoor track, but this was probably the best, because I was an underdog and also because it was my first year of cross country. Just coming out my first year and winning a state title was big.

How did you feel going into the race

I felt like I was in the zone: Pumped up, focused and confident in myself.

What do you do to prepare for a big race?

The main thing for me the night before is eating right. I try to eat pasta and just hang around the house and relax as much as I can. And then on race day, I just listen to my music, get warmed up and make sure I'm feeling loose and stretched and just go to the starting line and run.

What was it like going up against Atholton's Graham Bazell, and how did he help bring out the best in you?

It's a friendly rivalry. I'm cool with Graham and I'm pretty sure he's cool with me. Graham is a talented runner and he works hard, so just knowing that he was pushing himself all season long made me push myself harder in practice. He was obviously more experienced at running cross country, so I kind of paced off of him in most of our races.

A lot of times he took it faster than I wanted - especially at the beginning of the season. But by the end of the season, I was able to keep up with him and felt more confident in myself and was able to stay with him.

He really helped me come in and succeed in my first year of cross country.

How did you get started in running?

I've always been in sports. Ever since I can remember I've always played basketball or neighborhood football and stuff like that. I've always been energetic and I like to go run around and stuff. Over the years, I just realized that I can run for a while. I remember back in elementary school, we had a timed mile for physical testing and I always enjoyed that. I didn't win a lot during elementary school, but I just enjoyed running. And then the Turkey Trot came during middle school and I did pretty well in those and liked running those.

What's the most important aspect of being successful in running?

You have to have a strong mentality. It's not always about the physical part of it or how hard your legs are working. It's mostly mental. It can really wear you down when you're thinking about how far you still have to go. I'd say it takes a very strong person mentally to run distance.

What do you think about when you hit a breaking point?

I think about other guys who have done it. I think about the guys that are behind me, coming up closer. I just want to be the best I can be, so I always try to push myself until I'm almost dead, when I'm running. So if I'm not dead getting to the top of the hill, then I got to keep going.

You mentioned North Carolina-Greensboro being your top college choice right now. What impressed you about the school?

I like the way I fit in there. I went down for an official visit and liked how the team and the coach treated me. I'll admit that they're not the best team at the college level, but they do have growing talent, and I just feel like I fit in pretty well.

Do you know what you want to major in at college?

I'm thinking either business or architecture. I'm doing an internship with a family friend who has his own business - it's called Green Building. It focuses on making buildings that are environmentally protected. So that's incorporating both business and architecture, so I can kind of figure out what I like from that over the summer.

What do you want to get out of your senior year?

Mainly what I wanted to do was try to figure out what college I was going to. So far I've done a pretty good job of that because I basically narrowed it down. I want to keep up my grades and I'm doing that right now. I don't have the heaviest course load like my sophomore and junior years, but I'm keeping a couple hard courses in there and balancing it out with some easier ones.

Who would you say is your role model?

The next-best guy. I always try to push myself based on what I see others doing. Like in school, if I see other kids doing really well I want to do better than they are, so I'll study harder. If I see Graham out there killing it on the cross country course, it makes me want to go out there and run harder. So I guess I just strive to be the best I can be and I kind of use others to get there.

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