A “season of firsts” for Ashland’s EJ Holland got another chapter this past weekend, and now he’s just under two weeks away from what would truly be an extraordinary conclusion to his junior season as a cross country runner.
Squaring off against the fastest prep runners from Oregon and Washington at the 20th Nike BorderClash Saturday in Beaverton, Holland stood head and shoulders above the rest yet again this season by placing first overall by 18 seconds in the 5,000-meter boys race.
Holland was coming off a first-place showing at the Nike Cross Nationals Northwest Regional Championships in Idaho — where he won in 15 minutes, 10.40 seconds a week prior — and was never really challenged in the BorderClash after he broke away with one mile to go, winning in 15:34.50.
“We were all kind of packed up and right at the 2-mile mark you start a series of four or six hills that you go up,” said the 17-year-old Holland. “Right at the beginning of that first hill, I took off and gapped the rest of the field pretty good. It felt really nice.”
It also felt oddly familiar to his regionals triumph, and maybe even a little too easy given the class of the field.
“Both at NXR (regionals) and at BorderClash, I was a little surprised that no one even tried to go with me,” said Holland, who has finished first in every race this season. “At BorderClash, I looked back at the video and no one even tried. I would’ve thought they would’ve tried to stay with me for a little bit.”
Then again, no one has been able to hang with Holland to this point. The 6-foot-2, 140-pounder has finished in under 15 minutes in three races this year, with a personal record of 14:53.2 on Oct. 13 at the Warner Pacific Classic, and entered the Class 5A state championships ranked eighth nationally among high school boy runners by Dyestat.com and the No. 3 junior.
“There definitely is satisfaction in this year because this year has been all new,” said Holland. “I’ve never won a cross country state title, I’ve never won an NXR title and I’ve never won a BorderClash title, so all of those things are new for me and all have been really exciting. And I’ve never gone under 15, let alone do it three times, before this year. It’s definitely been a year of firsts. Every single race I’ve definitely surpassed my expectations.”
Holland said he expects the Nike Cross National Finals on Dec. 1 at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland to be his final cross country meet before he turns to a small indoor season and then focuses on outdoor track in the spring.
What he doesn’t expect, however, is to change any part of his routine.
“The last thing I want to do is treat it like it’s some crazy different race because then my body will be all out of whack,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, which obviously has worked.”
That means Holland will post an intense week of training at around 50 total miles, then run a little under 40 miles next week as he tapers down into the national race, which he anticipates will be challenging.
“It’s not an easy course by any means,” said Holland, who hasn’t run at Glendoveer but has seen videos of prior national meets. “It’s definitely a hard one with lots of sharp uphills and sharp downhills, and it’s pretty muddy since it almost always rains.”
Whether Holland chases the course record of 15:03 remains to be seen. Through all the hype Holland has been accruing this season, he’s just trying to maintain a proper focus.
The notoriety he has earned has been “definitely exciting,” but he’s also trying to take it all in stride after only seriously taking up running as an eighth-grader.
“Sometimes you have to definitely step back and take a reality check and say I’ve still got to keep an eye on what I’m doing and not get complacent,” said Holland. “You see that happen too many times where guys have one good season and then they either plateau or get worse because they think, ‘Oh, I’ve already gotten to this great level, I don’t really need to keep pushing harder.’”
“Whereas for me,” he added, “I’m being true to myself and continuing to set goals that are going to be hard goals to get so that I know that I have to work hard and work consistently and work smart to be able to reach those goals.”
MORE BORDERCLASH: After Holland ran away with the boys title, there were still some important efforts put forth by local runners.
Crater senior Jantz Tostenson placed 12th in 16:06.30, while South Medford senior Tanner Sayers was 19th (16:16.70) and followed by Grants Pass senior Daniel Beckstead (35th, 16:32.60), Crater senior Gage Reed (45th, 16:48.00), Ashland junior Arlo Davis (48th, 16:51.70) and North Medford senior Jacbo Allmaras (51st, 16:56.00).
In the 5K girls race, freshman Ella Borsheim of Washington won in 18:08.50 while Southern Oregon was represented by Crater sophomore Mariah Kinney (69th, 20:02.40), Crater junior Presley Robison (73rd, 20:13.70) and Ashland senior Alexa Hague (75th, 20:19.50).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488 or firstname.lastname@example.org