This State Record Was Broken, Did You Notice?

One of the potential records broken at last weekend's VHSL state cross-country championships involved perennial powerhouse Lake Braddock High, but had nothing to do with a stopwatch.

And though the record in question may not have dealt with time, it was plainly obvious for any spectator, hardcore or casual.

All one had to do was look up. Among the seven Bruins making up the boys' state team contingent may have been the tallest competitor in VHSL state cross-country meet history.

At 6-foot-11, Thomas Showalter towers over his teammates and competitors. Although some may presume that the Bruin senior is only involved with a sport that entails dribbling an orange ball, Showalter has become a student of long distance running.

His interest started in middle school.

"I began to have an interest in distance running because I liked the feeling of satisfaction (from) completing a long run, and was looking to try a new sport," said the senior, who has competed in cross-country and outdoor track since freshman year.

Showalter's mind might have focused on distance running, but as expected, his very tall, lanky frame was not equipped with the proper running form of a harrier.

Asked about problems with his runner's form in the early years, Lake Braddock's Director of Cross-Country and Track Mike Mangan could only pause and shake his head before answering. "Yeah, he was a mess."

It's not an assessment that Showalter disagrees with.

"It is harder for a taller runner to develop the mechanics for running. This has been the issue that has most impacted my improvement as a runner. I look back at pictures from my freshman and sophomore years and laugh, because my form was atrocious. I would slouch over as I ran because I lacked the core strength necessary to stay upright over the course of a race."

Fortunately, help was on the way. "My junior season was where I started making major improvements. Coach (Ass't. XC coach, Jason) Switzer would always emphasize the importance of staying efficient, and I stopped heel striking."

There were other alterations to be made.

"(Switzer) also helped me to increase my stride rate. Additionally, I made huge improvements through weight training, which gave me the strength to engage my core, and to fix a lot of the issues that I had experienced with my mechanics previously. As a result, I was able to shave two minutes off of my (5K) time between sophomore and junior seasons." In fact, Showalter dropped from 20:29 to 18:33.

This fall, Showalter improved his time by another 16 seconds while serving as the number #7 runner for the Bruins. Last Saturday, he placed 89th in 18:22 to help Lake Braddock to a tenth-place finish in the Class 6 race.

The fact that Showalter could compete at a full performance level was notable in itself, as he suffered through a tibial stress fracture last year, which cost him the opportunity to run both indoor and outdoor track. "Sometimes the sport can be brutal in this sense, and it is very unfortunate when someone who seems to be finally putting things together misses weeks or months of running, only to struggle to get back to where (he was) before the injury."

But indoor track has now started and the Bruin looks for new challenges. His best 800-meter time to date has been 2:12.51, and that was run before his cross-country time had dropped under 20 minutes. "I have always been an 800-meter runner, although I wouldn't mind trying the mile this season. I am curious to see what I can do," said Showalter.

And since Showalter is 6-foot-11, it is likely that many in attendance for his 1600-meter debut will get to see what he can do, since he'll be hard to miss.