The man, the myth, the mud: Sami Aziz heads to Nationals

 On Saturday December 1st, Sami Aziz ’13 competed in the 8th annual Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) in Portland, Oregon.  NXN is the highly competitive national meet that compiles the 200 fastest high school girls and boys from eight different regions. In 2009, the GFS boys cross country team qualified for NXN, an esteemed accomplishment. Just three years later, with the help of his team and coaches, Sami continues the tradition, having earned himself a spot on the Northeast regional team at NXN. In this exclusive interview, Sami tells EQ about the big race and the surprises that met him in Portland.

Earthquake: How did you feel about your performance? Obviously the course was extremely difficult, did you feel like the course was a test of talent or really just preparation for the mud?

Sami: Though I had high expectations going into this meet, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed with my 70th place finish. The muddy conditions on the course made running at a consistent pace virtually impossible. The winning time wasn’t even under 17 minutes! For those of you unfamiliar with cross country, there were several guys in the race who have run under 15 minutes, so it was clearly a tough day for everyone racing. I’m sure this one will go down as the slowest national championship in high school running history. That said, this race was definitely not an accurate measure of running talent — it would have been a lot more satisfying to race under less debilitating conditions.

EQ: What was it like running with some of the other fastest runners in the country, and how did that change your perception of the race? What kind of mindset did you have after regionals coming into this race?

Sami: Leaving regionals, I was really disappointed because I tripped and fell halfway through the race. I feel like I could have won the meet and qualified comfortably if I hadn’t tripped. To make matters even more disappointing, I placed one spot out of qualifying by default, so I had a very low chance of going to Nationals unless someone who finished ahead of me withdrew. Luckily enough, someone did and I got a call from a Nike representative inviting me to participate the next day.

With all the drama of qualifying out of the way, I went into this meet like it was just another race and didn’t let the talent of the field faze me. Much of my success this year has come in part from the ability to step back and live in the moment during races. My goal was to trust my training and run the best race possible — Rob and I agree that I was capable of placing top three, conditions permitting.

EQ: What was it like going as an individual? Were the Northeast individuals treated as team?

Sami: It was definitely a learning experience going as an individual. Although I see myself as a pretty independent person, it was a bit challenging to be on my own through the days leading up to the race. After training and racing with the team all season, I was suddenly on my own. I really wish I could have shared the experience with the rest of the guys on the team. I couldn’t have qualified without them, after all.

At NXN, the individuals from each region were treated as a unit. We stuck together for much of the trip and it was pretty cool to connect with runners from other states. We got to meet professional runners and each region was assigned one of them as a “captain” — in other words, it was just for fun. We did, however, have several opportunities to interact with the professionals, including an autograph session.

EQ: Finally, what were some of the other highlights of the weekend? What did you do when you weren’t racing or training?

Sami: There was very little free time in the four days I was in Portland. Nike devised an awesome schedule of activities ranging from visits to the Nike headquarters to presentations. It was an unforgettable experience and I hope to see GFS qualify as a team in the near future.