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Why The Foot Locker Cross Country Championships Matter

Seven facts that make this Saturday’s race can’t-miss TV.

Every year, hundreds of elite high school runners compete at one of four Foot Locker Cross Country (FLCC) Regional meets: North, South, Midwest and West. From those meets, the top 10 from each region chase down wins at the FLCC Championships in San Diego, California come December. Considering it’s a high school competition, you may have never heard of this event, airing live—and for free!—on the Foot Locker website starting at 8 a.m. PST on Saturday. Allow us to school you.

1.) The best runners in the country go head-to-head (sometimes for the first time ever)

FLCC Championships gives the nation’s top high school runners an opportunity to compete against each other when there would otherwise not be a chance. Many athletes at the FLCC Champs haven’t raced against each other for a number of reasons: Some don’t have the financial means to travel far for competitions, most were busy the whole season with their team racing schedule, and high school athletic associations have rules about traveling to out of state races.

It can also be a humbling experience for those who are used to winning every race in their home state but may not top the podiums against national runners. In a way, it gives them their first taste of what collegiate running will be like.

2.) The winners become household names

At the 2000 FLCC Championships, South Lake’s Alan Webb finished second behind Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein, and behind Webb was Big Bear Lake’s Ryan Hall. Seven years later, Webb would go on to become the American Mile Record Holder, clocking in at 3:46.91. On the outdoor track, Webb still holds that record today. As for Ritzenhein, he went on to break the American 5000m World Record in 12:56.27, holding that record from 2009-2010. Lastly, in 2007, Hall broke the American Half Marathon Record in 59:43.00. He still holds that record today.

While 2000 was a particularly knockout year at Foot Locker, there would still be plenty of superstars in the making to come. In 2002, Chris Solinsky won Foot Locker and later broke the American 10,000m record in 2010, which is now held by Galen Rupp who, you guessed it, also ran at Foot Locker. In 2003, he took second place. Also, in 2003, Jenny Simpson (Barringer at the time) took third place and went on to run at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Two-time Foot Locker Finalist in the early ‘90s, Jen Rhines, went on to compete at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. More recently, 2001 finalist Molly Huddle set the American 10,000m record, clocking in at 30:13.17 in 2016.

The list of Foot Locker finalists who went on to achieve great accolades in distance running is endless. This year will surely add to it.

3.) The Midwest always comes out on top

Whether you’re from the Midwest or not, it’s undeniable that this region of the U.S. produces some of the best distance runners. Maybe it’s the frigid temperatures, or the Midwest hustle mentality, but the top results are always tilted toward the Midwest. Take a look at the times from the regional qualifying races and you’ll notice the fastest times came from the south and west regions, but the course at UW Parkside in Kenosha, WI starts with a 1000m uphill battle and rolling hills after that. It’s certainly not the fastest course of the four regions, but it definitely produces some of the toughest runners.

Recent Midwest Champions include superstars Grant Fisher, Dylan Jacobs, Lukas Verzbicas, Anna Rohrer, Molly Seidel and Megan Goethals.

4.) It’s weirdly laid-back

You would think that such an elite race would have an intense, state-meet-like atmosphere, but FLCC Championships is actually pretty chill. The mild terrain, various race strategies, and lack of running in circles makes this race fun to watch. Add in sunny San Diego’s beautiful scenery and you’ve got the perfect event for spectators—in person or online.

5.) It’s the last race of the season—and athletes have nothing to lose

Nobody who has made it to the FLCC Championships has anything to lose. They’re not at the race with their teammates, so there’s no pressure from a team scoring standpoint. Everybody is still in great shape from the hard work they put in over the season, so they’re ready to run fast. And with the top competition from around the country on the starting lines, they’ve got everything to gain from this race.

“Leading up to the race felt like a celebration of what we had all already accomplished and therefore most of us really felt no pressure, with the exception of people who had a legitimate shot to win,” says 2014 finalist Jesse Hersha, “FLCC Championships is the one race of the entire season where they can relax and have fun while also being in peak shape.”

While most of the field is there for the experience and to cap off a successful season, there are also a select few who know they can win, making the race exciting to watch. Some take it out super hard, (think Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donahue taking out the first mile in 5:10 at the East Coast Regional Qualifier in 1999), while some sit and kick at the end, (Grant Fisher at the 2014 Championship).

6.) It’s straight-up inspiring

You don’t have to be an elite runner to feel a connection to the championship runners. Whether you haven’t raced in months or are in the midst of a high-mileage training block, watching this race will give you a whopping dose of #runspo. High schoolers find their drive and purpose through elite events such as FLCC Championships, and whether you’ve raced there or not, it can help you to find your drive and purpose, too.

7.) Did we mention the live broadcast is free?

Most live broadcasts of cross country, track and road races cost cash money in the form of monthly subscriptions. This is one of few races you can just tune into, no credit-card info needed. Just set yourself in front of YouTube starting at 8 a.m. PST on Saturday, December 8 and let the excitement begin.