In the hours leading up the Class 3A State Cross Country Meet race on Saturday, Glenwood’s Johnny Fuller kept running over in his mind what a college coach recently wrote to him.
“This is a day you’re going to want to remember for the rest of your life or going to want to forget. And you don’t want to try and forget it,” said the unnamed coach in the letter to Fuller.
Fuller, not one to let a coach or himself down, made Saturday a day he and Glenwood will likely never forget. The Notre Dame recruit broke from a pack of six runners over the final mile and won his and the Rams’ first ever individual cross country state championship.
“It (the letter) said everything,” said Fuller. “This is my last high school cross country meet as part of Glenwood. It was one of those things where I hadn’t lost all year and I didn’t want to start today. It went really well and I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Todd Peverill, the Rams’ head cross country coach who also coaches Fuller on the Glenwood track team, said Fuller’s win was a bittersweet moment.
“He put in a lot of time,” said the coach, who choked up when talking about his senior star. “It’s so great to see. But there’s a lot of great guys out there that put in as much time and they’re behind him so I have to take my hat off to him.”
Two years ago Fuller and teammates were dogged by food poisoning and the sophomore placed a disappointing 97th. Last year, as a junior, Fuller bounced back to finish third overall – at that time the highest ever for a Ram cross country runner – and followed that up with a sweep of the mile and the two-mile at the Drake Relays.
“I have absolutely no idea what time I ran,” said Fuller right after Saturday’s race. “It doesn’t matter to me. I could have run 17 (minutes) or 14 (minutes), as long as I got the gold.”
Fuller switched up some of his training regimen last winter to improve his technique and sharpen his skills. In addition to being stronger and better conditioned, Fuller said he’s a smarter runner now. With his past two experiences at state familiarizing him with every inch of the state course and the state atmosphere, Fuller just needed to follow his game plan and run with a purpose. His plan was simple: stay in the front of the pack, in position to move up and turn it on at the two mile mark.
“I knew I couldn’t wait until the last 200 or 300 meters,” said Fuller. “I’d been out-kicked by a few of those kids in the past. So I used my experience at Drake and the lessons I learned at state and at last year’s state meet to not leave it down to a short little sprint. This felt like the best race I could have run.”
Peverill said that’s exactly the kind of consummate planning and hard work that makes Fuller so tough on the course.
“He’s always been that way,” said Peverill. “He had a great game plan (today) and I agreed with it. In past years he waited until he was coming down that final hill (to kick) this year he was planning three-quarter’s of a mile out. And that made a big difference. I think that came from last track season when he really came alive at that point. His race strategy is always solid.”
However, that dedication wasn’t always quite the case, said Peverill, who also coaches the Ram middle school teams.
Fuller first came out for cross country as an eighth grader after breaking his arm in football.
He lasted two weeks, said Peverill.
The next season, following another broken arm, and some Peverill encouragement, Fuller returned to cross country.
“I saw talent there,” said Peverill of Fuller. “He was a natural and fluid runner. I knew he was going to be a good runner and when he quit I was like ‘Oh, man.’ I think the next year he thought about how much fun he had with the guys and stuck with it.”
Fuller was the Rams’ No. 5 runner his freshman year. He took off from there, Peverill said.
“That winter after cross country and into track, he really worked hard and you could see he was dedicated,” said Peverill. “We had to scale him back at times.”
So is Fuller Glenwood’s best all-time long distance runner?
“By far,” said Peverill. “And we’ve had some really good ones. Our southwest Iowa area is getting faster and faster. When I first started, if you had a guy running a 17:30 you’d win every meet with that guy, and now if you don’t have a sub-16 (minutes) you may not get it.”
Oh, and Fuller’s time? It was a 15:26. The fourth fastest among all classes on Saturday.