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Running to a National Spot

Breaking records has become par for the course for junior Alex Comerford. Since his arrival in Otsego as a freshman, he has been making his mark as one of the best runners to come through this school and this past weekend, he not only broke the school record – again – but crossed the finish line with a time that puts him on the national map. He broke 15 minutes in his 3.2 mile run, “This is possibly bigger than being state champion because it puts him on the national stage as one of the best runners in the nation,” says coach Steve Long. Long says that time easily puts him in the top 20 fastest times in the nation. The exact time was 14:55.

“I’m just kind of shocked. I’m shocked that everybody ran that fast,” he says of himself, his top competitor and two of his teammates. Prior to Saturday’s race, he was closer to ranking 100th in the nation. He currently sits in 13th place, “Moving up that high and getting national attention for this,” he says is unbelievable.

Despite the time, that ended up being 2nd place at the Bulldog invitational. Coldwater’s Shuaib Aljabaly crossed two seconds earlier with 14:53. Comerford has had two goals for the season. One was to run the 3.1 miles in 15:10. He’s now beaten that by 15 seconds. The next, “was to beat Shuaib and I’ll have that opportunity again at state.”

That’s the next time these two will meet so the end of the season training is kicking in. It’s not just that the two are the top competitors in Division 2, but they are also friends. They have gone to summer run camp together for the last two or three years and sometimes meet up to run together. “It’s cool to race him but he’s definitely really fast,” Comerford says. “He’s more of a track guy; if you let him get too far away from you, the race is over.”

The two were only two seconds apart and Comerford says it was just the last half mile that he dropped behind. “The last 3 weeks of the season will be speed work and hopefully beat him in the last half mile at state.”

Those two shattered the Otsego course record set by Tommy Brinn with a time of 15:52.

While Comerford’s time is getting national attention, Otsego’s number two runner, Will Finch is a headliner in his own right. He finished Saturday with a time of 15:41. That time is typically state championship speed. “Will and Al are farther along than any other athlete I’ve had,” says Coach Steve Long, “They were farther along in August,” he adds. This duo is actually a trio with Hunter Zartman beating his own time by more than a minute Saturday finishing at 15:55.

“Three guys under 16, I’ve never had that before,” Long says. And there are still a few weeks to go. It all comes down to the training. Each runner is on his own individual plan, but these three have developed their own secret weapon – each other.

“They (Alex, Will & Hunter) are ridiculously talented, but then the three of them training together. That’s their training advantage,” says coach Long.

These three runners help each other along. They train together constantly so they are always up against great competition; they don’t have to wait for a race to face others at their level, “It helps having us in practice every day, and pushing each other farther than we can go,” Comerford says, “Especially in the summer. It helps having three kids that are all close in that range of times.”

They will all now focus on a couple big meets ahead, including state where they meet up with Coldwater’s Aljabaly.

There are a lot of connections in the history that took place on this course this past weekend. The winner, Aljabaly, is coached by Jim Bilsborrow; Bilsborrow was coach Long’s high school coach. And Bilsborrow’s high school coach (at Coldwater) was Neil Browne, a long-time coach in Otsego who actually moved the school’s cross country course to its current spot in 1974.