Matt Baxter won the senior boys cross country title at the recent New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships. The Champs were held at St Kentigern College Pakuranga on 16 June 2012. The senior boys winner from New Plymouth Boys' High School talks about his win in the following interview…
Congratulations on the win - how did it feel to win the race?
It was a huge relief when I crossed that finishing line. I felt as though I had quite a bit of pressure to perform on that day and for it to all come together in the end was a great feeling. I knew how good it felt to cross the line in second place, but nothing beats the feeling of coming in first. It really proved to me that all the blood, sweat and tears in training do pay off.
How did the race go?
The race went as close to plan as possible. I wanted to go out hard into the first corner and work hard in the first lap to stretch out a 10 or more metre lead. From there I wanted to extend this lead until the finish. The start is always the most nerve-racking part as it is the one thing that you can't control. It is so easy to get sucked into the field and before you know it get spat out mid pack. So the start was very important for me. Once I hit the first bend in the lead I stretched the legs and worked on my plan. I knew that all I had to do was run my fastest and that would win the race. So that’s what I did and that’s how I won.
When did you know that you had the race won?
Not until the finish line. The moment I start thinking that I have the race won before the finish line, it becomes easy to drop the pace. I like to constantly think there is someone right behind me and therefore can't slow down. Also I go by the cheering of the crowd as to how close the opposition is behind me. Hearing the crowd behind me cheering before a runner actually goes past them makes that runner seem closer to me than they really are. So it's not until I cross that line can I really feel as though the race is mine.
What were the conditions like?
The rain stayed away although this did not make it a warm one. I spent most of the day in track pants and a puffer jacket. The cold air really tested the lungs and made the body not quite as responsive as it usually is. The wind was coming and going but wasn't felt too much during the race.
What was the course like?
The course did not handle the five races before the senior boys one very well. The mud on the bends got thick and really made it tough to push through. There were some fairly decent climbs over the back of the course that certainly tested the strengths and weaknesses of those running. Although I must applaud this course. It is about time we had a muddy, hilly cross country for a change. This flat and fast stuff is what I look forward to about track running. This passion for a real cross country course comes from living in the Naki. There is no shortage of them there.
Were you happy with your time?
I was pleased with my time considering the nature of the course. The hills and the mud made it tough to stride out and get into a rhythm and this was reflected in the run times.
Was it your first NZ Secondary Schools title?
Yes. I seem to have a thing about getting second. At this event I was 15th in year 9 and then second for the next three years after that. To get the win at this particular event was overwhelming. Very happy to have this title under my belt.
What are your PB’s for the distances that you normally race?
For cross country it is hard to have PB's as the courses vary in toughness and some seem to be suspiciously short. The fastest time I have done a 6km cross country in was last year at this event in Ashburton. I ran 18:41. On the track my favourite event is the 3000m where my PB is 8:29.38.
Who is your coach and what sort of training had you been doing leading
up to the champs?
My coach is Karen Gillum-Green. My training starting at the end of the track season was all leading up to this event. Karen is in no way nice when it comes to my training. With Pukekura Park as my hills course and Vogeltown Park as my reps/sprints ground I knew I was set for some pain. I had a few Secondary School races that I used as a chance to see where I ranked against my competition and push my body to new limits. I was excited when I finished the Hughes Memorial race two weeks before the NZSS Cross Country. I was pushed hard over the 8km course, with Dougan Butler from Taranaki ensuring I would work hard for the win. I crossed the finish line, dropped to my knees and emptied my guts. Being able to push myself that hard showed where my mental strength was at and that I was ready for the race to come.
What’s your next race and what are your long term running goals?
My next races are the North Island Cross Country, ANZ Cross Country and then the Australian Cross Country to finish off the season. My long term running goals are all track related. I have my eyes set on the Commonwealth Games and Olympics in the future. Right now I am working hard to get up to the standard for the Rio 2016 Olympics, although I do have a few more years to get up to it. There is just something about representing New Zealand at running that makes me incredibly proud. Having that fern on my chest is a special feeling. I plan to continue working hard to reach these goals and earn a black singlet.
When did you first start running and what got you started?
I have been doing the local Taranaki and New Plymouth cross country champs since the age of 8. Although rugby was a lot more fun in those days, so I didn't care too much for running. It wasn't until I got to High School that I got involved in a few inter school races and realised how satisfying it is. At the end of year 9 I gave up rugby, and part way through year 10 I asked my now coach for a programme and have gone from there. I guess I caught the bug and have loved it ever since. The competition and friends made through this sport has definitely kept me interested. The NPBHS Cross Country team and Egmont Athletics Club are certainly two of the best there is. We train hard and have fun, something some runners have forgotten how to do.
Who are you favourite runners?
There is one man who I really look up to and am touched by his story. That is American distance runner Steve Prefontaine. His attitude towards running and one race tactic is something I have taken on board. "To give anything less then your best is to sacrifice the gift". This is one of his quotes and is certainly something all runners should take note of. I also look up to the likes of Peter Snell and John Walker. Not just because of their wins but just the way they won. Their devastating kicks are amazing to watch...even in black and white for Snell.
What school do you go to, what year are you in and what are you studying?
I go to New Plymouth Boys' High School and am in year 13. The subjects I am taking are English, Statistics, Biology, Business Studies and Legal Studies.
What sort of things are you interested in outside of running and school?
This is one I always struggle to answer. School and running takes up a lot of time so when I’m not doing either I enjoy doing nothing. Although when I do have free time I enjoy spending it with my mates and girlfriend Emily Roughan. All that consists of really is having a laugh. Socialising is an important part of life and no matter how much training there is to do or homework that piles up, having the time to relax with family and friends is vital.
Is there anything else that you think readers might be interested in about you?
I enjoy passing on my experiences of being an athlete to others. Especially to younger guys who aspire to be athletes themselves. I didn't start off as the best and I want others to see that through hard work and determination anything is possible. To see young guys and girls catch the running bug as I did is great. I look at pictures of my Dad running a few years back (Rob Baxter, a good distance runner back in his time.) and the size of the fields was very impressive. This is something I want to see come back. How? I think it is all in the way people view our sport. It is fun, it really is. If more young ones were to come through and become aware of this, it would be great for the future of our sport.
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