Start fast and don’t look back: Inside Jon Lomogda’s 6A state title run

As Jon Lomogda blazed toward a historic state cross-country title, the competition got closer and closer, if only slightly.

The Cox senior won his conference meet by 58 seconds. He won the region meet by 34 seconds. And at the state 6A meet on Nov. 13, when Lomogda became the first boy from South Hampton Roads to win a Virginia cross-country title since 1984, he won by 22 seconds. (Admittedly, that last margin could have been greater had his coach not told him to ease up on the homestretch and enjoy the moment.)

Through it all, Lomogda stuck to a routine that includes dominating the competition. In an interview, the star runner looked back on his state championship and walked us through his paces.

In a normal week during the season, Lomogda lifts weights every day. That stopped the week before the big race. Coach Lanny Doan reduced the training load from an average of 40 miles a week to about 20. Drills were done at half-speed. Longer exercises became shorter sprints.

“Everything gets cut down to stay fresh and ready,” Lomogda said.

The day before the state meet, Lomogda had a fun 3.5-hour bus ride with teammates to The Plains, where the race was held. He feasted on pasta that night at an Italian restaurant and drank loads of water. He awoke the next morning at about 7 a.m.

At the course, Lomogda thought about the plan he had talked over with Doan while he stretched and warmed up. He would run hard out of the gate and force the other runners to think twice about keeping up with him early.

“It eventually works because of the type of runner I am,” Lomogda said. “I’m more of a strength runner. That favors me in cross country when I have a whole 5k to build a lead and wear the other guys down.”

Lomogda was a little nervous, which is unusual for him. It the first state meet in which everyone expected him to win.

“Being a favorite doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “On race day, anything can happen.”

At the sound of the gun, he raced to the front of the pack and began working on a lead. He would soon be in a familiar spot: alone.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Running by yourself is always harder than having someone to compete with. You always want to look back but you definitely can’t do that. The guys behind you aren’t going to let up, so I can’t let up at that point. It’s scary because you can’t see anything coming.”

Doan said he has never coached an athlete who handles the pressure of front-running like Lomogda does.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “In Jon’s case, 15 minutes up front by yourself, if you’re not careful, you start thinking too much. He doesn’t get nervous.”

The day was windy with temperatures in the mid-50s. The grass was long and the ground mushy.

“The course was really slow,” Lomogda said. “It didn’t change the way I ran.”

Doan prodded his star, running up and yelling at him to keep the pressure on.

The lead stretched to about two football fields. Lomogda’s mind was occupied by a couple of songs that were stuck in his head. In the interview nine days later, he couldn’t remember what they were.

The final 600-meter stretch was long, windy and damp. Physically, he said, it “was not fun.”

That’s when Doan told him to dial it back and savor the experience. No one was going to catch him.

As he crossed the finish line, Lomogda wasn’t thinking about the history he made as a runner from South Hampton Roads.

“I was just really relieved,” he said. “A state title is nothing to scoff at. But, hopefully there’ll be something bigger to look forward to.”

Lomogda, who has verbally committed to run at Yale, isn’t finished with his high school career. He will compete Saturday in the Foot Locker South Regional meet in Charlotte, N.C.  A top-10 finish will earn him a spot in the Foot Locker National Championships on Dec. 12 in San Diego.

He won’t be the heavy favorite, and he won’t be able to run away from the crowd there like he usually can.

For Lomogda, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s nice to go into a race and not be expected to win,” he said. “It takes some pressure off, to have people there pushing you.

“It’s different.”

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