It was a one word answer given by Andrew Palmer as he considered the upcoming Nike Cross Country Nationals (NXN) regional qualifying race.
"My goal is definitely to qualify for nationals."
It's not on a hopeful whim that he entered this year's NXN southeast regional meet in Cary, North Carolina. He's not going to North Carolina in search of a fun way to end his junior cross country season. His season has been carefully planned out since July to achieve one goal: qualify for Nike Cross Country Nationals.
Palmer attended the Camp of Champions hosted by the University of Wisconsin in July. He describes the training there as by far the best he's ever had. He spent the week training with 10-15 runners who were just as good as him if not better. After not running much more than 45 miles per week in June, the other campers whipped him into shape in a hurry by racking up about 70 "badger miles" in a week. A "badger mile" is a unique system used to focus on running time rather than mileage by saying that the pace is never faster than 7 minute per mile. It's safe to say that he ran more than 70 real miles that week.
Among other notable big names at the camp was former Whitman Viking, former Wisconsin Badger, and former U.S. Olympian Pascal Dobert. Dobert is one of the organizers of Nike Cross Country Nationals and spent at least some of the time at the camp talking up the NXN meet. Palmer and most of the other campers were already familiar with the Nike Team Nationals (NTN) competitions and really liked the idea of adding the individual element to the meet like the NCAA format. It was then that he knew he wanted to go the Nike route as opposed to the traditional Footlocker National meet.
He left the camp in great shape and more motivated than he had ever been before. He kept his mileage high for the remainder of the summer. He knew that the only way he could make it to nationals was through high mileage. In previous summers, he played down the importance of heavy summer training and rarely ran more than 35 miles per week. Now entering his junior year, he maintained 55-70 "badger miles" per week and responded much better than he ever imagined. The more he adjusted to the higher mileage, the faster he ran.
When the season rolled around, he continued with his high mileage. He doubled on most days, usually only running easy with his team and running hard on his own. Despite the doubles, his legs didn't feel tired at all, even on race days where he breezed through dual meets and dropped under 16 minutes for the first time in the first major race.
His times remained stellar all season long despite training through every race. If not for Sherwood's Solomon Haile, it would have been the finest season by a Montgomery County athlete this decade. Palmer took second place behind Haile in the final three races of the season including the state championship, but in the end Palmer says he is not disappointed in what he did nor is he spiteful towards Haile.
"He's a great runner. I wish he was going to Nike. I look forward to racing him in track."
Of course, qualifying for NXN will be every bit as challenging as racing Solomon Haile. Only the top five individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the national meet. That means as he fights for a top spot, he may not necessarily know which runners will qualify individually or with a team.
"I know Andrew Colley and the other Jamestown guys are really good...This region is looking strong. It won't be easy at all."
Palmer has an idea of how he would like to run, but he's still working out the details. He knows that if qualifying comes down to a kick, he is confident in his ability.
He reminisces on his major victories from his freshman year.
"I won Footlocker Northeast [freshman race] and Nike Outdoor Nationals [freshman mile] in the last 100 meters." Knowing full-well that this is no longer a freshman race, he added, "I'm just hoping to feel really good that last 400 meters or so."