Hans Holzner is a gamer. His 16:30 finish in New London, MN, propelled Holzner into the state meet. Pushing through pain and displaying resolve in running a more difficult, more hilly course with aggression, Holzner finished 23rd overall at the State Cross Country meet at St. Olaf in Northfield, MN with a 16:42.
Holzner packed his bags and threw them in the back of the family van, setting out from his home blocks from the Hillcrest Castle to the World Mission Prayer League house in Minneapolis on Friday night before the Saturday morning race. With his father by his side, Holzner mentally prepared for the race Friday evening. Having run the course a year earlier, finishing 32nd overall with a time of 17:03 last season, Holzner was determined to compete with more aggression and abandonment.
Holzner's preparation has involved mentally preparing to face pain. It isn't uncommon for him to reference others facing difficulties and experiencing pain as a motivation to face pain in running. So as his week of running dwindled from a multi-mile training earlier in the week to a simple 3 mile jog Thursday night, Holzner's mind wasn't set on the physical aspects. His body was ready for that. His mind was set on pain.
Holzner woke Saturday and ventured to the course in Northfield. His final stretches and preview of the course led him to the starting line where he leaned gently in lane 23, waiting for the call to run one last time on the cross country course.
Pushing through the difficult course was made easier by the balmy 63 degree temperature. Straining over hills, Holzner's stride propelled him past a series of runners as he worked to remain in the lead pack after the first mile. A 5 minute mile split in the first 1/3 of the race is impressive. Holzner would hold tightly to this mark throughout the day.
Falling a little behind, Holzner continued to push his body, evident by the straining muscles as he fought the course. The second mile held more hills to climb and stunted Holzner whose easy stride made possible by his long legs is muted on hills. Shorter runners who churn their steps faster eat hills quickly. Holzner finished the second mile 30 seconds slower than his first, marking down a 5:30 split for mile 2.
After battling past the hardest portion of the course, Holzner stretched his stride. A mere 14 seconds separated Holzner from the head of the leader pack. With energy waning, Holzner pushed his body toward the finish line. Runners saving a kick for the final stretch found Holzner giving all in an effort to remain with the top pack. His final mile split was 5:12. Two competitors passed Holzner in the last stretch. Hans gave everythign on the course, marking the 23rd place in State with a time of 16:42. His pace evened out to a 5:23 mile to mark the 3.11 mile event.
When Holzner crossed the line there were a mere 22 other runners, some hunched over, others arching their back as if the oxygen were draining through into their throat. Holzner's 23nd place was monumental for him, beating his previous year placement by 9 slots.
As Holzner posed for pictures with friends and family it was easy to think of this ending being the beginning. Teammates from his 4X800m track team flanked him in the picture. Their eyes are set on joining Holzner in representing Hillcrest with their legs.
For Holzner, the cap on his Comet cross country career is one for the record books. His two-time state berth, continuing to hunt for improvement and mature in his attitude and outlook on running, will inspire future runners to chase his records. Hans finishes his time at Hillcrest with a personal record of 16:21. He holds Hillcrest's record in boys' cross country.