There is a simple purpose that drove Robert Blackwelder at each cross country race this season.
The Greenbrier High School senior wanted only to beat his previous best time.
"That's why I go out there," Blackwelder said. "While I'm running, I'm thinking it hurts, but if I finish and get a PR (personal record), I'm happy."
That mind-set helped Blackwelder become the area's top runner this season, a reason he is The Columbia County News-Times' Boys Runner of the Year.
Blackwelder started the season strong, breaking 17 minutes for the first time at Luella High School. He ran a personal best of 16:46 at The Carrollton Orthopedic Invitational in September, and later won the Columbia County Invitational by a healthy margin at difficult Blanchard Woods Park.
Blackwelder remembers that victory for the way he was able to pace himself early and then dominate on a key hill.
"That's what put me out front," Blackwelder said. "Everybody else was dying because they started out fast."
Blackwelder broke 17 minutes twice to close the season. He ran a 16:52 at the Class AAAAA meet, held on the same course Blackwelder ran his "PR" earlier in the season. He then ran a 16:58 at Foot Locker South Regional in Charlotte, N.C. The senior said he was bothered late in the season by a hip injury, but overall he was pleased with his performance.
"The regular season, state, it all went well," Blackwelder said. "I started off strong and kept going."
Greenbrier cross country coach Kati Smallwood said much of Blackwelder's success comes from his longevity -- he's run cross country since he was a sophomore -- and that he gets necessary miles in during the summer. It's also his strong will, she said.
She told a story of when Blackwelder first broke into the 16s, that a teammate asked him how he did it.
"He said, 'I just wanted it. I wanted to win that race,' " Smallwood said.
Blackwelder would like to run cross country in college, and said he already has received an offer from Augusta State University, which will start a men's program in 2010. But Blackwelder said he would first like to weigh his options. He's also talked to North Georgia and Mercer University.
Blackwelder joked that accepting an offer from ASU would mean he would continue to run at Blanchard Woods Park, one of the most difficult courses in the state.
"It will be my home course if I go (to ASU)," he said. "I won't miss it because it's the hardest course we run. But I will miss it because there's a lot of good times that went on there."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.