When it comes to running and Jacob Christopher, there was often a love-hate relationship. It’s hard to imagine that the thing that separates Christopher from the rest of the pack, is perhaps the one thing that he’s had to learn to fall in love with over and over again.
However, after wrestling with his feelings toward running, Christopher has found peace with the sport and has staked his claim as one of the best distance runners in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section.
“I had a bit of a falling out with running,” Christopher said. “I didn’t know if I actually wanted to run and if I was even a runner. Everyone would say, ‘You’re talented, you’re talented, you’re talented,’ but I didn’t feel like I was working hard. I kind of felt like an imposter.”
Yet, even with all his accomplishments, the Calaveras High School junior still feels the need to prove that it’s his hard work and not natural talent that has put him in the place he is.
“I wanted to become so good that nobody could deny how hard and how much I worked and that I want to give everything I had,” Christopher said. “I wanted them to see the pain and sacrifice that I put into running and that’s what I did. That’s how I became good.”
Not a first choice
When Christopher began his freshman year in the fall of 2016, he had never played an organized school sport. As a new high schooler, he decided to give football a shot. He learned that the sport may not be for him, but there was one aspect that he truly enjoyed.
“I liked when we’d have to run sprints,” Christopher said. “It was 30 minutes of back-and-forth sprinting and I liked it. To me, it was fun.”
Because he enjoyed sprinting so much, Christopher figured that when he joined the track and field team during the spring of his freshman year, he’d run the 200- and 400-meter dashes along with the hurdles. However, head coach Doug Avrit saw different things.
“Most kids who have some semblance of speed want to try sprinting and think they are a sprinter,” Avrit said. “I knew Jacob from Toyon (Middle School) and knew that he had some aerobic ability and thus guided him towards the longer events. Being blessed with speed and then also having the aerobic capacity of a distance runner is pure advantage and something you hope to develop into real talent.”
When Avrit had Christopher run the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters during his freshman year, he collected six first-place finishes. And although he wasn’t sprinting, the easy-going Christopher trusted his veteran coach.
“I wasn’t disappointed or mad,” Christopher said. “I just went with it and figured I’d see how it goes.”
Another new sport
When the fall of 2017 rolled around, Christopher knew he didn’t want to play football. His friends who ran cross country continued to be in his ear about joining the cross country team. After taking the majority of the summer to decide, he gave in to the wishes of his friends and decided to become a cross country runner.
Christopher didn’t particularly care for the sport.
“It was a big learning experience,” Christopher said. “I kind of didn’t like running, and I really didn’t like cross country.”
After a tough sophomore year, Christopher once again needed to figure out whether or not he would run cross country. The addition of Avrit as cross country head coach helped persuade Christopher to give the sport another chance.
“This year was much better,” Christopher said about his junior season. “I’ve learned the courses and I learned how to love running. A big part of that is probably Mr. Avrit. He helped it click for me. He’d say, ‘You’re a cross country runner.’ I just had to remember that and keep working at it.”
Christopher helped lead the Calaveras boys’ team to a Mother Lode League championship. He collected a first-place finish at the Mother Lode League finals with a 3-mile time of 16:52. He set a personal record at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Subsection Meet with his sixth-place time of 16:41. Christopher took fourth in the 5,000-meter race at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championships and then finished 39th out of 212 runners at the CIF State Championship.
“It was decent, but it definitely could have gone better,” Christopher said about his first trip to the State Championship. “I didn’t know I would be so awestruck. You see all these big-name runners and I felt like I was surrounded by celebrities. I felt the pressure of having all those expectations and I saw all these really great athletes and runners, and it’s weird to see yourself with them.”
A breakout season
After a strong sophomore track and field season, where he was a Mother Lode League champion, Christopher was primed to accomplish even more during his junior year. But when it came to setting goals, Christopher didn’t focus on winning or championships. He only had one goal on his mind.
“I just wanted to better myself,” Christopher said. “That’s the only goal I had.”
Christopher accomplished that goal. During the 2018 track season, Christopher ran the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. He picked up a total of 13 first-place finishes in those three events. Christopher helped Calaveras clinch a co-Mother Lode League championship with Sonora. And at the MLL finals, he placed first in the 800 meters (1:57.44, PR), the 1,600 meters (4:24.76) and the 3,200 meters (9:35.36).
During his junior season, Christopher set personal records in the 400 meters (53.10), the 800 meters, the 1,600 meters and the 3,200 meters (9:20.17).
Perhaps his biggest moment came in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division V Finals. Christopher set a personal record in the 1,600 meters with a first-place time of 4:21.52. He then finished first in the 3,200 meters and wrapped up his day by running one leg of the 4x400-meter relay race to clinch the section championship.
“I knew that I could do it because of the guys I was running with,” Christopher said about the 4x400-meter race. “I wasn’t the only one who’d be working hard. My teammates would be working just as hard as me. I didn’t want to let them down and that was probably the time that I had to dig the deepest.”
Christopher placed seventh in the 3,200-meter race at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Finals with his time of 9:34.71. Although he didn’t advance to the State Finals, Avrit feels that’s where he’ll end up by his senior year.
“Working on believing in himself is the next big step,” Avrit said. “He just needs to believe that he can run with the big boys and not be afraid to mix it up with them, which is easier said than done. If he in fact puts the work in over the summer, the sky’s the limit. That and believing that you belong at the front no matter the competition and that is the part we are working on.”
When it comes to owning medals, Christopher has plenty. Each medal he has earned comes with a story. However, although he has more medals than most could even dream of, he doesn’t look at them and feel pride. Christopher believes that a medal shouldn’t dictate individual success in a sport like cross country and track.
“I overheard a kid talking to his parents and he was telling them about all the PRs he had and how proud of himself he was,” Christopher said. “They said to him, ‘Yeah, I don’t understand that and I don’t care about that. Did you get any medals?’ I was disgusted by that. It’s not about beating anyone and it’s not about getting a medal. Anyone can get a medal, but an improved time, that’s not something that anyone can get.”
When Christopher is done running, he doesn’t want to be remembered by how many medals he has in his possession or how many races he won. He wants to be remembered as a runner who worked harder than most, especially when nobody was watching.
“I want them to know that no matter where you come from, how you start or where you are, you can better yourself by working hard at what you love to do,” Christopher said.