Clarksburg High School senior Will Bertrand believed he could run cross country at the collegiate level.
Never mind that he had never done it at the high school level. Bertrand believed in himself.
He even talked to the Dartmouth College coach this summer about running cross country at the Ivy League school, but when Bertrand couldn’t provide any race times, he realized those types of conversations would never go anywhere.
So, Bertrand quit his spot as outside midfielder — “because that’s the position that has to run the most,” he explains — on the Clarksburg soccer team to join the cross country team this fall.
The most difficult part of the transition? The Euro 2012 soccer tournament, which Bertrand watched religiously, was being played last summer as he weighed his decision.
Otherwise, the plan worked exceptionally well.
Bertrand won the 4A state title, became The Gazette’s cross country Runner of the Year and earned a spot on the Princeton University cross country team.
“I’ve never had anybody that trains harder than he does,” Clarksburg track and field coach Scott Mathias said. “I’ve never coached anybody that was more driven. He gets the most out of everything that he does. Every workout, he gives everything he has. He’s just extremely dedicated. He’s got a lot of internal drive, and for somebody that gets a level that he has, it has to come from within.”
Bertrand’s confidence hasn’t waned. At Princeton, he also wants to run the 10-kilometer race for the track team, even though he’s never competed in an event longer than five kilometers. His favorite race during the track season now is the longest offered, the 3,200-meter run, which he completed in a Montgomery County Indoor Track and Field Championship-record 9 minutes, 29.67 seconds last week.
“I figure, if I like the longest distance here, I might like the longest distance at the next level,” said Bertrand, who also won the 1,600-meter run at the county meet.
Mathias credited Bertrand with becoming a savvier runner, and Bertrand, who plans to major in computer science at Princeton because he likes the field’s “computational approach to problems,” said he’s frequently calculating splits and pace during his races.
To Mathias, the last memory of Bertrand came when the first-year cross country runner combined his talent, drive and approach to win the cross country title in the third-fast time ever posted Hereford High School course.
“It was such a big deal, at least in my mind,” Mathias said. “We’ve known how good he is and how good he could be, and he’s known how good he could be, I think. But it was just a chance for him to receive some of the accolades that he’s been deserving and that he’s earned.”
Bertrand said he did know how much he could accomplish in cross country, but his favorite running memory at Clarksburg came in track, which he’s run all four years.
During his sophomore year, heavy snow hit the area shortly before the Montgomery County meet. Clarksburg practiced on a shoveled-off track, but enough snow stuck to the ground that running was still extremely difficult. What Bertrand loved about that day perhaps explains why he favors longer events and why he’s conquered so many seemingly difficult challenges.
“After the race, when you feel that pain,” Bertrand said, “that’s what I enjoy about it,”