When Alejandro Pedraza crossed the finish line first at the Mariner Triton Invitational on Sept. 29 in Fort Myers, it was the first time in recent memory that a Golden Gate High School runner won a cross country race.
For Pedraza, a junior who only began running a year ago, it was an event he plans will become more and more common.
"When I started, I felt motivated," Pedraza said. "I passed everybody and my body didn't want to slow down. I just went faster and faster. I never came in first before. It felt great. It's something I want to happen again.
"I want to show everybody that Golden Gate can be the best."
Before last season, Pedraza had never run a long-distance race before. A student at Palmetto Ridge High School at the time, Pedraza went out for the Bears' cross country team on a whim.
"I just wanted to try out," he said "I didn't have the endurance to run that far."
In 2011 the Bears had one of the best boys squads in the state, finishing fourth in the Class 3A state championships behind stars Carlos Miranda and Josh Pelletier. They were coached by Kim Butts, one of the area's most prominent track gurus.
Miranda finished third individually, while Pelletier placed 12th. Back in the pack at No. 65 was Pedraza, who clocked a time of 16 minutes, 53.75 seconds. His placing might not have been what he hoped, but Pedraza was dazzled by his time on the 5K course.
"No one runs a 16:50 in their first year," he said. "I want everybody to know this is my second year running. I want more. I want to be faster than Carlos. I want the record for the 5K. It's not impossible."
Also on Sept. 29, Miranda placed first in the boy's Race of Champions at the Chain of Lakes Park in the FLrunners.com Invitational. Miranda finished with a time of 15:07.90, leading Palmetto Ridge to a 11th place finish in the team standings.
Pedraza's winning time at the Triton meet was 16:43.24. He still has miles to go before he can catch a runner of Miranda's caliber. Regardless, Titans boys cross country coach Kimberly Culpepper loves what she has in Pedraza and what he means to Golden Gate's cross country program.
"Alejandro's strongest quality is he knows how to race," said Culpepper, the Titans coach for the past four seasons. "He doesn't worry about starting out and staying in front. He lets the other guys do the work and then in that last mile, he picks it up.
"A lot of kids think they have to start out fast but then can't hold the three miles. That's what I like about Alejandro — he does know how to race and when to push it. He's very consistent, very disciplined. He trains on his own. He loves running."
Pedraza might love running, but, according to Culpepper, he still has a lot to learn about the sport.
"Maturity-wise, Alejandro needs to improve on his maintenance — dieting, stretching, icing," she said. "The little things that make you or break you.He also needs to be concerned about over-training. In this sport, less can be more."
One aspect of running that Pedraza is developing is the mental preparation it takes to run so far, so fast.
"It can be painful out on the course," Pedraza said. "Don't let your body break down. This is what you sign up for when you run. You just keep going and going.
"Runners need that mental conditioning. I tell my body to go and go, don't let anybody catch up to me. I give it all I got on the course."