The “hurt” is the place elite runners like Niwot’s Zane Bergen talk about when they catch their breath. It wasn’t the final destination of the day but a crossroad in getting there.
Whether back on Mile 5 of 10 in practice or on the final stretch of a championship race, the body begs for relief and one must choose: To go away from agony. The natural response. Or delve deeper inside it, the painstaking option Bergen chooses again and again.
“Trying to find reasons to hurt can be challenging at some points,” said Bergen, who won his second straight Class 4A cross country title last month for the Cougars and is now training for nationals.
“I found that the best way to push yourself through that last mile (in a race), even two miles sometimes, is to think about all the great memories you’ve had training with your brothers day in and day out. Think about all the hard work they’ve put in so you can run the best you can for them.”
Bergen is Niwot’s current “It” star runner. In the same breath as Elise Cranny, who went on to attend Stanford (where Bergen is committed) before qualifying for the Olympics last summer. And like Cruz Culpepper, the winner of consecutive 4A titles when Bergen was an underclassman.
But as much as one might look to find a superstar persona, Bergen always pushes outward. Over the past year the senior has proven to be one of the best runners in the state and country — fueled this fall by running away with the state’s top time while nabbing another state gold — yet team is always at the forefront.
Just last month, he pulled away from the pack in the 4A race at the Norris Penrose Event Center to win by 14 seconds, resetting his own 4A course record in 15:17.70. With his team finishing second to Cheyenne Mountain, though, he wasn’t satisfied.
Off from the top of the podium, he talked to reporters about how he should have done more. The hope during the race was to string out the Colorado Springs school’s top guys — those who finished second through fourth in the race — to create room for his teammates to fill in the gaps. He didn’t think he’d done that well enough.
“Going in, we wanted the team title and that’s it,” Bergen said. “Getting the individual title was a byproduct of trying to score the least amount of points for the team as possible. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to execute on that bigger goal, but I’m happy that I took home the individual so that we can light some fires with the other boys on the team and make them chase some aspirations that will feed into the future generations of Niwot.”
Niwot coach Kelly Christensen thought Bergen was being hard on himself. He wasn’t surprised.
“He is a high-character kid and has a maturity that you just don’t see often with athletes today,” Christensen said. “He’s always thinking about how to improve team culture and more worried about how other people are improving. He’s one of those leaders that I just try to stay out of his way.”
Bergen won five straight races to close the fall season, including the famed Desert Twilight XC Festival in Arizona on Sept. 24, as well as the Longs Peak League Meet in Fort Morgan, where he ran a state-best 14:42.20.
His latest win was his fifth 4A gold over the past year. He also won three track and field individual titles in the 4A 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
Next, Bergen and Niwot will race at the Garmin RunningLane XC Championships in Alabama Dec. 4.