by Chris Hunt

Lake Norman Charter coach Craig Zamiara laughs when he thinks about standout cross country runner Jordan Phillips as a freshman four years ago.

Phillips was nothing like the intense competitor who finished sixth at the 2010 Class 1A state meet. He wasn’t even close to the runner who would become the first Knight to break the 17-minute barrier.

As a ninth-grader, Phillips was far from the competitor who’d become Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2010 Lake Norman-Area Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

“He’s grown so much since he started running for us,” Zamiara said with a smile. “He told me that when he was a freshman, he would sometimes walk during a workout when he got out of my sight. I laughed about that because this is the kid that’s now our top runner.”

Phillips might have loafed as a freshman, but as his times improved, so did his commitment to preparing for races. By his junior year, Phillips was actually training too hard.

In 2009, Phillips’ blistering workouts, which included logging 45 miles per week, were to his detriment. Ignoring his coach’s advice of patience, Phillips pushed himself to exhaustion.

For a short while, Phillips found success with his Mach Five approach. His times were so fast, he motored to sixth place in the 2009 Midwestern Regional, finishing in 17:38.

Phillips’ 2009 season, however, came to a crashing halt in the state meet a week later, when he ran out of gas short of the finish line, coming in 30th in 18:12.58. Phillips was among the top 10 at the time of his collapse, and had he kept it up, he would have captured his goal of making the all-state team. But that didn’t happen.

“Last year, I ran faster every mile instead of taking easy days, and I wore myself out,” said Phillips. “It all accumulated at the state meet. But it made me rethink my training. It made me a smarter runner.”

Shortly after his disappointing performance, Phillips returned to training for the 2010 season wiser and hungrier. This time, he heeded his coach’s advice and exercised patience on slower days.

Phillips returned fresher and faster, failing just twice to complete a race in less than 17 minutes. A time barrier that was once a school record is now Phillips’ personal standard.

And as a reward, Phillips will sign a National Letter of Intent to run for one of three cross country programs – Wingate, Lenior-Rhyne or Mount Olive – on Feb. 2.

“He’s gotten so serious about running,” said Zamiara. “He’s always on the running websites. He knows more about local runners in this area than I do.

“He’s made the corrections to become a great runner.”