The run to defend his 2017 Class 3A cross country state championship got off to a painful start for The Classical Academy junior Mason Norman, but the ending was anything but.

“Right before the first race, I just started to get a bunch of knee pain, and that was really hard because I know that knee injuries are very common for runners,” Norman said. “I was just trying to do as much as I could to get rid of that, but it was more a growing knee pain, I think, and so it’s something you just have to wait out and just kinda work through.”

Working through the pain included some training in water to minimize impact and wearing bands around his knee in early races.

The defending champ wasn’t listed as competing in the Titans’ first two races of the season.

He returned to his winning ways at the Eagle Valley meet in mid-September where he ran a 16:01.8.

A second-place finish at the 4A/5A Colorado Springs Metro League meet followed before an easy win at the 3A Region 2 race.

“Towards the end of the season it wasn’t bothering me during races,” Norman said. “I was able to not run with bands around my knees or anything like that.”

The Titan junior showed how good he felt at the finale.

He defended his individual championship, leading the TCA boys to a third-place finish, with a course record at the state meet (15:33.4) to win Gazette Preps Boys’ Cross Country Peak Performer of the Year.

Toeing the line as a defending champion proved to be a different experience, but the result was the same.

“Last year, I remember going into the race and not feeling like anyone was expecting me to win, but still feeling like I could do it,” Norman said. “But this year I knew that people were expecting that of me, but I felt more confident that I would be able to, and it all worked out.”

What came after state, a 13th place showing at the Nike Cross Regionals, provides motivation for the future.

“It went well this year. It wasn’t amazing, so I’d like to definitely work on running to do well at that race,” Norman said. “That course is definitely different than anything in Colorado because it’s extremely flat and it’s lower altitude, so it’s a lot faster, and that’s something I never really got to see.”

After a couple weeks off following his extended season, Norman is now gearing up for track season where he can focus on some of the speed work that he thinks can take him to another level as a runner.

“He’s bound and determined to be better,” TCA coach Alan Versaw said.

“There were postseason disappointments for him. … Next year should be a fun year.”

That should be bad news for the rest of the 3A field.

“There are still some guys that are good that could totally catch up up to me, but I’m excited for next year’s cross country because I’m excited to see what more I can do,” Norman said, “what better times I can hit.”

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