Competition fuels speed for Warrior runners (VIDEO)

Julie Garcia By Julie Garcia

Oct. 12, 2013 at 5:12 a.m.

Todd Mickey leads the Victoria West High School pack in the start of 5k trail at the Industrial Invitational at Breckenridge.

Todd Mickey leads the Victoria West High School pack in the start of 5k trail at the Industrial Invitational at Breckenridge.   MASON TRINCA for The Victoria Advocate

EDNA - While many of his Victoria West classmates are still sleeping, senior Blake Westbrook is running the roads.

Many mornings, he runs with his cross country teammates, Todd Mickey and Lupe Vega.

But he often hits the pavement by himself in order to gain mileage and endurance.

By the time his classmates are eating breakfast, Westbrook and his team have already run 5-plus miles.

"You get out there early and remind yourself what you're working for," Westbrook said.

West cross country coach Gabe Rojas said that running early is necessary to beat the heat of South Texas seasons.

"They get up every morning and start at 6:45, and by the time we're done, it's 8:30 a.m.," Rojas said after West competed in the Industrial Invitational at Brackenridge Park in Edna on Saturday morning.

The meet included schools from all over the Crossroads, including West, Victoria East, St. Joseph and outlying teams.

The West boys came in second place overall, with senior Mickey crossing the 5K finish line first in 17 minutes, 32 seconds.

Vega came in ninth place in the boy's race with a time of 18:53, and Westbrook landed 14th in 19:21.

Thick humidity combined with minor asthma contributed to Westbrook's performance, he said.

"Around mile 11/2, I started to feel asthma a little bit, which is why I kind of faded back toward the end," Westbrook said after the race. "It's not always easy, but you gotta work through it."

Westbrook arrived at West at the start of his junior year from Mississippi, where he began running competitively.

His brother competed at the high school state level in Mississippi and is currently in his third year at South Alabama.

"That's what helped Blake get started with running was running after his brother," said Westbrook's father, Greg Westbrook. "He's really come into his own since he got to Victoria."

Westbrook has lost about two minutes from his 5K time since the move, he said.

"A lot of it has to do with training with Todd and the rest of our team," he said. "He makes us all better - he's a really good runner, and we all want to strive to be closer to him."

Rather than spend the summer at the beach or hanging with friends, Westbrook, Mickey and Vega kept up their training by running 55 to 60 miles a week.

"You have to be a special kind of person to do cross country," he said. "You have to really want to do that."

Crossroads running is much more competitive than where they were living in Mississippi, said Greg Westbrook.

"A lot more kids run; kids train harder and work harder," Greg Westbrook said. "Competition here has been a lot tougher, which has pushed him to get better. Running around faster kids makes you faster."

Rojas said that most of his runners try to emulate Mickey and Westbrook.

"Best thing about them is they make everybody else better, not only in running but in the classroom," Rojas said. "They're both straight-A students; it's awesome to have that."

Westbrook is also a varsity soccer player, another activity that requires heat conditioning and endurance.

Many of Rojas' runners participate in other sports like soccer, baseball and basketball.

"Athletic wise, some of our soccer girls come back saying they passed their conditioning test with flyers colors," Rojas said. "They thank cross country for doing that for them - we've seen a great increase because of that."

No matter how often you train together, running is still an individual sport. Competition remains even between friends and teammates.

"When they get out there, they're running to win, but they do support each other," said Blake Westbrook's mother, Amy.

While Westbrook didn't run as fast as he would have liked Saturday, there is a meet next week to prepare for the district meet Oct. 25.

"We have the best team we've ever had; I really feel like we have a team that can advance to regionals, not only as individuals, but as a team with the boys," Rojas said.



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