PUMPKIN CENTER –– Ryan Shannon’s legs have taken him to the top of North Carolina high school cross country, and now they’re carrying him to run on the mountaintops of the state’s high country.
Shannon, last fall’s 3A Midwest Regional cross country champion and a frontrunner on North Lincoln’s two state title teams, signed a national letter of intent on Wednesday to run both cross country and track at Appalachian State.
The senior wrapped up his scholastic cross country career with a fifth-place finish in last fall’s state 3A championship, and he never finished lower than 12th in a state meet from his sophomore season on.
“I think my performances lately have shown that I am ready to move up to more distances,” said Shannon, referring to the longer, more grueling courses college runners face compared to the 5-kilometer courses in high school. “I’m ready to go on, get an education, and run track and cross country.”
Shannon hasn’t always been a focused, competitive runner. But now he’s as focused as ever.
He finished 71st in his first state championship meet as a freshman, and has made training his top priority since.
Shannon said he is currently running an average of 60 miles per week, and it’s the scientific part of training –– learning how blood and oxygen can effect endurance –– along with the physical part that makes running so intriguing.
“Most people think you do it just because you’re good at it. But the training up to a large competition, nothing is better than waking up that morning and knowing there’s not a doubt in your mind that you missed a day or there’s weakness in you. Just knowing that you’re going to compete to your best abilities (and) knowing that you’re better than a lot of the competition, that helps,” he said. “Going to cross country meets and running with the top guys, and being part of the front pack is a big deal to me. I just love the sport. I think there’s something great about just having to run. You don’t have to worry about the guy at first base having to catch the ball; you just run. If you’re having a bad day you just fix it –– you run harder.”
As a freshman Shannon finished his first state championship race in 18:24. Three years later, he won the 3A regional with a career-best time of 15:33 –– nearly a 3-minute difference.
He credits his success –– and his training regime –– to Knights coach Jerry Castro.
Castro, a former college runner himself, has brought a NCAA-like training program and model of success to North Lincoln, and it’s worked. So much so that for that reason, Shannon feels he’s ready for the demand of competing at the Division I level.
“Most kids say, you know, I’m worried about my college coach being more strict or more demanding, but Jerry Castro is just as demanding as any coach I think you’re going to get,” Shannon said.
Shannon, who will compete in the NCHSAA state indoor track and field championships in Winston-Salem today, will take part in the distance races –– 5K and up –– for Appalachian State’s track team, he said, and will jump from 100- to 200-runner 5K races to 400 to 500-runner 8K-10K races while competing against schools in the Sun Belt Conference.
He also likened the Mountaineers coach to Castro, making them an easy choice over East Carolina, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Western Carolina, UNC-Greensboro and USC-Upstate.
“I chose Appalachian because I felt like the coach was real upfront when I first met him –– a really good guy,” Shannon said. “I felt like he wouldn’t do me wrong in my training.”
As individual a sport as running lends itself to, competing in track and cross country is all about the team.
Shannon said the Mountaineers have six others in this year’s cross country signing class, and he’s spoken with each of them and feels everyone is on the same page.
On meet days, that’s what is most important.
“Cross country is a team effort. … I knew that when I got there we could make a good team,” he said.
Finishing strong in Boone, both athletically and academically, is Shannon’s biggest goal.
But getting to the finish line is just half the battle.
“I put in the work and the mileage, and I’m here now,” he said. “That’s really all it is is work.”