By Joe Naiman
It would have been amazing enough that Tristan Stidham’s time of 16:25 at the state cross-country meet Nov. 26 at Fresno’s Woodward Park was a personal record for a 5,000-meter (3.1-mile) course by 55 seconds. What is even more amazing is that Stidham’s previous personal record of 17:20 was posted in the Sept. 10 Showdown at Sundown meet’s junior varsity race.
By the state meet Stidham had earned a varsity position, and he finished fifth among Ramona runners.
“I was just mentally prepared for it,” Stidham said of the state meet. “A lot of it was Coach Steve. He just got us prepared for it as best as he could.”
Coach Steve Albanese placed Stidham in the varsity races for Palomar League dual meets. He fared as high as seventh among Ramona runners in dual meet races. He was the Bulldogs’ sixth finisher at the Palomar League meet Nov. 12 at Kit Carson Park, posting a time of 17:22 on the 5,000-meter course. His time of 17:21 on Morley Field’s 5,000-meter course Nov. 19 placed him sixth among Ramona runners at the CIF section meet and 46th overall among the 147 Division II runners.
“He’s taken leaps and bounds, taken great strides, in becoming a solid runner for our team and it’s been a surprise, a good surprise, for us,” Albanese said.
Stidham started the season Sept. 3 at the Vaquero Stampede with a time of 11:45 on the 2.15-mile Lindo Lake course, which placed him ninth among Ramona boys in the junior-senior race. His performance in the Showdown at Sundown race placed him second overall, behind teammate Josh Spieker, in the junior varsity race. Stidham was Ramona’s top finisher in the junior varsity race at the Mt. SAC Invitational meet Oct. 22, completing the 2.93-mile course in 16:49. He also had a time of 16:55 in the junior race Sept. 17 on the 2.95-mile Morley Field course.
“Tristan has consistently been our between seven and nine guy,” Albanese said. “He stepped up huge.”
Stidham was born in Poway and lived in Ramona until moving to Big Pine while in elementary school due to his ill grandmother. The family later returned to Ramona, and he attended fifth and sixth grade at James Dukes Elementary School before attending Olive Peirce Middle School and Ramona High School. Stidham’s mother, Tracey, is originally from Big Pine, while his father, Larry, is from Indiana. Stidham has one brother, Jeremiah Foster, who is 12 years older and was a left tackle for Ramona High School’s football team.
Stidham did not play any high school sports in ninth grade and took up cross country as a sophomore.
“I thought I was a decent runner,” he said.
He spent the 2010 cross country season on Ramona’s junior varsity. “That just led to me getting into track,” he said.
Stidham ran junior varsity races during the Bulldogs’ Spring 2011 track and field season. “I felt like I made improvements,” he said.
Albanese noted that Stidham was able to post a five-minute mile by the end of the track season.
Stidham spent the summer following Albanese’s training guidelines, running nine miles each day.
“We all put in a lot of work this summer,” Stidham said.
“He’s come a long way in the one year that he’s been running,” Albanese said.
Cross country team scores add the positions of a team’s first five finishers. The sixth and seventh finishers are not scored but can add points to other teams. Up to 12 runners per school are allowed at the league meet, and Albanese utilized the maximum total. Stidham’s time gave him 26th place among the race’s 68 runners.
“The league finals I felt like I had a really good race,” Stidham said. “When I was running CIF I didn’t do as good.”
Stidham didn’t have the benefit of a calculator when assessing his loss of 20 positions between the league and section meets. His time was in the 39th percentile at the league meet and in the 32nd percentile at the CIF meet.
Nobody will dispute, however, his desire to improve upon his CIF meet performance at the state meet.
“I’m not really sure what happened actually,” he said. “I was just thinking about leaving everything on the field and doing everything I could.”
The calculator reveals that finishing 65th among the 183 runners at the state meet placed him in the 36th percentile. Team score positions did not include runners who qualified as individuals, and Stidham placed 48th for team score purposes. Including individuals as well as scored runners, Stidham’s time was 24th among non-seniors.
Ramona, which placed second by 9 points to section Division II champion La Costa Canyon in the CIF section meet, placed third in the state meet and beat the Mavericks by two points. “I felt like I had to pick it up, otherwise my team wouldn’t have had a chance to do as good as we did,” Stidham said.
Albanese’s goal was for his runners to set personal records and peak at the end of the season. “Steve’s timing, his program, I feel that’s what’s helped me the most,” Stidham said.
Stidham will run on the Bulldogs’ track team this spring. His times at the league, section, and state cross-country meets placed him third among Ramona’s non-seniors, and his cross ntry team goal for 2012 will be to return to the state meet.
“My expectations for myself are just to knock off about a minute from each of my times,” he said of his senior season goals.
If Stidham can knock a minute off this year’s state meet time, a performance of 15:25 would have finished fifth at this year’s meet. It might seem like an difficult task to erase a minute from what was already a 55-second personal record. But given his improvement from the beginning of this season, working on it for a year could very well make it happen.