Running has become so important to C.J. Buck that it may be up there with eating and breathing.
The Jay M. Robinson cross country runner is on a quest to run every day for a year, validating his commitment to his training regimen. He's nine months away from completing his goal, but Buck is accomplishing plenty along the way.
Coming off a season in which he helped the Bulldogs finished third in the state 3A championships, Buck is distinguishing himself as an individual runner. A string of top-two finishes this season has put the junior among the state's best, as he tries to help Robinson return to the state meet.
Buck's approach to running is vastly different than it was when he entered Robinson three years ago. He said he "wasn't very good" as a Harris Road Middle track-and-field long-distance runner and logged a grand total of four miles of training during the summer before his freshman year.
That's like a skydiver stepping on the runway one time and believing he's ready to jump out of a plane.
Buck didn't have many expectations for himself in his first high school season, so when he ran a time of 21 minutes in his first race, he didn't know whether it was good or bad. He knew his time was comparable to that of his teammates, who told him the Mount Pleasant High course wasn't time-friendly.
His early season times weren't good enough to place him in the Bulldogs' top seven runners. So Buck's second race of the season was competing in the junior varsity division at the Cannon Cross Country Invitational.
Buck was encouraged by his first-place finish and saw his potential for the first time. By the end of the season, he was running with the varsity's top three runners, and he trimmed his personal best time by more than three minutes.
Between his freshman and sophomore years, Buck said, he logged more than 600 miles. Buck emerged as one of the top three runners in the South Piedmont Conference and ran a personal best of 16:26 at the prestigious Wendy's Invitational in Charlotte.
This past summer, Buck had no problem keeping pace with the distance he logged in 2010. Starting the second week of June, Buck and junior teammate Christopher Bellis pledged to run at least a little every day.
For three months, Buck and Bellis have kept up the pace, running at least four miles each day. Six days a week they are training or competing with the team, and on Sundays Buck and Bellis find a local park to run in.
"I think that it's really important," said Buck. "If you keep running consecutive days, then you won't feel like you should have run another day. Once you get past two weeks, it's pretty easy."
His approach is paying off. After finishing 21st at the season-opening Providence Invitational, Buck took second place at the Cannon Invitational, in the varsity race.
Buck followed that race with a first-place finish at the Northwest Cabarrus Relays and finished second at the Weddington Invitational on Sept. 17, when he ran another career best of 16 minutes.
"He's just competitive," said Robinson coach Justin Gutierrez. "If you put something in front of him, if he's not there yet he'll do everything he can to get there."
In the spring, Buck will look toward improving his standing statewide in the two-mile run. Last spring, he placed fourth at track and field regionals and ninth at the 3A state meet.