Tim Gruber is always thinking about time.
The Cannon School senior is not just thinking about being punctual, but also constantly trying to improve the pace that has made him one of the best runners in the state during the last three years.
"To tell you the truth, I think about my times a lot, and that's not always a good thing," Gruber said. "It's natural to want to know what pace you are in during a race, but I think it holds me back a little bit. I want to just go out and lay it all on the line and run my best without thinking about time."
Gruber, who finished fourth at the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association's 3A state meet as a sophomore, was fifth in the state last year and hopes to be even better in his final high school cross country meet Friday.
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Gruber, the two-time defending Charlotte Independent School Athletic Association champion (2009, 2010), was forced to sit out Oct. 17's league championship race because of inflammation on his right leg.
Gruber, 17, plans on running his final state championship race, something he has dreamed of since the time he started running.
"I've been envisioning this race my senior year since eighth grade," Gruber said. "I remember looking at the guys my age, like Thomas Graham (Cary Academy), Chase Shermer (North Raleigh Christian) and Drew Thompson (Wesleyan Christian Academy), and thinking what a great race we would have as seniors. I envisioned a crazy finish where we all went back and forth in the lead for the entire three miles."
Gruber has also dreamed of winning the state title in that final race, but at this point, he said, he just hopes to have a chance to run well.
The Huntersville resident consistently runs 70 to 75 miles per week during the cross country season and 80 to 100 miles per week in the offseason. Because of his injury, Gruber said, he's had to take more than a week off from running.
"It's amazing how much I miss running because I'm so used to doing everyday," Gruber said. "I guess sometimes you don't know what you have until it is taken away from you."
Gruber didn't even know how much he liked to run until he tried the sport for the first time in seventh grade. After some early success, Gruber made the Cannon varsity team the following year. Life would never be the same.
"When I first started coaching Tim, I really wouldn't have qualified him as a runner," said Cannon cross country coach Russ Campbell. "That year (2007), he just caught the (running) bug. That really pushed him to devote a lot more time to running and training all year round."
Gruber has steadily improved, exploding to the team's No. 1 spot in his sophomore season, when he began consistently winning races.
"My sophomore year was huge for me, because it's when everything started to come together," he said.
Gruber not only became the best runner in a talented CISAA conference, with the likes of Charlotte Latin and Providence Day, but also emerged as one of the top runners in the state.
But Gruber didn't go without hard times in his sophomore and junior seasons, where he treated running "more like a job, than something he loved to do," according to Campbell.
"Tim went through a rough patch where I don't know if he loved running and all that comes with it," said Campbell.
"But he made some changes and started focusing more on being the best Tim Gruber he could be and not worrying about what other people were doing."
Gruber has had another banner year in 2011, when he started to break the 16-minute barrier consistently and won four of his seven races, including the Cannon Invitational. He finished second at the prestigious Great American Independent Schools Championship, with his best time ever, 15:45.90.
Gruber, who also runs half-marathons, finished eighth among more than 22,000 runners at the Disney half-marathon run in Orlando, Fla., in January.
All that success has him on the verge of running in college. He said he's interested in running at Richmond
Gruber has already visited the university, met most of the team and even attended some classes.
Gruber is a native of Richmond, Va., and grew up there before moving to this area in fifth grade. Gruber had never run cross country before the moved, which is something he often thinks about.
"If we hadn't moved to Charlotte, I often wonder if I would be running," Gruber said. "I'm really glad the ways things have gone the last four years. If I could do it all over again, I would do it all over just the way I've done it."