As a seventh-grader at the Cannon School last year, Jack Workman used to finish anywhere between fourth and sixth place in most of his cross-country races. Onlookers often suggested that he could be really good if he wanted - and if he started to train a little bit.
Jack listened, but he never thought he could make the transformation that took place this season.
Jack, a Huntersville resident, won his first middle school conference race of the season in August. Then he won his next race - and every one after that. He has even finished well in some races beyond his school's schedule, including last weekend's prestigious Footlocker Cross Country South Regional.
Jack competed in a field of 101 runners in his 13- to 14-year-old age group from states ranging as far as West Virginia and Texas. Jack finished fifth overall and was the top runner from North Carolina.
He is now beginning to realize he may be on to something.
The son of Mark and Karen Workman, Jack got interested in running to keep up with his marathon-running father. Before his seventh-grade year at the Concord private school, Jack had run several 5-kilometer races with his father.
Throughout the 2010 season, Jack finished mostly in fifth or sixth place in the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association races.
In the 3-kilometer middle-school races, Jack's best time was 10 minutes, 54 seconds. Believing he was capable of great improvements, he started running a lot more in the off-season. His training was also enhanced by being a member of Cannon School's lacrosse team and his year-round conditioning with the SwimMac program.
Heading into the 2011 season, he had two immediate goals: to break the 10:30 mark and to win at least one race. Much to his surprise, Jack accomplished both at his first race, at Charlotte's McAlpine Park.
"This year, when he showed up at the first practice, he said 'my goal is to win a race'," said Cannon coach Keith West. "So, he wins his first race and me and the assistant coach kind of sarcastically said, 'that was probably a fluke.' "
It was no fluke.
Jack won five more CISAA meets, including the season-ending championship meet on Oct. 17. He also finished first at the Cannon Invitational and at a dual team home meet with Forsyth Country Day.
After he shattered the 10:30 mark early in the season, Jack readjusted his goal. He hoped to break 10 minutes by the end of the season, but the closest he got was at an Oct. 4 CISAA meet, where he ran 10:04.
More than a month elapsed between the middle school season and the Footlocker race on Nov. 26. Jack kept in shape by running long distances (6-7 miles) on weekends and running on a treadmill at school three times a week. Jack is also in the middle of the short course swim season with SwimMac.
"I wasn't expecting to win this one," said Jack.
"I just wanted to see how I would compare to others in the region. Obviously there are some amazing runners out there."
Before the middle school season, Jack and his father competed in the Warrior Dash extreme race at Historic Rural Hill. Out of 4,500-plus competitors, Jack ran through mud and over and around obstacles to place fifth - fifth overall, not just in his age group. Mark finished 58th.