COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa – Marc Estrada’s work ethic was never a question.
Columbus Community cross country coach Steve Riley said his senior runner shows up to every practice, every workout, puts in a lot of miles and is the unquestioned team leader as a result. Riley never questioned Estrada’s abilities either, as the senior has been a solid runner for the Wildcats for three seasons.
Even so, Riley was caught off guard by Estrada’s performance last Tuesday when the senior ran “the race of his life” at the Eagle Cross Country Invitational in Keota. Estrada won the race with a time of 18:32, and in the process topped Keota’s Turner Klein, a 2016 state qualifier and the 21st ranked runner in Class 1A.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Riley said. “It’s just the work he’s done. He’s decided he wants to go out really strong and be one of the best runners in our conference and hopefully our district.
“He was on a mission basically and decided he was going to take control of the race.”
Prior to Tuesday’s race Estrada had never broken 19 minutes in a 5K, and he ran 19:32 in his most recent race to place 40th, a whole minute behind his time just one week later in Keota.
“I have no clue,” Estrada said on how his time improved so quickly. “I just tried to stay in front of my guy.”
Quick starts are common for Estrada, but Riley and the rest of the Wildcats were surprised with his staying power to finish what Riley called a “breakthrough race.”
“I got kind of tired, so I thought if I just stuck around I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to do,” Estrada said. “So I was like, ‘you know what, I’m just going to haul right now.’ I wanted to stay behind the cart the whole time.”
It may seem like Estrada’s breakout performance may have come out of nowhere, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Although he’s quiet, the three-year varsity runner leads by example.He sets the tone with his work ethic at every practice and workout. Riley hopes the work ethic that played a large role in producing a career race for Estrada is an eye-opener for the rest of the team.
“It’s very rewarding especially for a kid like this,” Riley said. “He does everything the right way. This guy, your leader, is serious about having a great season. It’s up to you to follow him.”
But the work doesn’t stop there for Estrada, who Riley said follows in the footsteps of his father, Jose Estrada. Jose is a marathon runner currently training for the Quad Cities Marathon, and the father-son duo ran the Bix7 together in downtown Davenport.
“It’s just part of being in that family for Marc,” Riley said.
It’s not uncommon to see Jose running 20 miles early in the morning, or putting his son through vigorous workouts as early as 5 a.m. on the weekends, even during the season.
The workouts can sometimes be a chore for Marc, but he knows they’re paying dividends in his final high school cross country season.
“It’s a killer, because some days we do 13 miles and I’m like ‘what?’” Marc said with a laugh. “’What is wrong with you? That’s a Saturday workout. Sunday could be eight miles, but run a minute hard and a minute easy for the right miles.
“Some days it’s horrible, but it’s better than sleeping in bed.”
Estrada hopes to get his time in the low 17s and qualify for the state meet. Although he’s not there yet, Riley believes his senior leader can get to a similar level as Josh Keller, who was a three-time state qualifier and all-state runner in 2013. It’s just a matter of getting the rest of the team to follow.
“I would like to see him be a top 15 runner in our conference,” Riley said. I think he’s got a shot to be top 15 and individually go to state, and I know he wants that. Hopefully he can drag his team along.”