Conor Donahue wasn’t just racing against his foes when he competed last Friday in the Mercer County Cross Country Championships at Washington Crossing Park.
“I didn’t run too well when we came here for the dual meet,” said Princeton High senior Donahue.
“After the dual meet, I talked to coach [Mark] Shelley and asked him when is the next time we are doing the Washington Crossing because I really want to work on this, this, and this. We did a really good run here with 800 meter repeats on the hill. I think I found out more about the course. Before I had this mentally if I was in a race here, oh it is this course again.”
Donahue’s hard work paid dividends on Friday as he placed ninth overall in a time of 16:21 over the 3.1 mile course.
“I am extremely happy,” said Donahue. “I finally beat the course. With the workouts we did here, I was able to put that aside and work through everything.”
Sparked by Donahue’s heroics, PHS placed fourth of 18 schools in the team standings, trailing just champion WW/P-S, runner-up Robbinsville, and WW/P-N.
For Donahue, running with junior teammate Jacob Rist, the 16th-place finisher on Friday, kept him in contact with the front pack.
“It helps so much,” said Donahue. “Jacob did well today. I think he wanted to do better but he is having some problems with his Achilles heel right now. He is great. Every single dual meet, we have had, when were together, we have been able to pull off countless strategies. We work together very well.”
Over the last quarter-mile, Donahue produced a blistering sprint to pull away from Rist and get himself up into the Top 10.
“I love kicking; I picked off a couple of guys,” said Donahue, who won the 1,600-meter run last spring in the Mercer County Track Championships.
“I was working on that last stretch before the final straightaway because I think that is where I failed in my past races so I passed a couple of guys there and I passed a guy near the end. I am happy with that.”
Donahue is happy to assume a leadership role in his final campaign with the Little Tigers.
“First there is organizing the guys which is fun,” said Donahue. “I would like to think that when I am working hard and the younger guys see that, they get influenced by that hard work. I know that happened to me when I was going through my sophomore year, I looked up to the older guys, I saw how hard I am working.”
In excelling so far in his final cross country campaign, Donahue has combined racing savvy with work ethic.
“I always have worked hard, it is experience,” said Donahue. “I am just seeing the results. One of my favorite things about running is when you work hard and you see the results of hard work directly in the race.”
In Donahue’s view, the Little Tigers have the potential to get a good result at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet slated for November 9 at Thompson Park in Monroe.
“I think we are a contender for the Group III state championship,” said Donahue.
“If we get everybody together. I am starting to see some clear lines. I think we have a really good chance.”