DARIEN, Conn. – A year ago, Darien High School runner Alex Ostberg was in the initial stages of coming back from a broken fibula. On Saturday, he will run on cross country’s grandest high school stage in the Foot Locker Championships in San Diego.
Qualifying for the Foot Locker race is the culmination of a yearlong journey back from the injury for Ostberg, who has shown promise since middle school while racing for the Wilton Running Club. He busted out in a big way this fall.
The junior won the Class L championship, finished second in New England and third in the State Open. His third-place finish in the Foot Locker Regional championships in New York punched his ticket to San Diego.
“Unfortunately, the timing of the injury couldn’t have been much worse,’’ said Ostberg, who suffered the injury at the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championships in October. “Looking back on it, it was a positive experience. I learned how to deal with injuries. I also really looked at my biomechanics. I looked at my training more closely. It was effective in recognizing problems and learning how to deal with an injury as devastating as that.”
Ostberg ran well during the indoor track season last winter and continued to pick up the pace in the spring. He finished second in the State Open in the 3,200 meters in the spring and finished fourth in New England. He laid the ground work for his terrific fall with a smart, steady training approach in the summer.
“When I started training in late June, one of the main goals I had coming into the season was to stay healthy,’’ Ostberg said. “I wanted to get through the season. The other one was to be competitive at the State Open. I knew there were some guys coming back who were going to be strong runners. The competition I knew I’d face helped me get to the next level.”
Ostberg arrived at Darien already decorated with state titles. He won consecutive state Junior Olympic championships, and in 2010 finished 10th in the country. High school competition, Ostberg quickly found, was much different.
“I really embraced the team atmosphere,’’ he said. “Instead of focusing on individual goals, I focused on my sport on the team. It was difficult to get used to at first. But it’s a much more sustainable way to run. You take that pressure and distribute it among teammates. It also took me a little while to adapt to the high school training. I was getting used to what the high school level was like. Now I’m able to focus on team and individual goals.”
Ostberg points to a growth spurt in the last year – he added four inches to his 5-foot, 3-inch frame – and increased strength work as part of the reason for his emergence this year.
The Foot Locker regional race is further evidence that Ostberg is back among the nation’s elite runners. He was the only junior in the top 10, and was just four seconds behind the winner, Mickey Burke of New York. Fairfield Prep’s Christian Alvarado finished a second ahead of Ostberg for second place. He may have slipped from some runners’ radar after last year’s injury, but proved this fall he has the ability and mind-set to compete with the nation’s best.
“I was focused on qualifying for nationals,’’ Osberg said. “That was the big goal. I knew I’d be in the mix, and that if I had an off day I might be in a battle for the top 10. Getting to nationals is almost like a bonus race. I’m trying to go in there without too many expectations. I’m facing the 40 best runners in the country. I have heard runners are treated like champions out there. It’s going to be a great experience.”