Cannon leads the WHS boys' cross-country team

Watauga’s Avery Cannon (right), shown in a previous meet, has won a state championship in cross-country and had a second-place finish in the 3-A indoor 3,200-meter championship race.

Watauga distance runner Avery Cannon is having a senior year that most distance runners crave.

Cannon won the state 3-A boys’ cross-country championship in the fall. He added a second-place finish in the state 3-A indoor 3,200-meters championship race and missed out of winning by just seconds.

Next on the list is the state 3-A track and field 3,200-meters state championship. Cannon reached the state finals in 2019. Although he did not win — he placed fifth in the event — he feels the experience from that meet, from the cross-country finals and the indoor finals will help him return to the finals.

“I’ve never really performed super well in track,” Cannon said. “But I’m definitely more confident with my fitness at this point in the season, so having that experience is definitely going to help.”

Cannon has not stopped training since preparing for the Pioneers’ cross-country season. The degree of difficulty changes over the course of the cross-country and indoor track seasons, but Cannon must get ready for the spring season.

“Indoor is harder to stay in shape because the Boone weather is pretty rough in the winter,” Cannon said. “It’s cold and rainy a lot, so it’s harder to stay motivated throughout it, especially since I use indoor track more to build up to outdoor track to get my fitness back.”

Cannon had a game plan when running in the state cross-country finals, which he won with a time of 15:39. He wanted to stay in front of the top runners until the final quarter-mile and run away from the pack and win.

Cannon took an early lead and avoided the situation of having to hold off a strong finisher at the end of the race.

“I didn’t want to put myself in the position of not winning the race because I was too afraid to lead it,” Cannon said.

Cannon’s strategy of taking a big lead early in the race paid off with a state championship.

“It was such an amazing feeling,” Cannon said. “It’s been my dream since my freshman year and I could not believe it. The last 150 meters of the race when I realized that I was probably going to win it.”

Cannon’s reward for his victory was to be one of just 10 cross-country runners (the only one from North Carolina) and just one of 40 runners nationally to be selected to run in the Foot Locker Cross-Country race on Dec. 14 in San Diego.

Cannon did not get the result he would have liked. He finished 38th in the race, but he had an experience of a lifetime with the trip.

“I could not believe I qualified for that trip,” Cannon said. “That wasn’t even on my radar of goals at the start of the season,” Cannon said. “It’s such an amazing experience to go out there and race in such a prestigious meet. Definitely my race did not go well, but I was thankful for the experience. It was awesome.”

Cannon was surprised at the terrain of the San Diego course. Despite training on the Watauga home course, the course at Balboa Park had more hills, which caught Cannon by surprise.

The irony of training in the mountains, and then running on a course that had more hills near the California coast, was not lost on Cannon.

“I know,” he said laughing. “I don’t know what it was. All season, even though we do a bunch of hill work and hill training, I never felt super comfortable on the hills.

“I can only hope that it will help my track season. Thankfully, the track is flat.”

Cannon also said New Balance, one of the race sponsors, paid all of his expenses.

Cannon also stayed in a hotel on the beach and said the runners got the chance to hang out with several New Balance athletes.

That was followed by the state indoor meet held at JDL Fast Track on Feb. 15 in Winston-Salem. He said before the race that he would have a target on his back, but was excited about running in the event.

He could have run in other events, but liked his chances in the 3,200-meter run, which is 16 laps on an indoor track. He finished the race with a time of 9:42.42.

“There are some really good milers in North Carolina, who are a little quicker than me in the mile,” Cannon said.

“He is having a special year,” Watauga coach Randy McDonough said. “I think he can learn from this race and do something in outdoor also.”

Cannon said the 3,200-indoor race is one of his favorite events because he can settle into a rhythm and because it is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one.

“Usually if you settle in pretty quickly then you should be OK, but it will definitely get tough if you go out too quick and start to hurt early,” Cannon said.

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