Leaving the Field Far Behind, Coco Eyes All-time Records

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – By the end of fall, Drew Coco will be wrapping up arguably the greatest cross country season in Class A history. He’s undefeated on the year and it’s clear nobody will catch him. He’s left with setting personal goals for himself: a state record and breaking the 15-minute barrier. The school records have already fallen.

On Sept. 27, Coco comfortably won the Mountain West Classic in Missoula with a time of 15.07, beating 323 runners from 45 schools around the Northwest United States. The following week in Thompson Falls he finished in 15 minutes exactly, beating the next closest finisher by well over a minute. Head coach Bill Brist said Coco was so far ahead it was difficult for him to gauge his time. He most likely could have run even faster.

Brist said Coco, a senior, might have to begin taking advantage of a new rule that allows runners to wear watches.

“He’ll probably put one on to keep him company.” Brist said

Montana records are only counted at the state meet, so even though Coco’s most recent mark breaks the official Class A record of 15:03, he must repeat the performance at the championship on Oct. 25. Since the state meet is held on the same course as the Mountain West Classic, Coco believes the record is within reach.

Brist takes it a step further. By then, he figures Coco should be a better runner.

“Truthfully, he’s looking at that 14:40,” Brist said, referring to the all-class record of 14:37. “That’s certainly within his reach.”

During the winter of his junior year, Coco said he ran more than 1,000 miles, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to run five miles and then running another five to 10 in the evening. It’s an impressive display of discipline for a 17-year-old boy. He keeps a motto in his head: “Do what you love.” He said there’s a “certain satisfaction” involved with cross country that compels him to wake up before dawn in the dark, cold days of winter. He used to play soccer and said it was fun, though not completely satisfying.

“When you run cross country and you win, it’s a different kind of high,” Coco said. “There’s no teammates – it’s all you, really.”

Whitefish High School senior cross country runner Drew Coco.

Brist, who coached an assortment of great runners at Flathead, said what separates Coco from many other top high school runners is that he often trains alone, making his self-discipline that much more remarkable.

“For the Flathead kids it would be like going out to a movie,” Brist said. “They all had people to (run) with. With Drew, he’s kind of by himself.”

Coco, who is 5-feet-10 and 145 pounds, starts races fast, sprinting for the first 50 to 75 meters. He always wants to be in the lead pack, but not in front because he likes to draft behind fellow runners: “They kind of carry me through and I can relax.” Once he hits the second mile of the three-mile race, he pushes himself harder. He believes he’s doing something wrong if it doesn’t hurt more at that point. Then the third mile arrives. The start of the third mile is hardest part of the race, he said.

“It’s kind of the make it or break it part for most racers,” Coco said. “On the last mile I tell myself I can run a mile and not die, and if I do die I can still cross the finish line first.”

He conjures up comforting thoughts to take his mind off the pain.

“I might be grimacing, but I’m thinking about a fun party, Christmas, something nice,” he said.

Then he wins.

Coco began running the mile in junior high and joined both the cross country and track teams his freshman year. But he said it wasn’t until his junior year that he decided he wanted to be an elite runner. That was the winter he ran more than 1,000 miles. Now, ask him what he likes to do in his spare time, and he gives a long pause.

“It seems like (running) is all I do,” he said.

Coco, who is also a track star and this year’s homecoming king, isn’t sure what the future holds. He would like to run a marathon at some point and has considered it before, but it’s thought to be unwise and unsafe for high schoolers. He plans to run in college, though he’s not sure where. Letters have been streaming in, including one from the University of North Carolina, which particularly caught his eye. But he still has the rest of cross country and track season before college becomes imminent.

Between cross country and track he will once again take to Whitefish’s roads in the chilly winter days, sticking to his usual route down Monegan Road and winding through town until he ends up at the city beach. Whether it’s morning or night, the beach always provides solace.

“Sometimes I watch the sun rise, sometimes I watch it set,” he said. “It’s a nice place to end.”