Watauga High junior helped create the race course at Beech Mountain
Michael Holland earned a second-place medal at the XTERRA Beech Mountain Trail Run last weekend, but he was triumphant in other ways. The looks on the faces of the other runners as they crossed the finish line were proof enough.
Holland may only be 16, but he is ambitious - and fast - beyond his years. He is about to enter his junior year at Watauga High School in Boone, N.C., and he is a member of the school's cross country and track teams. That explains his running prowess, as he placed second overall on the 15-kilometer course of the XTERRA Beech Mountain Trail Run.
Close to 150 runners from eight different states participated in the race, which was completed on July 27 at the Emerald Outback Trail System at Beech Mountain. The only runner to beat him, Matthew Longworth, is an elite distance runner from Charlotte.
Holland's knowledge of the course certainly helped. He runs on the trails at Beech Mountain nearly every day during the summer months, and not just because he lives one mile away.
Holland and two of his friends actually created the 10 miles of Emerald Outback trails. They started carving out the courses around five years ago, and had it completed in about a year. They still tinker with the trails and maintain it so that events can be held there.
"The past four to five years of trail work have honestly been life changing for me, and have opened my eyes to see how lucky we are to be trail runners!" Holland said. "Working with nature and volunteering to help the community are two of my favorite things to do, and one of the best parts of trail work is you get to play on the result of your hard work!"
Holland is quick to recognize his two friends who helped create the trails - Daniel Scagnelli and Rory Ellington. He also acknowledged that they received needed support and assistance from the Beech Mountain community to get the work completed.
Holland said he actually gets nervous when he has to compete against his peers in cross country or track meets. However, in races such as the XTERRA Beech Mountain Trail Run, where he competes against older runners on the trails he helped create, it's all about having fun.
"I guess maybe it's because I know every root, every rock, every low-lying branch since the trails are like my second home, but it is always one of my favorite and most enjoyable races," he said. "I think this is my third second place finish in a row, but it gets better and better every year!"
He said it is also gives him a thrill to hear the fellow runners talk about the course after the race.
"One of the most enjoyable parts isn't me running fast or placing well; it's seeing the pain, yet determination, on fellow racers' faces," Holland said. "I have heard many people say this is the hardest race that they have ever done, which just might be true, but yet many people return to re-conquer the challenge! I also enjoy hearing racers give their input, whether good or bad, about our trails, as that is the best way to maintain our trails - through the opinions of a wide, yet very similar, group of tough people!"
To view race results or learn more about the XTERRA North Carolina Trail Run Series, please visit www.dirtyspokes.com.