Elliott Bijlsma didn’t discover his gift for running in elementary school the way many runners do. Instead, he quit just about every sports team he played on.
“I wasn’t very good at sports,” Elliott, 18, admits. “I was a super asthmatic kid and was always running out of breath.”
Elliott also had a fierce desire to win and got upset when his team lost. The combination meant that kids teased him.
“Baseball, basketball, soccer. I quit all of them.”
Running then was kind of a fluke. He only joined the track team because a friend of his was dating the track star at El Segundo High, and she convinced Bijlsma to go out for the team freshman year.
“There was such a huge difference between me and my teammates when I started track,” says Elliott. “My freshman year, I was running about 21 minutes for three miles and my friend’s boyfriend was running under 15 minutes in the same race. The times the varsity guys were making seemed totally unattainable to me.”
However, unlike before, Elliott didn’t quit, even though running under the Southern California sun felt brutal many days. He kept showing up, and as the season progressed, his times dropped. By the time he was a junior, he had lowered his mile time by over 25 seconds from a 5:11 to a 4:45.
“Once I started getting better, it became clear that this was something I wanted to work for,” he said “I wanted to see how far I could push myself.”
In his junior year, Elliott had a breakout performance at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic. He was the ninth fastest on his cross country team, and only the top seven run varsity. But before the Woodbridge invitational, the eighth fastest guy on the team was injured and the seventh fastest was slated to run in the freshman race. That meant that Elliott had to step up and race for the varsity team. Rather than cave under the pressure, Elliott had a big PR and ran under 17 minutes for the first time in the three-mile race.
“I was super surprised,” Elliott remembers. “I came through the finish line and had this super dramatic reaction that my dad probably has on camera somewhere. I hope I never see it.”
Now, as a senior, Elliott is a solid member of the varsity cross-country team, and he keeps getting faster and faster.
“It still surprises me when I cross the line and see my time. Now my times are close to the people I used to look up to. That kind of pace used to seem so far away to me, but now I’ve actually kind of done it.”
Elliott has embraced the hard work that goes into long-distance running which means that he runs not only for his team but because he loves the sport.
“I love that you don’t push yourself for someone else in running. You push yourself for yourself.”
In addition to competing for his high school, Elliott races in most of the XTERRA SoCal Trail Runs and often finishes at the top of the heap. So far in the 2018 XTERRA Series, he has won his age group at XTERRA Crystal Cove, XTERRA Boney Mountain, and XTERRA Black Mountain. After his third-place overall finish at XTERRA Crystal Cove, he earned the praise of standout XTERRA trail runner, Anthony Fagundes.
“I first met Elliott and his father Ron at the first XTERRA SoCal race I did almost 3 years ago,” Fagundes wrote on Facebook. “Elliot has done almost as many XTERRA races as I have and has continued to climb the overall finish ranks to his first podium finish today, and he’s only in high school! I cannot wait to see what his future trail racing career looks like but it looks pretty bright in my eyes. I’m sure one of these days he’s gonna pass me for first overall. It’s people like Elliot that make running these XTERRA races so enjoyable. Major props to you my dude!”
Elliott has no intention of stopping any time soon. Even though he is busy applying to colleges – he is going to major in music – and enjoying his senior year, running is a top priority. In fact, he brings much of what he learned from playing the clarinet into his sport with him and views his weekly training schedule as its own unique rhythm.
“My dream lifestyle, if everything goes my way from now on, is to play music and go running. I just want to do what I love and make sure I’m living to the fullest.”