Race Strategy Works for Daniel's Alex Zangara

COLUMBIA -- Daniel High School senior Alex Zangara is a thinking man's runner. He spends as much time studying the sport as he does actually running.

With that in mind, Zangara knew there was only one spot for him to wind up in the Class 4A race during Saturday's state meet at Sandhills Research Center.

Zangara said all along, he had the big hill right before the two-mile mark in mind.

"I knew that was where the race was going to unfold," he said, "and I knew that I was either going to hang on till the two-mile and die off and fade out, or I was going to feel all right and go with them or I was going to feel really good and take off.

"I knew it was going to be one of those three things. I didn't want to come in second place knowing that I might have had a chance to win if I would have run harder the first two miles. So I was only shooting for first and nothing less. I didn't want to get second. I didn't want to get third. I think just having that race mentality is very important to be successful."

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It worked for Zangara, who stormed to the front and won the race in 15:30.67. He finished 13 seconds ahead of last year's winner, Hilton Head Island's Sam Gillman.

The reality is that it would have been difficult for Zangara to have faded out. In the minds of many, he wasn't on the radar in the first place.

Zangara moved to the Upstate from Morrilton, Arkansas, this year after winning back-to-back championships in that state.

"Coming from Arkansas, the times were way more competitive here in South Carolina," Zangara said. "It was a big change, and I think that's what made me faster."

Zangara, who had the sixth-fastest time in Class 4A entering Saturday's race, was nearly 45 seconds better than his previous best this season. His time of 15:30 was a PR by 25 seconds.

Zangara dropped nearly two minutes from his first race at Sandhills, although admittedly he had a "horrible race" in the Bob Jenkins SCTCCCA Coaches Classic in September.

He was the runner-up at Upper State, but his time of 16:50 was 28 seconds behind Greer's Coen Roberts, who came in fourth Saturday.

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Zangara's performance at state opened some eyes, but he should have been used to that. As a sophomore, his victory in 5A -- third-largest classification in Arkansas -- was a huge upset. His time of 16:18 was 31 seconds faster than he had run all season.

Last year, Zangara was ranked second entering the state final, but he turned a showdown with the top-ranked runner into a victory by 35 seconds.

"It was a really hot day, and I think I just hydrated a little bit better than everybody else and was able to hang on a little bit better," Zangara said. "It was like 90 degrees, and in Arkansas, it's 100 percent humidity every day of the year. So it was a really painful race. I only ran 16:17, but on that day, it was probably equivalent to about a 15:50.

"The guy who was predicted to get third passed out during the race. The guy that was supposed to get second was with me till the half-mile mark, and then I made a move and he literally started walking because he was so tired and couldn't run anymore. Basically it was survival of the fittest on that day."

Zangara, who plans to run in Nike Cross Regionals Southeast Nov. 24 in Cary, N.C., said his focus this season has been on lactic threshold and building his aerobic capacity.

"I figured that was one of the most important things for 5K runners from watching a YouTube video," he said. "I saws that this guy went from a 16-minute 5K to a sub-15-minute 5K in nine weeks, and I thought that was amazing. So I just started kind of doing what he was doing, and I guess it really works."