FORT WAYNE – Zach Panning freely admits he wasn’t much of a runner when he was on his eighth grade cross country team. But because his parents wanted him to participate in a fall sport when he became a freshman at Concordia, he figured why not, hunted down his friends, and together they all joined the Cadets’ team.
He’s been running with it ever since.
About halfway through (freshman) year is when I actually enjoyed running and liked going out there, the junior said.
Three years into his high school career, Panning is doing more than going out there. In addition to winning a couple individual tournaments, he added the SAC individual title to his résumé and did it in a big way. His time of 15 minutes, 26 seconds set a school record and marked a personal best, and he won the SAC title 50 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.
So far this year, it’s been a phenomenal year, Concordia coach Gregg Osborn said.
When he joined the team as a freshman, absolutely not that he was a natural runner. But if you’d look at him now, I would almost say, yeah, he’s got great form and he looks like a natural. He has grown into that – if you can grow into something like that.
Oh, he’s grown, all right. As a sophomorejust a year away from his gangly high school debut, Panning finished second in the sectional and was 25th in the state with his then-personal best time of 16:01.
Olson has seen more than the running form take place, however. He has seen the competitive side of Panning emerge.
Talent can take you a long way, but when it gets down to that last half mile or last quarter mile or 100 yards or 100 meters, it’s almost nothing but guts, Olson said. People won’t do that unless they’re competitive; those who want to truly, truly lay it on the line and go on my knees when I cross the line. He’s one that’s always done that.
To concentrate on his running, Panning has given up playing hockey and baseball. Hopefully, he says, a college scholarship is out there.
I think running is so mental, he said. You can be not very physically talented, but because of the mental side of it, you can succeed, especially with distance running. As long as you tell yourself you’re feeling all right, you will feel all right.
He figures he and his Cadets teammates run somewhere between 50 and 60 miles a week. Some days are easy. Those are the four-mile jogs.
Some are harder, then Concordia adds 10 miles to a workout.
Obviously, you want to win, he says of his drive within. Usually if someone’s ahead of me, I feel like I’m doing bad. It’s the mental thing. That’s when I tell myself, You’re doing fine; you can get him.’