Forgive Eric Claxton if he appears to be in a hurry. The Carroll senior is literally racing to make up time. It is lost time measured not only in seconds, but in years.
Claxton is part of the Chargers' No. 2-state ranked cross country team that will look to extend an undefeated season Saturday at the West Noble Regional. The meet begins at 10:30 with the girl's race; the boys will follow. The top five teams and first 15 individual finishers will advance to next Saturday's New Haven Semi-state at The Plex in Fort Wayne.
This past Tuesday Claxton was Carroll's No. 3 runner and placed seventh overall at the Northrop Sectional. It was his first-ever sectional cross country meet.
After a promising middle school career at Maple Creek, Claxton chose soccer in the fall over cross country and baseball in the spring over track. But he had a change of heart midway through the spring of his sophomore year and traded baseball for track.
“I think I realized that I could be a better runner than baseball player,” Claxton said. “Then after I started running, I realized how much I missed it, so I came out for cross country (junior year).”
Carroll coach Zach Raber quickly realized how much the program missed Claxton.
“The first thing we noticed about Eric was his incredible engine,” Raber said. “He has so much capacity. We couldn't wear him down. He just needed experience.”
The return was intense and quick last fall as Claxton joined a young and deep lineup that was ranked in the top 20 all year. The Chargers won sectionals as Claxton was rested, but then dominated regionals in large part to Claxton's performance. The Chargers eventually advanced to state and placed ninth. All seven runners from that meet returned this year.
“It was great running in the state meet, all the excitement,” Claxton said. “That day we made a promise to come back and win it all.”
Before Claxton and his teammates could win a state cross country title, they claimed an unexpected state title in track this past June. He and fellow juniors Jon Harper and Alex Hess combined with senior sprinter John Hester to win the 3,200-meter relay. The same foursome would go on to place fourth at the New Balance National Championships.
Raber said Claxton's emergence as a runner was key to the title.
“You always look to see how good a runner is after 12 months of continuous training,” Raber said. “Eric didn't hit it until the end of track his junior year. And what happened? He ran a 1:54 (800 meter split).”
In an odd way, all the success frustrated Claxton when he thinks what could have been.
“Do I regret not running my freshman and sophomore years,” Claxton said, repeating a question. “All the time. After we won state, I wondered just how good I could've been if I'd kept at it like (Harper).”
While Claxton still thinks about missed opportunity, he's focused now a far smaller period of time: mere seconds.
“My goal all year has been to break 16 and I can't believe I haven't done it yet,” said Claxton, who's broken 16:10 several times. “That's my individual goal for Saturday. Team-wise, it's to score as few points as possible.”
Raber knows Claxton will get there, if he would only take it easy on himself.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself,” Raber said. “For him, he's so competitive. His workouts are incredible, so it's just a matter of time before he gets a lot faster. If he runs well at state, he's top 25 (all-state).”
Just a matter of time, that's all.