Houston ended her cross country career as one of the area’s most decorated runners, and according to coach Karen Galyon, as the accolades accumulated, so did Houston’s leadership skills.
“Leadership, more than anything is what she had excelled at this season,” Galyon said. “She started running junior varsity in the eighth grade because we don’t have a middle school team, and we kind of started saying to her to just do the best you can. As she got stronger and more confident she had a lot more pressure on her.”
But with that pressure came more responsibility to the team as well. While she was already leading the team as a runner, she took on more of a role as the team’s leader in other areas.
“She was really quiet when she first started and let others take the lead, but as she has gotten older, she has gotten to the point where she gives advice to the other runners and encourages them,” Galyon said. “She always makes sure the others are giving their best and doesn’t leave anyone out there.”
The team dynamic is what Houston said she will miss the most. With the Lady Catamounts not making the state meet as a team, Houston was by herself in Carrollton for her final cross country race in high school. Without her teammates, it was a different experience.
“At state, it is a little different if you are there without your team,” she said. “But I got to warm up with Northwest Whitfield’s runners, and I prayed with them before the race and it was a special experience.”
But it wasn’t the performance she wanted. After making previous trips to west Georgia for state, the GHSA altered the course this year.
“I didn’t do as well as I wanted to at state,” she said. “It is a really hilly course, and this year it was really cold. They changed the course and added a few more hills to the course.”
Still, despite her finish, which was 10 places behind her time as a junior, Houston said she met most of her goals.
“I knew I wanted it to be my best season, and I had high expectations with times and places and finishes,” she said. “It definitely added to the pressure. I got to break 19 minutes. I guess I was a little tired this year by the time we got to state.”
Houston’s senior year was a culmination of just one part of what she hopes is a lifetime of running and enjoyment.
“It has been my whole life,” she said. “I plan my life around my running. I plan what I eat or whether I am going to bed early based on when I am running. It is a big part of my life. I do it for fun and stress relief and just to enjoy it.
“I played softball and basketball in middle school, and I was on the swim team,” she said. “I have tried a lot — tennis and golf — but running has just stuck. The feeling when I am running is just great. I am just drawn to running more than anything else. Not much hand-eye coordination is involved, but I guess the runner’s high is there and it is a stress relief. I can do it forever, and it is something I want to do for a long, long time.”
An avid cookie eater before a big race — “Chocolate chip, but only four” — Houston plans to run in college and is seriously considering a scholarship offer from North Georgia. She has also been invited to walk on at the University of Georgia.
Either way, Galyon knows her runner is headed in the right direction.
“She has been really a strong runner for four years, and she just gets better and better,” Galyon said. “She runs all year, and pretty much whatever it takes to get better, she does. She is not satisfied.”
Pacheco wasn’t satisfied with his senior season either. Despite some terrific times, he finished a disappointing 41st in a time of 18:21 at Carrollton. Moving up from Class 2A the previous season, he said his unfamiliarity with the runners in Class 3A hurt him in the race on the hilly course.
“I started off very fast at state, but that was a big mistake,” Pacheco said. “I went off with the wrong pack. But I gave it what I had and I finished the race, but was very tired at the end of it.”
It was the end of the distance season, but he has plenty more competition left in both high school and ahead in college. He plans on attending Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., and says he will leave North Murray pleased, but not satisfied, with his final season.
“I wanted this to be my best year. In some ways it was,” he said. “I definitely ran better times this year, and had a better start. I got sick midway through the year, but I was pretty happy with the way I ran, and I am looking forward to next season.”
It is the future that Pacheco is more excited about. On Saturday, he finished first in the 10-miler in Varnell and has competed in half marathons across the country. He was second overall in the Dalton Half Marathon with a time of 1:14.04, but he bettered that time with a third-place finish (1:12.56) in Baltimore.
“They say you are supposed to do your best your senior year, but I feel like I have gotten better and will get better over the years,” he said. “My training has been continuous, and I am looking at running in the long term. I would really like to run and compete professionally, but I want to do half marathons and full marathons. I feel like I can make a very good anaerobic runner.”
North Murray coach Matt Chambers doesn’t doubt Pacheco.
“He just has what I like to call a young wisdom,” Chambers said. “He sees the end game, and a lot of kids don’t see that. He can see where he can possibly go, and he works so much harder just for the chance to get there. He has dedication, and few can duplicate what he does.”
Like Houston, running isn’t a hobby or an activity for Pacheco. It is his life, and his future.
“I wake up every day and run. I will do it twice a day when we are out of school, and three times during the summer,” he said. “When I am running, I really don’t think of anything. I feel like I am the same person, but you get stronger. I don’t think any differently when I run. Now and then I will do some math, but it is about pace and how to improve my times.”
No doubt, those times for both will get lower and lower — the solitary work and goals getting bigger and stronger and within reach.
Here’s a look at the rest of this year’s all-area lineup: