When Cherry Creek senior Parker Wolfe lined up on Sept. 12 for the Heritage Distance Classic, an event usually known as the Liberty Bell Invitational, he knew what he had to do to make history.
Just one year ago, 2020 Valor Christian graduate Cole Sprout lined up at the same event knowing the exact same thing and went on to set a Colorado boys cross country state record with a time of 14 minutes, 38.40 seconds. That number has been in Wolfe’s mind for the last 12 months after he finished second to Sprout last year, and he knew he could beat it.
Before attempting to break state records, Wolfe had grown up playing baseball and planned on playing for the historic Cherry Creek program when he arrived his freshman year. All he had to do was get through his first semester on a campus with over 3,800 students, perhaps avoid a “freshman fall,” and finally baseball season would arrive in the spring. Going out for cross country come never crossed his mind.
When he was left with no extracurricular outlets in the fall of 2017, his mom suggested that he just give cross country a try. He had run a few casual races during his middle school years as lots of recreational runners do, mostly on holiday weekends. He enjoyed events like the Denver Broncos annual 7k that happens every Labor Day weekend and found fun in running long distance races. He decided he’d give it a chance.
A chance is an understatement of what Wolfe gave cross country. His freshman year he not only tried out but made the varsity team at Creek. That season he went on to finish fifth at regionals and qualify for state, finishing 51st at the event. His sophomore year, he found himself at the state race again and when it was all said and done, he had moved up 47 spots in the final ranking, finishing in fourth. His junior year, he finished third at state, then qualified for the Foot Locker National Championships where he finished in 15th and earned All-American honors.
After his impressive junior year, Wolfe was ready to make his senior year his best yet and nothing, even COVID-19, was going to stop him. After contracting and beating the virus in July, the time 14:38.40 was on the top of his mind when this season kicked off. Wolfe knew he had an opportunity to beat that time when the Heritage Distance Classic came around, and it was not going to happen by chance.
“Last year, I was looking at [Cole] like maybe next year I can get that time,” Wolfe said. “About a week before the race, my coach and I sat down and tried to figure out splits I could hit to try to break it.”
Wolfe had made his game plan and was ready to execute it on a day with perfect conditions for running. As he came down the final stretch, with the entire field behind him, he knew he had a chance at breaking Spout’s time from a year prior.
“I knew I was close because coaches were yelling a time at me and I knew it was pretty tight,” Wolfe recalled. “Once I got into that final stretch, and started running up towards the finish, I knew I had it.”
Just four days before the event, Wolfe was running shirtless in below-freezing temperatures all around Greenwood Village in to prepare for the race. He’s been training full time five to six days a week since June. He even ran with Cole Sprout over the summer in preparation for breaking his record.
After Wolfe had beaten Sprout’s record by 8.3 seconds with a time of 14:30.10, which is not to mention the fastest 5k time in the country this year, Sprout made sure to congratulate Wolfe with a DM and shoutout on his Instagram, a nice touch from the now Stanford Cardinal runner.
“Running is a really tough sport to do and get better at," Wolfe said. "If you put in the work, you’ll get to the places you’ll want to get.”
So, what place does Wolfe want to get to next?
Beating Sprout’s record at the Norris Penrose Event Center, the site of the 5A state cross country championship next month.