“Let’s See How Bad You Want This”

Cross-Country Showing at Liberty Bell is Fastest in School History


Mitchell Davis

The crowded start of Liberty Bell. TJ Frueh and Parker Graham are visible towards the right, behind the runner in the blue Boulder singlet.

     I met TJ Frueh at seven a.m. on Saturday, Sep. 10 to ride with him to Liberty Bell. The air was damp and chilly under gray skies — good for running. As we drove out of Frueh’s neighborhood and then north on Highway 85, a thousand tiny raindrops clouded the windshield and were wiped away in seconds-long cycles, the wipers’ soft swishing layered under the eager beats of Frueh’s pre-race playlist, which featured Kanye, Macklemore and lots of AC/DC.

     How are you feeling? I asked. I’m feeling excited, Frueh answered. The school record is up for grabs. Other than that and an occasional question to me, he was quiet.

     As we got close to Heritage High School, we shared the road with school buses carrying cross-country teams from around the state. After parking on a residential street and a few minutes’ walk, we arrived at a grass field packed with team-logo tents. Coach Lyons and Coach Moss were setting up the plastic siding on Castle View’s tent to shield athletes from the drizzle. Only a handful of people were there (varsity boys would race first, at 9:10 a.m.), but as the morning grew older more runners arrived.

     Liberty Bell is a big deal. The race is held each year in September. This year, 91 teams took part, from as far as Wyoming. Liberty Bell is famous for its fast 5K course. It starts with a frenzied downhill, then turns and ascends onto a flat stretch of trail, where it stays before turning back onto a gently sloped road. It finishes with a roughly 150-meter sprint uphill to the finish. The course’s surfaces are hard gravel and concrete; there is no soft grass to absorb runners’ footfalls and slow them down. Personal records are set here. School records are set here.

     The athletes in the Castle View tent managed their nerves in different ways. Some talked and joked. Some focused intently on unscrewing the spikes that protruded from their racing flats and replacing them with flat inserts called blanks to accommodate the course’s hard surfaces. Some just sat or lay quietly. Frueh lay with his speaker on top of him. It played “Seven Nation Army.”

Vomit by the start boxes at Liberty Bell. It is common for varsity athletes to induce themselves to vomit before a race so they can run on an empty stomach.

     As the 9:10 gun time neared, varsity boys headed to the start line. The rain had stopped. Runners ran strides and did huddles and chants. An athlete threw up behind the starting boxes, leaving a puddle on the crowded pavement.

     The Liberty Bell course starts with a long straightaway on a two-lane road. 22 teams (164 runners) lined up across the road, packed elbow-to-elbow, one runner from each team in front. The sidewalks were just as crowded with spectators.

     A race official in an orange shirt raised the starting pistol. Frueh, Castle View’s lead runner, knew he had to get out fast or be left hopelessly behind.

     The pistol cracked, producing a puff of smoke. I felt a whoosh of air on the sidewalk as the runners ran by me and in seconds they were gone, as if I had been passed by a speeding train.

TJ’s Story

     This race was a triumph for TJ Frueh. It was also a homecoming. The first cross-country race Frueh ever ran was Liberty Bell.

     At the start of Frueh’s freshman year, his friend Kellen Scott convinced him to join cross-country to run with a few friends. Frueh joined. He didn’t like it. He couldn’t keep up with his friends and he would end up running alone.

     He had started partway through the season, so he didn’t compete at the early-season meets. Instead, his first race was Liberty Bell. It was a challenge for him to finish the race without walking. He crossed the line in 28:50, in 335th place out of 344 runners. That same day, then-senior E.J. Rush set the school record, running 15:32.7.

     Never again, Frueh told himself after his unimpressive debut. After that race, “something clicked.” He started to give cross-country more effort.

     “I wanted to be able to keep up with my friends,” Frueh said.

TJ Frueh (center, Castle View singlet) in the first mile of his record-breaking race.

     His second race went much better, and he was hooked.

     “I want[ed] to see how good I can get at this,” Frueh said.

     Frueh kept running and kept improving and by the end of his freshman year, he committed himself to becoming the best.

     “I decided that by senior year, I’m taking the school record and I’m winning the state championship,” Frueh said. “I want[ed] that so bad.”

     Since then, he’s spent his days working towards the record and his nights dreaming of it, leading up to the moment three years later when a pistol cracked under a gray sky.

     “That [was] my last ever Liberty Bell. It’s where it all started. It’s where I started my running career. … That’s where I watched the school record get set. The school record was in my mind,” Frueh said. “The gun went off and I was like, ‘OK, TJ, let’s see how bad you want this.'”

     “I definitely hurt so much, especially in the middle of the race. That was the worst part of it. But that was one of the first races where I was really able to tell myself, ‘Dude, this hurts so much, but I’m just gonna go a little faster… I’m gonna push a little harder, even though this hurts really bad.’”

     “I came up the hill [at the finish] and I saw 15:10 on the clock and I was like, alright, let’s go!”

     Frueh crossed the line in 20th place. His time was 15:24.6, averaging 4:57 per mile. He had broken the school record by eight seconds. He had improved on his freshman time by 13 and a half minutes.

     “I was slightly crying,” Frueh said. “I was just so happy. It was surreal.”

     He watched his teammates Christian Alley, Parker Graham and his friend who had started it all, Kellen Scott, come through close behind him and was overjoyed.

     “[I thought] wow, we actually did it,” Frueh said.

     It was a record-breaking day for Castle View. But Frueh thinks the team is capable of far more.

     “I celebrated [the race] over the weekend, but it’s Monday,” Frueh said. “Liberty Bell, this is not even close to a big race. [I’m] focusing on leagues, regionals, and state.”

     “It [was] a good day. I’m not gonna fixate on that. I’m just gonna move forward and go on to the next race.”

Brenna’s Story

Freshman Brenna Jorde sprints uphill to an 18:14 finish.

     Minutes after Frueh broke the boys’ record, Brenna Jorde took the girls’. Jorde is a freshman, and since she started running less than a year ago, she has taken off like a rocket to the highest levels of competition.

     Jorde considers herself mainly a soccer player. She started running last spring to improve her soccer fitness.

     “It helps with your soccer a lot,” Jorde said. The reverse was true, too: soccer gave her a leg up in running.

     “I had a lot of endurance because I’m a midfielder in soccer,” Jorde said.

     Jorde was influenced by her mother, herself a runner.

     “She got me into it as well. … every morning my brother and my mom and I, we run with our dogs on the Mac trails. … [My mom] pushes me a lot to help me with my running, and she pushes the pace on the runs,” Jorde said.

     In the spring, Jorde joined a club team, Kokopelli, where she got an education in cross-country running. She ran for Kokopelli at this year’s USA Track and Field Nationals in Sacramento, placing fifth in the 3000m. When she started her freshman year, she joined the Castle View team. She is homeschooled, so it was her first time meeting her teammates.

     “I was so shy in the beginning but they are a really welcoming group,” Jorde said.

     Her first few meets were rough. At Wash Park she went out too fast, and at Arapahoe, like several others, she was sick.

     “I did not perform how I wanted to perform, so coming to Liberty Bell I had a lot to prove,” Jorde said.

     Before Liberty Bell, Jorde and the coaches had discussed a plan: she would try to “stay with Riley [Combe] for the first one-and-a-half to two miles.” As the gun time neared, Jorde felt nervous.

     “I just knew that I had to run well,” Jorde said.

     When the pistol cracked, she followed her plan, running close to Combe. The duo repeated to each other a slogan the girls team had come up with: “pain is passion, passion is power.” 

     Jorde’s goal was to break 19 minutes. When she was two miles into the race, she checked her watch. She was behind on her pace. Despite the distance she had covered without rest, despite her tiredness and the pain she felt, she had to run faster, for one last mile.

     Combe ran close behind Jorde, pushing her to the line. Jorde finished in 18:14, breaking the school record by two seconds. Combe was three seconds behind her.

     “I was so tired,” Jorde said. She turned to Combe and “gave her a big hug.”

     “It was a relief crossing the line just because I was so tired and I was hurting a lot, but Riley really pushed me that race,” Jorde said. “It felt so good to see what my time was.”

     “I just know that I have to push myself now, because Liberty [Bell], it’s in the past. So I have regionals and state to look forward to,” Jorde said.

A Starting Point

     Liberty Bell 2022 was a triumph for Castle View. In addition to Frueh’s and Jorde’s school records, Christian Alley broke the junior record, Parker Graham broke the sophomore record and Riley Combe with her 18:17 ran the third-fastest girls 5K ever. 

     At the end of the meet, the coaches called the team together. Coach Marshall believes this is a starting point. He wants to prove that Castle View is not a one-hit wonder. Regionals and state are yet to come. 

     “Stay hungry,” Marshall said.