Brooks School ran away with a pair of cross-country championship wins this fall, thanks to first-place overall finishers Kata Clark '25 and Alex Tobias '22.
Undefeated in the Independent School League this year, Clark won the ISL Cross Country Championship on November 5 (by four seconds), as well as came in first out of 131 runners — with a 6:32 minute-mile pace on the 5K course — in the New England Prep School Track Association (NEPSTA) Division III Cross Country Championship at Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, Mass., on November 13. (Teammates Monica Mukherjee '22 placed 12th and Lauren Puglia '25 placed 17th).
Tobias also placed first in the NEPSTA Division III Cross Country Championship, out of 128 runners, with a 5:25 minute-mile pace. "Although my [personal record] is 16:20, which I had run the past weekend on a flatter course, this time [of 16:48] was much more significant because it was actually a two-second course record," he said. "It felt good to 'stamp' my name in a way by making a new record."
Sharing the duo's accomplishment in his November 19 letter to the community, Head of School John Packard congratulated the cross-country teams as a whole, too, for the girls team's fifth- and the boys team's eighth-place finishes in the championships. "While I suppose it is possible this feat is not unprecedented in school history," he wrote, "I cannot recall a time when we had first-place finishers in both races. Congratulations to Kata, Alex, and their teammates for a great season!"
Taking us inside their mindset, Clark and Tobias share the secrets of their success as well as their plans for the future — in their own words:
Congratulations! How does it feel to have won your titles?
Clark: "I feel very proud to not only have been fortunate enough to compete in the race ... but also to have been able to be on a team that was as supportive and encouraging as the Brooks cross-country team. I feel very honored to have won this title, but evermore so, I feel honored to have placed alongside several of my teammates who I raced with."
What made the race(s) special to you?
Clark: "At the ISL race, I got a PR by more than 30 seconds, and that race was very special to me because I was pushed the whole way through by a girl on one of the other teams. Throughout the entire race, we were almost side by side, if she had not been there, it would not have been as much of a challenge as it was. But, really, the challenges during the races are what makes them different and exciting because you never know what you are coming into at the start of the race."
Why do you love it, running?
Clark: "I love running partly because of how mentally challenging it is. Unlike most team sports, if you run badly in a race, you only have yourself to blame. Although this can sometimes be hard, I love this aspect of the sport because it trains you to be strong for so many other hardships that may occur throughout life. As one of my club coaches would always say: Running is another sport's punishment. Running is also a lifelong sport, which you can do whenever, wherever, but one of my favorite things about running is that a good run can turn your whole mood around. After running, I always feel so much more accomplished and refreshed for the day."
How has the cross-country program at Brooks helped you to grow as a competitor?
Clark: "Brooks cross country is very different from other teams that I have been on. Everyone is so supportive of each other's achievements and goals. We would often share these goals and hopes that we had for the team, doing this makes you want to work harder and push yourself more. At the start of each race, even seconds before the gun went off, we would encourage each other, and help each other figure what we individually needed to do to perform our best in the race. By the end of the season, I had made so many close friends on the team."
What do you wish others knew about running cross country?
Clark: "In my mind, running involves more mental toughness than many other sports, and that is one of the things that is most special about it."
What's next? Running goals for the future?
Clark: "I'm planning to run in college, so I'd like to continue training. As for short-term goals, I am competing at the Cross-Country National Championship in both North Carolina and Kentucky in a few weeks!"
Congratulations! How does it feel to have placed first?
Tobias: "Winning New England means a lot to me because it shows that all the work I've put in over the last three years, really, has paid off. The race was my last official race, making it that much more special. Not only that, but the race was really only between me and one other kid from St. George's. Kudos to him by the way. He is only a sophomore, I think, and is an amazing runner. He had beaten me at Brooks, and the weekend before at ISL's so I knew I had to push myself even further, which I thankfully succeeded in doing!"
Why do you love running?
Tobias: "I love running because I love working out. It just makes you feel good both during and after and provides a space to develop relationships with those you run with. I spent a lot of time with Zeb Stewart '23 and Andy Seals '24 running and it was amazing to grow closer to both of them while watching their development throughout the season. I also love the competition. The thrill and adrenaline at the beginning of races is incredible and, if successful in your own mind, the gratification is also amazing after the races!"
How has the cross-country program at Brooks helped you to grow as a competitor?
Tobias: "When I was younger, Brooks cross country pushed me because there were times early in my first season when I was not the fastest runner. This competition pushed me to better myself alongside those I was running with. Similarly, the experience of racing was my biggest motivator. I saw people winning races and achieving PRs and thought about how that might feel. Really, though, I was happy to just be running. I never wanted to run in college so, as simple as it may sound, I really just wanted to show how well I could do at my best at Brooks."
How do your teammates help keep you going/excited to compete/feel connected to the team?
Tobias: "We push each other at practices but to be a successful runner you do need to be able to push yourself. For that reason, I most valued the camaraderie of the team this year. I now consider much of our team good friends of mine even after not knowing them at all before the season. Race days, group runs at practice, bus rides, team dinners, stretching circles, etc. all allowed us to bond and develop our relationships throughout the season."
What do you wish others knew or appreciated about cross-country?
Tobias: "I wish they knew how much work it really takes. I think cross country is sometimes looked down upon because it is not a ball sport and therefore does not require much 'skill.' I would love for people to know that that is not true. You have to train not only your body but also your mind. The mental aspect of running is everything. From learning how to deal with the pain itself, to working out race plans as they evolve during the races, a strong mind is paramount to success as a runner."
What's next for you, running-wise?
Tobias: "My running goals for the future don't include running at my college competitively but definitely do include competitions themselves. This spring, I hope to obtain a spot to run the Boston Marathon on behalf of the hospital my Dad works at, Beth Israel Deaconess, and I would also hope to run multiple half marathons and potentially road race 5Ks. Beyond that is a bit blurry, but I know for a fact that I will continue to run for the same reason I started: my fitness. It just makes you feel good, and I know that I have become a healthier, more fit, and happier person since I started running."
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