The third trip to the national championship is not any easier for Vallangeon.
As a fifth-year senior for the Olivet Nazarene University cross country team, Taylor Vallangeon (WC ’19) is not the king of the mountain of the Fort Vancouver Historical Site course in Vancouver, Wash. However, he has been there enough to be an experienced guide.
Running in his third NAIA National Championship on Nov. 17, the Tigers runner helped prepare the younger runners for what to expect.
“It doesn’t get easier the more you do it, but there’s an aspect of experience that definitely goes a long way,” said Vallangeon, who finished in 26 minutes, nine seconds to place 74th out of 331 runners at the meet. “If anything, you have more experience dealing with the internal battles.
“(Sophomore teammate Joey Puccillo) was running in the meet for the first time. That can be very intimidating. As upper-class students, it was our job not to make the meet seem bigger than it was. I remember specifically telling him at the starting line, ‘Yes, the best teams in the country are running here. You also need to see we’re here too. We’re a part of those best teams in the country.’”
The Tigers finished 23rd out of the 36 teams with 530 points. Milligan captured the title with 93 points.
Vallangeon said the Vancouver course is an uphill battle.
“It was hilly, but it’s really fun,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever run this course when it was completely dry. Some of it was muddy and torn up by everyone running on it, but the worst part is the hills.
“When you’re attacking the hills, you feel it in your quad muscles. It almost feels like you’re moving in slow motion. You have to work many times harder to move (up the hills) at the same pace.”
The Uphill Climb
The path to becoming a strong distance runner was sometimes a tough, uphill climb for Vallangeon. He began running in addition to playing soccer, basketball, and baseball when he was in elementary school. When Taylor and his twin brother Nathan arrived at WC for high school, they found the level of competition more difficult.
“My brother and I and one of our best friends were the only three people cut from the boys’ soccer team that year,” he said with a laugh. “We were bummed out at first because we wanted to play soccer, but we did not have the skills that the other kids had. It made sense to me. It was like God was telling me, ‘That’s not the right sport for you.’”
The two returned to cross country. In 2017, Taylor Vallangeon and teammate Jake Bertelsen (WC ’18) became the first Warriors to place in the top 25 at the Division III state meet since 1986. His senior year, Vallangeon placed ninth out of 181 runners in a time of 16:52.8.
“Cross country is all about testing the limits of the human body, about how far you can push your body to go,” he said.
“I get a feeling of freedom when I run. In soccer or basketball, you play on a specific field or court. In cross country, each course has different things you must deal with, whether it’s hills, sharp turns, or mud. You need to adapt to different situations.”
Cross country can be a very fickle sport. In an activity where athletes push their bodies to their limits, Vallangeon said there were times when he pushed himself too hard.
In high school, Vallangeon pulled a hamstring, which took him seven to eight weeks to recover fully. In his junior year at Olivet Nazarene, he pulled a quad muscle during a home meet and couldn’t compete for months.
“Running is a gift from God, but it is also something that can be taken away,” he said. “Injuries remind you that this is not your gift to keep; it can go away like that.
“One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with is trusting God with whatever is going on, whether it is running or with my job situation once I graduate. Trusting Him is the best thing for us. We don’t see everything that He sees.”