PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Musa racing at fifth-straight state cross country meetWORTHINGTON — It wasn’t always easy for Mubarik Musa. As a seventh-grader, Musa was a young cross country runner, unsure of himself or the sport he now dominates.
By: Aaron Hagen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It wasn’t always easy for Mubarik Musa.
As a seventh-grader, Musa was a young cross country runner, unsure of himself or the sport he now dominates.
“I remember it wasn’t that great,” Musa said prior to Tuesday afternoon’s practice. “It was really painful. We probably ran out for one or two miles and I remember that I was breathing hard and my legs would ache. I couldn’t see myself coming back and doing this for five years because I remember having doubt about myself if I was coming back next season or not.”
But he did come back, and has transformed into one of the top runners in the state.
“I didn’t expect to have all this success in cross country when I first started,” Musa said. “But it shows that if you really work hard at it, if you’re really serious about running or in other stuff, you can achieve things. That’s one thing I learned throughout my whole career from different coaches, to wearing different uniforms for different schools and all of that, I have learned that you have to work hard in every single thing that you do, that’s one thing I’ve learned from running.”
Now a senior running for Worthington High School, Musa will be making his fifth consecutive trip to the state cross country meet on Saturday. The meet is at St. Olaf College in Northfield. The Class AA boys’ race begins at 11 a.m.
The path to his fifth straight state tournament appearance begins years ago — as a fifth-grader at Park Center.
“Back in fifth grade, the cross country coach at Park Center High School came to the elementary and had a mile run and he started passing out flyers and he was trying to recruit people,” Musa explained. “I decided, ‘You know what, this might be a good thing.’”
That race set the events in motion.
“I remember that I won it, that’s for sure,” Musa said. “Some of the teachers, they recommended me to go out to cross country since I was in sixth grade. Here I am, going back for the fifth time in a row again. A lot of things have happened in about five years.”
Joining the team in seventh grade, Musa wasn’t the star he is today. In fact, he was far from it.
“It didn’t go well,” he said of his first season. “It was my first season and I didn’t know how to run. After that, I talked to the coaches at Park Center High School and we worked through it and they showed me how to become a better runner and how I can set out my goals for the next year.”
Musa also had a little inspiration from a teammate.
“One of the seniors at Park Center High School who went to state that year, invited me to come along with him to the state championship,” Musa said. “Me and some other guys came along with him. I watched the state championship and how it is and how everybody is excited and the atmosphere of being at state. That guy was kind of mentoring me, his name was Aaron Gorman. He said, ‘You know what, I think you have it in you. You have the talent. In the next few years, you could probably compete for the state championship title.’ He kind of inspired me and I watched him at state. The following year, as an eighth-grader, I made it. I remember it was quite the experience.”
Musa didn’t crack the top 60 in his first try at state, but gained valuable experience for the next season. In his freshman year, he broke out to finish eighth in Class AA.
After a spring in Luverne, Musa moved to Worthington, where he has been competing for the past three cross country seasons.
“I took it like it’s kind of an adventure,” he said. “It’s like you can see what different coaches are thinking from the training point of view. It’s a great way of learning for me. I can learn from different coaches and incorporate what I’ve learned from different coaches into my races to make me a better runner. I can’t deny it, I’ve been honored to be representing for three different schools. I don’t think anybody ever had that before. I kind of take that like I’m the lucky one.”
By running for three different schools, Musa has been able to learn from a multitude of coaches.
“I want to thank my coaches,” he said. “I have run for three different coaches and like I say, it is an honor running for them. I would like to thank the coaches who have helped me to this point and to this state that I am right now.”
In his first year as part of the Worthington cross country team, Musa won the state title. A year ago, he was third.
Now, he returns to Class AA after competing in the smaller class for two years.
“The thing about AA is there are a lot of fast guys,” Musa said. “There are lots of people who can run under 16 minutes. The competition is fierce, bottom line. You have to know exactly what you’re doing. During the regular season, I can just go out hard and I know that for a fact, I’m going to win it. Right now is the state championship, and I don’t have those chances that I’m going to win this race, so I have to really, really race smart and be careful with what I’m doing. I can’t just hammer it down.”
Knowing he was moving up a class this season, Musa put in extra work this summer. But he had some extra motivation.
“After going to the state championship, I finished last in the 3,200 meter, which was one of the most disappointing (moments) throughout my high school season,” Musa said. I can’t explain it in a way to say that was a particular reason why I didn’t do so well. For the 3,200 meters especially, it showed me that this summer I have to be working harder because I know for a fact we’re going to have more competition where people are faster.
“Finishing last in the 3,200 kind of set the stage for me this spring. I told coach (WHS coach Ken) Henkels that I really don’t want to be doing that again. I want to have an excellent season, but that was kind of a wake-up call for me. I thought I had it the whole time. I thought I could race with those guys and maybe get second or first or third. But I did not expect to finish last. That’s the thing, you learn from it and you go on to the next level. Finishing last in the 3,200 meter kind of set the stage for this, my senior year, to have to really run hard at the state championship.”
Three Southwest Conference teams all qualified for the state meet, giving Musa competition throughout the season.
“He ran 15:56 this year and last year at the section meet, he ran a 16:44,” Henkels said. “Our cross country is good around here. We have three teams in our area going to state. We have Marshall, Luverne and Redwood, just from the Southwest Conference.”
But, he’s ready for his final time at the St. Olaf course.
“I think the speed is there and the endurance is there,” Musa said. “The workout I put in all summer seems like it’s really working. I put in a lot of miles over the summer and I trained really hard. Knowing the competition I’m expecting at the state championship is on a different level. I had a great season so far and I just have to finish it on Saturday.”
Having been on the course multiple times before will give Musa an edge over some of the less experienced runners.
“That’s one of the things I’m going to rely on, I know what the hardest part of the race is and what is the easiest part is,” he said. “Mostly, I will rely on my experience. I will be observing the pace of the guys around me and just analyzing and going with the flow, basically.”
His coach expects Musa to give it his all come Saturday.
“He’ll compete,” Henkels said. “That’s what I know. He’ll work his butt off, I know that. That’s all you can ask.”
With all of his success, a state title in his final cross country meet would be a fitting cap to his already stellar career. But no matter how he finishes, Musa has already etched his name as one of the state’s elite runners.
“It would put a smile on my face on Saturday if I finish first or maybe top 5,” he said. “It would put a smile on my face, but that race won’t necessarily define my whole running career in high school. I have two titles under my belt, I have finished second and third. Every year I go to state, I always bring hardware home. But finishing top 5 is definitely my goal on Saturday. But we’ll see what happens. I could do better or I could do worse. I’m hoping for the better, though.”