Austin Apperson’s high school running career went about as well as any athlete could hope for. The 2019 Adna graduate burst onto the distance-running scene as a junior in 2017-18, winning the state cross country title, as well as the 800-meter, 1600-meter, 3200-meter and 4x400-meter titles at the 2B state track and field championships that year.
He followed that up with again winning the cross country, 800-meter and 3200-meter titles his senior year. By the time he graduated, he owned the cross country record and every long-distance track record at Adna. Oh, and he was Associated Student Body treasurer and president while making the principal’s list all four years.
“It was a lot of fun,” Apperson said. “I look back on the whole experience pretty fondly.”
Apperson started getting emails from college coaches after his sophomore year. Between junior and senior year is when things started getting serious and he began talking to multiple Division I coaches over the phone.
He had already been talking with Boise State University for nearly a year at that point, and was pretty high up on his list of potential landing spots. When he finally arrived for his official campus visit, he was pleased with how close the airport was to the college and downtown. With how campus is located right next to the Boise River, and with the Boise Foothills, which rise above the city and offer a perfect training ground for him.
“Add all that up, along with the success the cross country and track program has had, in my mind it was pretty clear,” Apperson said.
He soon committed and signed his National Letter of Intent at the beginning of his senior year in late 2018. He arrived on campus in fall 2019 after graduating from Adna and set out to make his mark in the collegiate ranks.
The way long distance running works at the collegiate level is runners typically compete in both track and field and cross country, which comes out to three seasons. Those include cross country in the fall, indoor track season in the winter and outdoor track in spring.
Things haven’t gone exactly to plan. It’s been difficult getting into a routine for the civil-engineering major during the pandemic, both academically and athletically, since classes have mostly been online. His typical schedule currently involves waking up around 6:30 a.m., going for his first run of the day, eating breakfast then showering. He then attends two classes and works on some homework before heading to practice at 3 p.m., where he works out on the track with sprints or an 8- to 10-mile run. After practice he does some more homework and relaxes for the rest of the evening. He’s also a DoorDash driver, which helps pay for his groceries.
His training schedule is similar to what he’s been doing since he was a kid. Instead of running seven days a week for weeks or months at a time without a day off like some runners do, Apperson likes to take one day off a week, Sundays, to allow his body and mind rest.
“I’ve always valued having that rest day each week,” Apperson said. “Whether it’s for mental or physical reasons, I just always like that rest day.”
Since arriving in fall 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Apperson estimates about 75 percent of his collegiate career has been impacted one way or another by the pandemic. He’s been at the college for a year and a half and he can count how many times he’s raced on two hands.
His first season at the college in fall 2019 was cross country, where he competed in three meets for the Broncos. He was the top-Bronco finisher in the “B” race at the Nuttycombe Invitation, then ran a personal best of 25:01.6. at the Mountain West Championships.
Next was the indoor track season during winter 2019-20. He ran on the distance medley relay at the UW Invitational (Jan. 31-Feb. 1), then finished second in the 4x800-meter relay at Jackson’s Nike Boise Indoor Invite (Feb.7-8). Apperson set a personal best in the mile with a time of 4:21.28 (Feb. 14-15), then clocked personal bests in the 800-meter run (1:53.67) and the 3,000m (9:11.75) at the Mountain West Championships (Feb. 27-29).
Next up was outdoor track season, which was canceled just before it was about to start in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Then the fall 2020 cross country season was also canceled, along with the indoor track season for winter 2020-21.
“Pretty much everything is canceled,” Apperson said.
There is one bright spot. The Mountain West Conference is planning to have a modified cross country season this spring. The schedule, announced Jan. 15, consists of three guaranteed meets in Las Vegas, including the Mountain West Championship on March 5. The first two meets of the year will be held on Feb. 1 and 19.
“It’d be cool to see what that’s like,” Apperson said. “I don’t know how people ended up deciding on Las Vegas as the location for all these things.”
Due to the truncated spring season, the NCAA will not be holding regional championships to determine qualifiers for national championships.
The men are seeking a sixth-straight appearance at the national championships while also looking to improve on their 10th place finish from 2018. The 2021 NCAA national championships will be held in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on March 15. Every athlete is tested for COVID-19 weekly in a push to keep the season afloat.
“We have our fair share of rules we have to abide by to give ourselves a chance of getting to the starting line COVID-free and healthy,” Apperson said.
It’s not the start to his college career that Apperson anticipated, but he knows he has it better than all the high school athletes back in Washington, many of which are wondering if they’ll get to have any sports their senior year. All high school sports have been canceled in Washington since March 2020.
“I couldn’t imagine being a high school junior or senior and missing out on all those opportunities and memories,” Apperson said. “It sucks, but at the same time, I’m getting my eligibility back for these missed seasons. Whereas a high school student can’t say the same.”
For now, Apperson is just hoping the outdoor track season takes place this spring. It’s his favorite season and features nice weather, traveling a few times to California to compete and is usually during a time of year when he’s running his best. He’s willing to do just about any event in outdoor track, but his best events are anything from the 800-meter run up to the 5K. He plans to run the 800 meter and 1500 meter this year.
“I really just want an outdoor track season because that’s my favorite, personally, and I missed last year’s outdoor season,” Apperson said. “That’s ultimately what I’m looking forward to over the course of the next few months.”
Apperson’s first competition this year takes place at the UNLV Cross Country Invitational on Feb. 1, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.