Anas Bensaoud still remembers the first time he trained at the home of New Jersey’s biggest cross country meets, Holmdel, during his freshman year at Clearview.
“I remember thinking, this is the first hill? I thought, this is as bad as it gets,” Bensaoud said about the uphill start at Holmdel. “I didn’t realize there was an entire bowl section. It was a shock to me that a course could have that many hills as a freshman. In middle school, you’re used to running flat courses with maybe a little baby hill. It was a cool experience.”
It didn’t take long for Bensaoud to conquer the course. At last year’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions, Bensaoud ran a time of 16:37, finishing in 37th place out of 183 runners in the event. He was the second-fastest sophomore in the race behind only Edwin Klanke of St. Peter’s Prep.
The Sophomore Sensation Anas Bensaoud is heading to the NJ Meet of Champions!! His 16:50 at the Group 4 State Championship was the 3rd fastest among all Sophomores that day. Congrats Anas, good luck this weekend! pic.twitter.com/xZhVa1KDcw
— RunningWorks (@runningworksxc) November 13, 2018
This year, Bensaoud is looking for more. Bensaoud has his junior season mapped out, and among his many goals are a top-10 finish at the Shore Coaches Invitational in October at Holmdel, a top-five finish at the South Jersey Group 4 sectional meet, and breaking the 16-minute barrier.
“I have a lot of goals for each individual race,” Bensaoud said.
Bensaoud has been a goal-driven runner ever since he picked up the sport about five years ago at the middle school level. Bensaoud admits he wasn’t the greatest runner when he competed in cross country in seventh grade, but said years of perseverance and training got him to where he is in 2019.
Bensaoud established himself as a runner to watch from the moment he joined Clearview’s team as a freshman. At the Cherokee Challenge in 2017, Bensaoud kicked off his high school career with a sixth-place finish in the freshman division. He would later finish in second place at the South Jersey Track Coaches Association Open on Oct. 1 and won the SJTCA Freshman Championships later that month. His best performance came at sectionals, where he finished in 12th place in South Jersey Group 4, the highest finish for a freshman in the section.
— NJ MileSplit (@njmilesplit) September 27, 2017
Last August, Bensaoud traveled to the Poconos for the first time to participate in a camp hosted by RunningWorks Inc. The five-day camp features a lot of high mileage training with campers running about 58 miles over five days. Bensaoud saw it as the perfect warm-up to the season and attended the camp again this summer.
“You get put into a group based on your running skill,” Bensaoud said. “So you have people around you who all run the same speed as you who are as passionate about running as you are.”
Bensaoud’s 2018 season featured top-five finishes in numerous regular season races and a seventh-place finish at sectionals, sending him to Holmdel for the NJSIAA Group 4 Championships, where Bensaoud drew on his previous experience running on the course to finish 22nd and earn a return trip to Holmdel for the Meet of Champions the following week.
“It helped me when I actually had to race there,” Bensaoud said of training at Holmdel. “The bowl mile is one of the toughest miles in the entire race. I have to make sure my head is still in the game when I run that mile.”
Bensaoud was thrilled with how the 2018 season ended, calling his Meet of Champions finish at Holmdel, “a huge deal.” However, he knows there is so much more to accomplish. Bensaoud is hoping to finish in the top-three of most of Clearview’s early season meets, including the South Jersey Shootout at Gloucester County DREAM Park on Sept. 14. Bensaoud believes a strong start to the season will set him up for success later in 2019.
“I think I can get a little bit better before the season starts and I will,” Bensaoud of his preseason training. “Going into the first few meets, I’m just trying to place high.”