When his knee began to swell after his Sunday run of a few miles, Henry Coughlan knew it was bad. He didn’t know what happened, but then things got even worse.
“When I got up Monday morning, I couldn’t even straighten my leg,” he said.
He went to Jerry Ivy of New Heights Physical Therapy hoping to get some relief in time for race. Coughlan said he learned the injury most likely happened because his pelvis was out of rotation, which put extra stress on his knee.
“It was a scary moment for me on Monday,” he said. “Not even being able to walk right scared me. When I got into the car after seeing Jerry, I said to myself, ‘I have a feeling I’m not going to be running this week at all.’”
There were only four days until the 3A state championship cross-county meet in Eugene.
Coughlan was careful to follow the prescribed treatment of alternating ice and heat every 20 minutes. While in the hot tub, he eventually managed (with some pain) to get some stretches in.
He wasn’t down for long after that. Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, he started feeling much better. Still, the injury didn’t allow Coughlan to prepare for the race as he normally would have.
“I couldn’t actually run until Thursday,” he said. Normally, although practices vary with speed and distance, he generally runs 25-30 miles per week.
“The Thursday training run was the weirdest run I’ve ever been on,” he said. “I wasn’t running in my actual form, but I was happy just to be able to run.” Watching his teammates, Zac Knapp and Bayden Menten, crush their workouts inspired him. He was happy that he could run at all and didn’t even care about his placing until the morning at state.
“I was like, ‘I’m at state, I’m at Eugene, and I’m racing here,’” Coughlan said. “It’s so cool to be down there and hang out with your team.”
Coughlan said the weather was on his side, which helped his performance.
Even with the injury, Coughlan expected to do well, because he knew he competed in one of the toughest 3A districts in the state.
“Mentally, I was a little nervous going into the race, more nervous than I usually am,” he said. “I usually know where I’m at because of my fitness, and I didn’t really know where it was.”
“It was pretty much ideal conditions,” he said. “It was early in the morning, but it was still kind of cool — great weather for the race.”
Coughlan said he started the 5,000 meter race conservatively as he wasn’t yet sure of his capabilities with the injury. He wasn’t sure if he could handle the speed of the race the way he wanted it to be, with its hills and flats.
“I didn’t feel as good as I expected to feel, but it was good enough,” he said. “There’s three or four tough hills that were a factor in my strategy that helped me win the race. I knew I could push the pace at certain spots and hopefully be able to make my move,” he said.
The runner said the first 300 meters of the race were on a flat followed by an uphill run, which let him know his knee was up for the contest. Once he got to the front, he felt in control of the race. He’d raced pretty much everyone around him before and knew their capabilities as well as his own.
“Once I took the hill, I started to move to the front again,” Coughlan said. “At around a mile and a quarter is when I really started to separate from the pack.” He won the race in 15:58.90, nearly four seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, teammate Zac Knapp.
Coughlan said he learned a lot from the experience and changed the way he prepares.
“I’ll keep more prepared for bigger races,” he said. “It’ll keep me more disciplined for racing styles and all that. Mainly at state, I raced to win instead of going all out and do something crazy. I feel like that discipline of being patient, of being able to get what you need to win — I feel like that helped me be more prepared.”
To give the knee injury time to heal, Coughlan won’t participate in any more cross-country races this year. He added he wouldn’t have problems staying motivated, even after the state win.
“I saw all the guys in the bigger districts, like 6A, and watching those guys race and knowing that’s where I want to be, running just as fast as those guys by next year,” he said. “I want to put a smaller school on the map compared to what everyone is running in Portland or places like that.”
Coughlan hopes his skills earn him a college scholarship at some point, but he’s not expecting any handouts.
“It’s something I hope for, but I’m not going to expect I’ll be getting one,” he said. “I need to keep pushing it and knowing those guys at bigger schools that are faster than me, but I can run with them if I keep working at it.”