Photo by Ben Crawford
- - -
Perfection is a rare thing in any sport, though in cross country, where over 100 people will be racing at any one meet, perfection is almost an impossibility.
Yet it's something McKinney North High School junior London Culbreath has accomplished.
Ranked as the No. 1 runner on Texas MileSplit's Girls Preseason All-State team, Culbreath has gone unbeaten in UIL 5A competitions and claimed two NXR South titles over the course of her two years at McKinney North.
The only times she's failed to cross the finish line first has come at Nike Cross Nationals. Simply put, the rest of Texas hasn't been able to keep up with Culbreath.
"The biggest contribution to (my) success was all of the hard work spent in training, God giving me strength, and having a good work ethic," Culbreath said. "Each day I was craving to crush a good workout or run so that I could improve the next meet. Just being willing to temporarily hurt for a great outcome later on."
McKinney North head coach Jessica Richards tagged Culbreath as a hard worker back when she was in middle school. But once she joined the Bulldogs, Culbreath's natural talent took over.
As a freshman she won the UIL Class 5A title by almost an entire minute, crossing the finish line with a time of 17:06.72. Her sophomore year was almost a mirror replica of her freshman campaign, only with a faster time--and this one was under 17 minutes (16:56.00).
By the time she claimed the 2017 state title, shaving ten seconds off her time, it was all but expected.
Still, Culbreath has shown an inability to rest on her laurels.
While a third straight state title might be a part of Culbreath's goals for her junior year, the ultimate goal is to improve on her performances at NXN. In her previous two appearances, she placed 12th and 31st. The goal in 2018 is to go beyond that mark, something which seems within reach for Culbreath given her steady increase in performances.
"Her growth area has been the best in learning how to be a racer instead of just going out to win," Richards said. "Learning the different racing tactics and styles, what certain runners like to do and how to mentally and emotionally cope with that in a race instead of just being out in the front and being on her own."
Richards and Culbreath know that while she has dominated the UIL, the national meets are where she will encounter runners of equal or greater skill. Still, Richards has described Culbreath's work ethic as second to none, often having to reel her in during practice so that she is running at the specific pace for practice.
Notably, the junior has taken to using a GPS watch in order to control her running. She has also trained with the boys team of McKinney North in order to push herself during practice.
This summer, Culbreath also spent time at the Nike Elite Camp in Oregon. There, she was able to receive teaching from the numerous pro athletes and coaches in residence like Jerry Schumacher.
Past results would indicate Culbreath is in store for another strong cross country season in UIL 5A. Only time will tell if her improvements over the summer will help push her into greater heights at nationals.