DARLINGTON, S.C. — Earl McCullough visualizes it, running in Saturday’s SCHSL state cross country meet in Columbia.
“I pick it up here, I do this here and I do this here. So, I already have it all planned out,” said the Darlington runner who is a junior at Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology. “I know when to pick it up, how fast I’m going to get up that hill. I’ll know to go ahead and do it because I’ve thought of it already there.”
McCullough, who finished third in last weekend’s Class 4A lower-state meet with a personal-best time of 16 minutes, 55.54 seconds, is getting closer to the Darlington boys’ program’s school record of 16:43 set in 2014 by Brandon Boggs.
With a previous personal best of 17:14, McCullough is obviously peaking at the right time. He was not that surprised at last weekend’s time, even.
“I wasn’t really surprised about the time because at the beginning of the season, I said to myself I wanted to get in the 16’s and try to beat the school record this year,” McCullough said. “I’ve put in the work and I’ve put in the time. So, when it happens, I’ve got nobody else to thank but God because God gave me the ability to do this.”
McCullough, who also competes in track in the 800, 4x800 and 1,600 meters, benefits from running both on the track and amid the trees. He has the right coach for it, since Richard Wideman coaches both sports.
“I started off with track my eighth-grade year and wanted to get better with track, so I decided to try cross country in the offseason,” McCullough said. “I started cross country my ninth-grade year. And in the 10th grade, I got a little better, and this year I came out and started breaking down times. I’m trying to get the school record now.”
McCullough, who finished 59th at last year’s state meet, has the 11th fastest time from last weekend involving athletes not only in lower state, but also mid-state and upper state.
If McCullough can tie or set a program record this weekend, that would be huge for him.
“It would be a stepping stone to do some greater things,” McCullough said. “I don’t want to stop there. I want to keep going and going. I hope to get (the record). It’s in the way. I’ve got to get past it to get where I want to go. I want to be the best runner from here. That’s a big goal. But I want to set a big goal so I can try and achieve it.”
In McCullough’s first season running cross country, he was injured late in the season and did not get to compete in the postseason.
And last year, it was a mental struggle.
“I kind of let all the teams there get to my head, overwhelm me,” McCullough said. “I wasn’t focused. But this year, I’m going with a whole new mindset. I know what to do.”