Matt Duvall Looking Ahead To Kentucky Wildcats

It probably won't be long before someone writes the quintessential how-to book on surviving and thriving as a high school distance runner during a global pandemic, with seasons cancelled and face-to-face meetings and workouts with coaches a thing seemingly of the past.

Based on recent social-distancing "race results," Matt Duvall might be able to offer some notes for a chapter or two in that sure-fire New York Times bestseller. The Pickerington North senior is taking the week off this week as he makes the training transition from a 2020 outdoor track season that never was to being an incoming freshman in the Southeastern Conference.

"When I first got the news, obviously I was really disappointed," Duvall recalled when he heard that Ohio's 2020 track and field season would not happen because of the coronavirus. "I think everyone was really looking forward to their senior year of high school running. I definitely feel for all of those juniors who are going through the recruiting process, and they can't run this year."

Making the most of the weeks since meets and practices and seasons were cancelled, the University of Kentucky signee and 2019 Ohio Division I cross country champion cranked out 50 to 60 mile weeks off workouts received via text from his prep coach and even a couple of informal time trials on a neighboring school's track that was still open. About two weeks ago, Duvall was only a few seconds off his PR in covering 3,200 meters in 9:17 and then on Sunday was faster than his PR with a 4:16 1,600 in unofficial, social-distance distance gatherings of prep talent.

"I know I went (9:20.45) at the indoor state meet, and that just wasn't really my race at all," he said of finishing third in an indoor PR in the Division I final in this year's OATCCC state meet. "I don't know what happened." 

"I'm just happy to improve my times (in these time trials). My body felt pretty good. My legs felt good. It's just another reason why I'm kind of upset that the track season is cancelled, but I'm definitely looking forward to cross country at Kentucky. Me personally, I like the longer distances so the 10Ks are something I'm excited for."

Duvall also was very optimistic heading into his final prep XC season at Pickerington North and a fourth consecutive trip to National Trail Raceway for the 5K finale. A 79th-place finish as a freshman served as a starting point, with top 25 and top 10 finishes in subsequent Division I state finals to follow.

"I definitely had high hopes going in," Duvall said of his senior XC season. "I finished seventh in the state my junior year and was the first junior to finish. "I was definitely looking to win the state meet." 

"This was a year our team was really confident we could do well. Our highest finish before that was seventh, and we got fifth this year. Our team morale was pretty high up there. We wanted to do really well. The coach said if we wanted to do well at the state meet, I needed to win. So really my expectations going (into the season) were to try to win every meet if I could."

Duvall's championship performance of 15:13.0 was only bettered by Shelby's Caleb Brown in Division II and further raised the Pickerington North senior's standing as a prized recruit in the eyes of the SEC, Big 10, Southern and Mountain West programs who were hoping for his verbal commitment.

"When I stepped up to the race that day, I definitely did not know for sure if I was going to Kentucky or not," he said of his thoughts back in early November. "When I took my official visit, I absolutely loved the school. The campus is amazing; the different facilities I visited, those are awesome; also the academic advisers, I really enjoyed them. That' a big part to running in college, you have to combine your running with your school." 

"Just the UK pride ... As I was walking around, everyone wearing their UK stuff. It just seems like a school that everyone was very happy to be there."

When he arrives on campus in Lexington, Duvall already will have a fast friend and training partner in current teammate Harper Moore. Moore takes 4:13.97 1,600 credentials to UK along with a sixth-place finish at National Trail last fall.

"He's meant a lot to my development," Duvall said of Moore. "We've known each other since seventh grade. We ran 7th and 8th grade together (and) every single year we've always been good training partners.

"Every single day we train together, we run together. Sometimes we will do different things for track just because he is more of a middle distance, I'm more of a distance guy. We are always right there with each other, always encouraging each other. It's always really nice going into a meet, knowing a guy feels what you feel, the nerves and everything, and a guy just to count on."

With his training shoes put aside for this week, Duvall has continued to work on keeping his mind "in the game" as the absence of a "normal spring" of races and workouts can take its toll.

"My body's still there just because of all the workouts I've been doing," he said when asked if a sound mind or body has been more difficult to maintain in the age of COVID-19. "I've been trying to eat as healthy as possible. With the week period where I am not running, I've been trying to work out, improve my core.

"I definitely think it's much more difficult to keep your head in the game. Obviously a lot of kids are just absolutely crushed that the season's been cancelled. It's hard for those juniors who aren't committed, and they don't know where they are going. It's hard to keep your head in the game and know what's the next step."