By Rubin E. Grant
Something happens to Vestavia Hills junior distance runner Ethan Strand on race days.
He becomes transcendent, almost otherworldly.
“He really responds well to competition,” said Brett Huber, Vestavia Hills’ track and cross-country coach. “He becomes a different athlete when he’s competing rather than training. That’s what separates him from other runners.”
Two weeks ago, Strand was in his transcendent, competitive zone at the Southern Showcase Cross Country Invitational at John Hunt Park in Huntsville.
He turned in the best time of his high school cross-country career and the top time in the Alabama High School Athletic Association for the 2019 season as he won the featured varsity race.
Strand clocked in at 15:03.13, one of the top times in the nation this season, and finished 22 seconds ahead of Huntsville’s Will Pinson while registering his personal record.
“I went out pretty quick,” Strand said. “I felt pretty strong after a mile. I worked through the second mile and on the last mile, I had to go. The kick is kind of the most fun of any race. I ran really fast the last 400 meters.”
Strand is quickly becoming one of the nation’s top distance runners. As a sophomore, he won the 2018 Class 7A state cross-country title with a time of 15:24.29, the best overall time among runners in all classes at last year’s state meet.
In the AHSAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May at Gulf Shores, Strand swept the Class 7A distance races. He won the 1,600-meter run in 4:18.63, the 3,200 in 9:21.31, and the 800 in 1:54.52.
“It was awesome to be in those races and get the wins,” Strand said.
Strand already has won seven individual Class 7A state titles.
In June, at the Music City Distance Carnival, a prestigious track meet held annually in Nashville, Strand clocked 4:11 in the mile. Only two sophomores in the nation ran faster during the 2019 outdoor season,
“He’s been super talented since he was a young guy,” Huber said, “and he loves running.”
Running is in Strand’s bloodlines. His father, Scott Strand, was an All-American distance runner at Auburn University and competed in multiple Olympic Trials. He now co-owns the Trak Shak running shops in metro Birmingham. His mother, Lori Strand ran at UAB and coached cross-country and track at Samford University
Strand said his parents didn’t push him to become a runner, but they did have an impact on him becoming a runner. He started competing in the Mercedes Marathon kids race when he was in kindergarten and hasn’t stopped running since.
“Ethan has always done fun runs and stuff,” Lori Strand said. “He also played soccer when he was younger, but he’s always been interested in running.”
That interest turned serious when Ethan Strand reached middle school. “I started really training in middle school,” he said.
He now runs 45 to 50 miles a week as part of his training regimen.
“I enjoy running,” Strand said. “Sometimes, running is kind of an escape. It helps relieve the stress from school.”
Lori Strand has enjoyed watching her son become an elite runner.
“He has done very well,” she said. “He’s dedicated and he’s very talented. He has a desire to do well.
“It’s been fun to watch him develop as a runner. He’s so self-motivated. I am not his coach. I have a support role. I just sit back and watch.”
Strand has dreams of being an Olympian one day, but his heart isn’t set on it.
“If it plays out like that, it would be awesome,” he said, “but I don’t have any long-term goals. I’m just taking it step-by-step.”
Strand will be running Saturday in the annual Jesse Owens Classic at Oakville. The meet, which attracts one of the largest fields of runners in the Southeast, will feature some of the best prep teams and runners in the nation.
So once again, Strand will be back in his competitive zone.