Clovis High senior Christopher Caudillo is ranked among the top 25 boys cross country runners in the U.S. He takes the line on his home course in Fresno on Saturday against many of California's best in the Rob Brenner Championship Race. (DeAnna Turner photo)
* * *
Separately, these words read like pieces of a puzzle. Put them together and it would be wonderful to view something special.
For the past few years, Clovis distance runner Christopher Caudillo has consistently been one of the best high school performers in both cross country and track and not just in the competitive CIF Central Section, but throughout the state of California.
He is the defending Central Section Division 1 individual champion. He won a Team National California Regional race in December. He won the Golden Eagle Invitational large schools individual title. In August this year, he won a season tune-up, the two-mile Fleet Feet Summer Sizzle. Each race not only had Caudillo's name atop the final results, but each one took place at Woodward Park in Fresno.
"It's a second home for me," Caudillo says of Woodward Park, a place that is only a few miles from the Clovis High campus. It's comfortable, it's a place where he and many runners from other local schools conduct training runs. Caudillo knows everything about it and knows how to run it.
And yet, when he gets to the starting line Saturday morning for the Rob Brenner Championship Race at the 43rd ASICS Clovis Invitational, Caudillo will begin a quest to put his scattered puzzle pieces and string together some memorable final high school memories at his home course.
He has not won a Clovis Invitational race in two previous attempts. He finished fourth in the freshman/sophomore race in 2019 with a time of 16:32.30. The 2020 race didn't happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, Caudillo was sixth overall, finishing in exactly 15 minutes, but behind a pack of Newbury Park (SS) runners -- then-senior winner Colin Sahlman, Leo Young, Lex Young, and Aaron Sahlman -- and Davis (SJ) then-senior Zachary Ayers.
Caudillo has not won the TRAC Cross Country League title, either, finishing sixth in the freshman-sophomore race in 15:56.92 and he was runner-up to Clovis teammate Nathaniel Avila in last year's varsity league title race, finishing in 15:24.88 to the now graduated Avila's 15:22. He will attempt to successfully defend his Central Section title, and if he can do so, Caudillo would get a final crack at winning a CIF State individual title. In 2021, he finished sixth, behind, once again, the Newbury Park's Sahlman and Young brothers, and Davis' Ayers. Caudillo's time improved to 14:59.20.
Winning the Clovis Invitational, triumphing in the TRAC final and securing a CIF-State title would complete an incredible individual cross country cycle for Caudillo.
"I want to make it count this time," he says in preparation for the Clovis Invitational. "This will be one of my last times around this course. I'm training like it is one of my last."
Caudillo's 2022 cross country season so far has been rather quiet. He has only run one three-mile course, that being the nation's largest meet, the Woodbridge Classic in Irvine, on Sept. 16. He went 14:13.30 in the sweepstakes race with a field featuring the best in California as well as standouts from Oregon, Utah and Texas. He finished 16th.
This being Caudillo's senior year, he's been taking college recruiting trips, his latest one just this past weekend. That he's doing the trips now would seem to be a little distracting, but Caudillo has shown plenty in his ability to get focused and zero in on his goals once race time arrives.
"I'm getting ready for the race, but I know when to isolate myself and get away from all things that can put the pressure on me," he said. "I tend to get more focused and do my own thing."
Clovis Coach Eloy Quintana knows about Caudillo's ability to focus.
"Chris is an elite athlete and you know he's going to give you everything he's got in each race. He doesn't know any other way. No matter the meet, he's going to compete," Quintana says. "I know he will give it everything he can at our invitational."
Being competitive at the Clovis Invitational will be a solid first test for many runners with an eye on winning titles and running fast times later this month and in November. Key among runners like Caudillo and others is that the course lengthens slightly to 5000 meters instead of just three miles. Although not a distance deal-breaker going from three miles to 3.1, it's quite impressive to see lower times, especially when it is accomplished at Woodward Park, considered by many to be a standard for being a fair and true cross country course.
"Woodward Park can be a little bit of an overthink," Quintana says. "Everyone's strengths can be displayed when they race. But what I think separates people is tactics and their mentality when the runner approaches the second mile. Chris hasn't run the course in a little while, but this is a good way to get that feeling back, get that experience back. For Chris, I'm wanting to see him compete with the leaders, compete for the win and if he's able to get it, that will be great."
Perhaps Caudillo's desire to clean up some unfinished business is because he'd achieve it in a sport he truly loves. He took up running competitively in middle school after his father introduced him to multiple sports to attempt such as volleyball, football, golf, and baseball. He still has a fondness for baseball as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, but only running has remained as his sport to compete.
Once he arrived at Clovis, track and cross country were his favorites and his focus. In track, Caudillo is a solid distance competitor. He is the reigning Central Section 800-meter champion, CIF-State 1600-meter title holder and is a strong competitor in the 3200, too, finishing third at the State Meet in May.
"Running is what I love to do," Caudillo says. "People spend their entire careers doing what they love. Running is that for me and I want to take it to the fullest."
Completing the puzzle would sure be fulfilling for Caudillo.
Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit
Photos by DeAnna Turner