Being a national champion was a realistic goal for West Las Vegas graduate Miguel Coca entering the 2023 indoor season. Coca was All-American in 2022 and had high aspirations for himself in his senior season, and after crossing the finish line in the mile on March 11 it was mission accomplished for Coca, he was a national champion.
“Having that title by my name is just thrilling,” Coca said. “I got a taste of being an All-American last year and I knew I wanted to be a national champion, and being a senior this year I had to get the most out of it.”
Coca’s national championship goals were realized with a time of 4:07.17 just over a half second ahead of the second place finisher. For Coca it was the culmination of an arduous journey that saw him at one point quit the sport after his freshman year of college at Trinidad State, before his mother pushed him to continue working at the sport he loved. Coca worked, he got better, he got in at Adams State, one of the best Division II track programs in the country and a couple of years later he’s a national champion.
“I’m still in disbelief, I think I’m living on a high right now,” Coca said. “Usually after that kind of racing your beat up, but right now I’m pumped, I’m ready to get after it.”
At Adams State they stress to their athletes to run for something bigger than yourself. For Coca finding that something bigger than himself was easy, because his mom convinced him to stick with the sport years ago is as big a reason as any that he is here today. After encouragement from his mom, Coca began to put together all the pieces necessary in order to be a championship level runner, from the right training habits, diet and even sleeping patterns, Coca has put it all together to become the best version of himself.
“A couple of years ago I quit the sport and my mom told me to stick with it and give it one more shot,” Coca said. “I did and that is the reason I run tougher and I go out there and give it my all, at the end of the day just leaving it all out there is the biggest thing.”
Coca, in the national championship race was ready to leave it all out there. For much of the race it appeared that Coca was going to cruise to a victory. All season Coca has been one of the best runners in the country, and in the national championships he started off hot and appeared ready to all but walk across the finish line in the final moments of the race. With a little less than 50 meters to go Coca did something he never does and what no runner should ever do, look back. Coca peaked behind him to see how close the second place runner was to him. When he took a look he stumbled and almost fell down, at that moment Coca felt that he might have lost the national championship.
“That’s exactly what ran through my mind, I looked over my shoulder and saw that there was a little bit of a distance gap on them, but then I clipped the rail,” Coca said. “I looked back one more time because I was already falling at that point to see where they were so I could see if I was going to have to dive, I was ready to give it my all, I was ready to throw my body across that line.”
Coca did not have to throw his body across the line, but when he clipped the rail it did appear that he may have cost himself the race, the entire crowd gasped in unison as they felt that Coca had made a fatal mistake. For the final 40 meters of the race Coca was focused on just keeping his balance through the finish line, he knew he had two competitors right on his heels and in what felt like a lifetime, but in reality was just a few seconds, Coca was able to keep his balance and cross the finish line just .54 seconds ahead of second place.
“I crossed the finish line and nobody was in front of me and no one was celebrating, I think I started to realize I won,” Coca said. “I was in disbelief, like did that really just happen… next thing I know I look up at the clock on the scoreboard and I see Coca number one and I just lost it.”
Equally as impressive as Coca’s national championship win in the mile was what happened about 90 minutes later. Coca was slated to compete in the 3k national championship as well, it was a race that after the adrenaline rush involved with the mile Coca didn’t believe he had much of a chance in. Coca ended up leading that race for most of it, until the final 100 meters when the eventual winner made his move to win the race. Coca finished second in the 3k less than two hours after celebrating a thrilling title victory in the mile.
“My biggest surprise if I’m being honest was being the runner-up in the 3k,” Coca said. “I had just 90 minutes to bounce back as opposed to everybody else who was fresh, so I was shocked.”
Coca finishes his indoor season as a national champion, but there is no time to rest as the outdoor season is now getting underway. Coca has made it a point to try and celebrate his achievement, but he really just wants to get back out there and start competing again. Coca’s goal now is to run a time in order to qualify for the Olympic Trials as he begins to set his sights on a pro career.
From West Las Vegas to a national champion, that is Miguel Coca’s journey thus far, and right now he feels fresh, he feels good as he chases another national title or perhaps two in the outdoor season this Spring.
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