When South Forsyth senior cross country runner Matt Patterson was cut from his seventh grade track and field team, he turned to his family for help.
Disappointed, he asked his father to train him. He knew he probably couldn’t pick anyone better; a certified running coach, his father is native to South Africa and has run the Comrades Marathon, the world’s oldest and largest ultramarathon – 56 miles through the KwaZulu-Natal Province, every year since 1921.
Together they spent hours and hours on the track. They logged miles and miles on the Big Creek Greenway. Patterson got a day off maybe once every two weeks.
“It was a year of pain,” Patterson said.
But the pain paid off. Patterson came back for track and field in the eighth grade, made the team and won the county championship in the mile in 5 minutes flat.
Patterson has been off and running ever since, developing into one of the top runners in the county and the anchor of a War Eagles team on the fringes of a top 10 ranking in Class 7A by Ga.Milesplit.com.
Patterson and South displayed some of that potential this past Saturday at the Pickens Preview. Patterson finished second in 16:46.8, while four of the War Eagles’ top five runners placed in the top 10 to come in first as a team ahead of county rival West Forsyth.
“We have a really deep team,” Patterson said. “We kind of swept it.”
Four years ago, Patterson joined South’s cross country program poorly calibrated to the sport’s idiosyncratic style. He was accustomed to the track, not the hills.
Or the miles.
“The miles were just crazy,” Patterson said. “Four-hundred miles was my first summer.”
But, of course, it paid off. His first varsity race was at Pickens. He finished 26th overall in 18:07, good enough for sixth on the team.
“My time wasn’t that great,” Patterson said, “but I was high up on the team. It was a hard course – I knew the time wouldn’t be great – so I knew I was doing well. As we hit father courses, I started to hit faster times.”
Indeed, at South’s next race Patterson finished fourth on the team and seventh overall in 18:05. Two races later, he was down to 17:29. Two races later, he was down to 16:16.
Last season, Patterson emerged as the War Eagles’ strongest force on the course. He averaged 16:48 over 10 races, including six top 10 finishes and two top 15 finishes, a season that caught the attention of college coaches. Patterson said he has no officials offers yet, but his performance over South’s next few events could change that.
Patterson doesn’t feel the pressure of the circumstances, or “not as much as I probably should,” he said. It’s probably hard to with all his siblings on the team this year – Josh, a junior, and twins Caroline and Michael, freshmen.
The dynamic is “kind of weird,” Patterson said laughing, but one he appreciates. Michael actually pushed him during the team’s pre-season time trials. (“I didn’t expect that,” Matt said). And it’s been more convenient for the family.
Plus, they provide plenty of light-hearted motivation.
“They … tease me and say they’re going to beat me every race,” Patterson said.