Burlington Central’s Yusuf Baig got a relatively late start in cross country when he began participating in the sport as a sophomore.
Baig took 176th that year in the Class 2A boys race at the IHSA Cross Country State Meet. He took fifth at this year’s state meet, the only meet of the season in which he didn’t finish first or second.
It’s safe to say that Baig and cross country make a great pair.
Baig won the Fox Valley Conference Meet championship by 32 seconds, then won his regional and was runner-up at the sectional before his state run. For his success and dominance among local runners, Baig is the Northwest Herald Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from local coaches.
Baig’s fifth-place finish was the third highest in school history, behind Anthony Farmer’s third-place results in 2018 and 2019.
“I was hoping for something in the top three, but I can’t be upset with that,” Baig said. “I ran well. I left it all out there; it’s my last race of the year. I was really happy with how that went. I was just having fun.”
Baig, who will run at Illinois State next year, answered a few questions about his season and career from Northwest Herald sports writer Joe Stevenson.
What will you remember most about the season?
Baig: The thing I will remember most was definitely my regional performance as well as my fifth-place finish at state.
How did you happen to not run cross country until your sophomore year?
Baig: For some reason I never thought of myself as a runner until I finally cracked six minutes in the mile. I loved chasing down personal records and hope I can continue to do so the rest of my running career.
If you could run at any college, where would it be?
Baig: Illinois State University is where I am headed, and to be quite honest, there is no other place I would rather be an athlete at.
What is your dream job?
Baig: My dream job is to run. But as of right now, my plan is to start studying with hopes of becoming an internal medicine doctor.
What are three of your favorite sports movies?
Baig: “Prefontaine,” “The Blind Side” and “Remember the Titans.”
What is your favorite wild animal?
You get a $2,000 shopping spree at any store, where are you going?
Baig: Definitely some sort of running store to get some more gear for the winter.
What is the longest distance you have ever run?
Baig: I ran 15 miles at a 6:22 pace. I did this with some former teammates who are in the NCAA and really pulled me along.
What were you thinking about in the moments before your state race?
Baig: I thought about all the people who came to watch. Not only that, but all the training that I had put in. The last time I had a state meet at Detweiller Park, I was in 176th place. And my junior year at ShaZam [unofficial state meet] I was 26th. I had nothing to lose but a lot to prove, so I really wanted to let it all out there.
What is the hardest part about running?
Baig: The mental aspect. No one wants to go out and run 10 miles when they can just be lying in bed. But that’s when it comes to the runner and how much they want to succeed.
If you could train with any runner for a week, who would you pick?
Baig: It would have to be [Norway’s] Jakob Ingebrigsten [21-year-old 1,500-meter Olympic gold medalist]. He holds so many records at such a young age, so I would really want to see what his training is like and how he handles so much volume and intensity at such a young age.
What celebrity would you most like to hang with for a day?
Baig: Probably Kanye West because I really like his music, and he seems like a pretty funny guy.
What is the worst injury you ever dealt with?
Baig: Thankfully, I have not had any injuries in my career. But the closest thing to an injury would be the amount of blisters that I have gotten and having to run through them.
What is your favorite class?
Baig: Biology because I really like seeing how certain things work. I also really enjoy bio labs because it’s interesting to see how cells are broken down.
If you played baseball, what would be your walk-up song?
Baig: “All of the Lights” by Kanye West.