By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
At first, Julia Bos competed against herself.
She started in sixth grade, running the mile in gym class, and she finished in seven minutes. Bos wanted to go faster, so she started running a half-mile, on her own, every day.
Then the competition became her sister, Anna, two years older, who was having success in eighth grade cross country. Julia wanted to win too. So the sisters started running together, Julia struggling to keep Anna within sight -- until one day when Julia was a freshman, decided their pace was too slow, and took off on her own.
Julia's still running away from the pack. Bos finished 18th at the Division 2 Cross Country Final as a freshman, in 19:15. She cut her time to 17:48 a year later, finishing fourth. Last fall, she beat out two previous MHSAA champions to claim her first title in 17:24.
Now what? She's back to competing against herself, but now as arguably the top runner in the state this fall.
"My freshman year, I never dreamed I’d be into the 17s,” Bos said. “Every season I have the thought that this is it. I can't get faster.
"Then I prove myself wrong."
She gets a Second Half High 5 this week after proving herself as perhaps the runner to catch statewide on Sept. 14, when she finished first in the elite race at the Spartan Invitational at Michigan State. She crossed the line in 17:20 – 15 seconds ahead of a field that included West Bloomfield’s Erin Finn, the reigning MHSAA Division 1 champion and a national meet record setter during the offseason, and one of the nation’s top middle distance track runners in Grosse Pointe South’s Hannah Meier.
Last season's MHSAA Final win was huge, but Grand Rapids Christian coach Doug Jager said he’d never seen Bos as happy as when she stood on the medal stand at MSU.
Bos said it took a mix of factors for her to finish first that day. She said Finn remains ahead of her, and respects her greatly because of how she’s handled stardom and the expectation that she’ll always win.
But Bos is in that class now too. She hasn’t finished lower than first in a race since the 2011 Spartan Invite, when she took third behind Finn and Meier.
She just gets faster
"She's very gifted as a runner. She also works harder than anyone I've ever had," said Jager, who coached the Eagles to Division 2 team championships in 2005, 2006 and 2010. "In fact, I usually have to tell her to do less."
Late last season, that meant training only four days a week. This fall it has been five, and Bos spends many of those running with the Eagles boys team, especially on longer runs. She and Anna don't really run together anymore, although Anna did finish for Rockford's third-place team at the 2010 Division 1 Final.
Julia has another theory for the jump she took between sophomore and junior year. She grew three inches, to 5-foot-5, and longer legs turned into faster ones.
Indeed, Jager said, Bos has improved her leg speed. But also her strategy.
At the Spartan Invite her freshman year, Bos was about 80th after a mile, and despite working hard to get back among the front packs, finished 10th.
At last season’s Final at Michigan International Speedway, Bos at first planned to go out behind the other favorites, drafting off them before coming on late. But figuring they expect that strategy, she charged out hard – and just kept going.
Jager said Bos’ best trait might be that she does keep going. Often, her third mile is faster than her first, which “grinds people down.” Bos isn’t so sure her third mile is her fastest. But it’s at least faster than the final third of her opponents.
Flying like an eagle
At MSU this month, Jager and Bos accidentally got separated from the rest of the Eagles before the start of the elite race. That did allow for some final one-on-one coaching, or, rather, convincing.
“Everyone was looking at Finn and Hannah Meier, and she goes, ‘What do you think? Can I get second?’” Jager said. “I said, 'Are you conceding first already?'
“She said, ‘No, but Erin is so good.’ I said, 'Look, just put yourself in position. Don’t put expectations on yourself. Just put yourself in position where you never know. … Just keep your head up and watch.”
"I'm going into it thinking to myself, there's only a 10 percent chance I can win this," Bos recalled.
Teams generally run similar schedules every season, and the Spartan was only event the Eagles run that Bos hadn’t won during her career.
Cross that off the list. Bring on the higher expectations.
"I had a really good day. I did all the right things with eating and drinking and resting, and I was ready to peak for that day," Bos said.
"(God's) the one who gave me the talent. ... I've just gotta take each race one at a time, with His help, and deal with all the pressure."
PHOTO: Grand Rapids Christian's Julia Bos broke away from the pack during last season's Division 2 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).