Each morning at 5:45, Bailey Roth faces a choice. He can remain in bed. Or he can rise and continue his quest to run faster.
Roth, a Coronado senior and the state's premier distance runner, always crawls from the warmth of his bed. He drinks a cup of Kenyan tea, often with his father Brian by his side, and then grabs his running shoes and heads out the door to Monument Valley Park, where he runs hills.
"It's a mindset," Roth says as he relaxes in a Coronado classroom after practice. "It's a choice. I have a choice to sleep in, which is very tempting, or I can choose to work hard and do the little things for my overall benefit."
His early morning choices are to the detriment of every other runner in the state. As a junior, Roth finished second in the state cross country competition in the fall before dominating the state meet in the spring with wins in the 1,600 and 3,200. His best event eventually could be the steeplechase. He competed in the steeplechase for the United States this summer at the World Youth Championships in Ukraine.
Roth leads Coronado's cross country team, the defending state champs, into regional competition Thursday in Pueblo. He is, as usual, the favorite.
"He's what happens when natural ability and hard work come together," Coronado coach Doug Hugill said from his home. "It's just a treat to watch him race. He controls every race that he's in. If anybody passes him, he's going to outkick him. If anybody tries to hang with him, he'll blow them away. He's just that good."
Roth has conquered adversity during his steady rise. As a sophomore in Georgia, where he lived before moving to Colorado Springs, he was incorrectly diagnosed with a serious heart defect after he passed out as he crossed the finish line.
This summer brought new challenges. A flu-like illness prevented him from training for two weeks, and a bad experience with wisdom-tooth removal hobbled him all of August.
No doubt, he's recovered. He just ran a 15:23 at a cross country meet in Fountain, his personal best at altitude. His all-time best in Georgia was 15:16.
And there's more bad news for any runner who hopes to upset him in the state cross country meet. The long title run will take place Oct.?26 at Bear Creek Park.
"I have a lot of experience with that course," Roth says with a slight smile. "I'm very familiar with our home stomping grounds."
Roth is, as is usual for distance runners, exceedingly thin. He usually weighs between 125 and 130 pounds on race day. But he's deceptively athletic. Hugill reports Roth high jumps 6-feet and throws a shot put 35 feet. Teammates sometimes see him leap over mailboxes on long runs through Colorado Springs.
When he arises each morning at his home, he takes care to be quiet. He's surrounded by a big family that includes six brothers and sisters.
"There's never a boring moment in my house," he says.
He drinks his tea, flavored with milk and sugar, and plots his day. He must arrive at school by 7:40.
He makes the choice each morning to excel, to see what is possible. Those choices mean this will be a happy school year for Roth, and a sad year for any runner burdened with the task of beating him.