They say you can't conquer your fears unless you face them.
Halloween's less than a week away, and Valparaiso runner Peyton Reed will be visiting his personal haunted house Saturday in Terre Haute.
The Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course has been a chamber of horrors for Reed. He labored to an 86th-place finish a year ago, 12 months after staggering in dead last, 197th in a field of 197, as a sophomore.
"Last year, I felt there was something I had to prove and I put a lot of pressure on myself," Reed said. "Now I realize it's just any other race. The only pressure I have is to do my best. If that means top 50 in the state, I'll be happy with that. If that means top 30 in the state, I'll be happy with that."
Valpo is one of probably four teams with legitimate title aspirations, though coach Mike Prow said the message board conversation is centering more around Hamilton Southeastern, Carroll and Carmel.
"I have a really good feeling," Prow said. "There hasn't been much word about us. We're only trying to focus on us, block all that out of our mind. We want to win."
For Valpo to do so well, it needs Reed to run well. Then again, he's certainly not the only one. It'll take five. Seven would be even better.
"They should be nervous; that tells us they care," Prow said. "In the heat of battle, you can come up with negative thoughts, but if you have a team around you, fighting for the state championship, you're not going to let one into your head. You're going to be focusing on your teammates and getting across the finish line as fast as you can for them. That's something that can take a lot of pressure off."
At the same time, this is a little personal for Reed. Website posters hiding behind a computer screen have said some unkind things about him and his ability to perform in a big race. Reed knows a good performance Saturday makes them go away. Not that they matter anyhow.
"We've used the phrase, 'Show 'em,'" Prow said. "Show 'em you're not a choker. Obviously, it's a mental thing. We put it behind us going into the season. We came into it fresh. Peyton's worked as hard or harder than any runner in the state, and has the times to prove that. He has to show people what he's really made of."
Working in Reed's, and Valpo's, favor is a season-long routine that hasn't changed and a team time gap that, when the Vikings are right, is around 30 seconds.
"They don't have to feel like they have to go out and do something special," Prow said. "A lot of teams are changing their approach. This is the big one. We're going to do this, do that. From the get-go, we've had the same warm-up. We've tried to run the exact same style, first race to last race. They've done it over and over. They've visualized it. This is nothing different."
Unlike a year ago, Reed isn't going to state to exorcise demons or chase away ghosts. He's simply there to help his team.
"It's not an internal battle with myself now," he said. "It's not about me. I want to do well for my team to do well. If that happens, I'll be happy."
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org