The smallest cross-country meet each year is also the fastest.

The Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships bring together the best athletes each season in a showcase of America’s top harriers. With 40 runners in both the boys and girls races, Foot Locker is competed at Balboa Park in San Diego each December, and annually crowns the best runner in all the land.

Names like Verzbicas, Cheserek, and Hasay have all competed at Balboa, and come away as the undisputed champions of high school distance running.

Balboa is the perfect setting to conclude the cross-country season because of the warm San Diego weather, and the challenging grounds that loop the runners up steep hills and through tight turns.

This spectator-friendly course never travels more than a half-mile from the start, so fans can easily watch as moves are made in the wooded potion of the park. Here’s a look at what the country’s best encounter as they fight for prep running immortality.

Course: Balboa Park

Location: San Diego, CA

Usage: High School

Layout: The portion of Balboa where races are held is known as Morley Field, essentially two 1.5-mile loops. Races start on a grassy downhill that leads to a quick first 400m. A quarter-mile in, the pack enters a wooded area known as the Dog Loop which remains flat as the runners leave this section and head back to the open grounds near the start. 

There are a few abrupt turns where runners have to be mindful of their position and use body control. After the mile, the race heads back into a wooded portion that features the first big hill of the course. When the top of this dirt hill is crested, there is still another grass rise that prevents the athletes from catching their breath. This is usually where the front group makes its move and there is big separation. 

That two-part hill leads straight into the huge downhill near the outer road. If legs weren’t already spent, this downhill does significant damage as it forces you to position yourself for the hard left turn at the bottom. When this is completed for the second time, the 3-mile mark is reached right before the road. If you haven’t started your kick by this point, it’s probably too late since everyone else is flying across this flat final stretch. 

Famous Alumni: Galen Rupp, Portland, Or. (14:57), Adam Goucher, Colorado Springs, Co. (14:41), Suzy Favor Hamilton, Steven’s Point, Wi. (17:07), Jordan Hasay, Arroyo Grande, Ca. (17:04)

Course Records: (5K): Boys: 14:36- Reuben Reina, 1985. Girls: 16:39- Melody Fairchild, 1990.