Thomas Cirrito hoped that by taking a less strenuous path through the summer and early part of the fall this year, he would have success in the championship races of November and December.
The Miller Place High School senior figured that by looking at the big picture he'd have fresh legs when it mattered most. His instincts proved correct when, on Nov. 8, he won the Section 11 title at Sunken Meadow, running the 5,000-meter course in 16:16.89 for a comfortable 12-second victory over Westhampton Beach's Gavin Ehlers.
Now, as Cirrito gears up for a run at a NYSPHSAA-New York State Championship on Nov. 16 in Plattsburgh, he's confident that his earlier training regimen will continue to pay dividends. He's run in only four meets this fall, including the Sectional meet, earning three victories and a second-place finish. Cirrito finished seventh in last year's state championship meet and enters this year's race as one of the favorites, hopeful that the lighter schedule in September and October will help him earn a state crown.
"I've never been a hard trainer in the summer so coming in my season starts later than most anyway," Cirrito said. "It took me time in the beginning to get back into shape. I didn't run as many invitational meets and that gave me the time to train and peak at the right time and run my best race this [coming] weekend.
"I started doing this a little last year. I am very busy in the summer and never really had the ability to do as much summer training as the other runners. I'd come in and run a bunch of races and get faster each weekend. It occurred to me to take the weekends off to train and get better and it could be beneficial to me when it counts at the end. It gives me more opportunity to be exactly where I want to be."
Cirrito didn't run his first race until Sept. 28 when he won the Suffolk Coaches Invitational. He followed that up with a second-place finish at The Brown Northeast Invitational three weeks later before earning a title in the Section 11 Division Championships on Oct. 29.
While he had success in each of those first two races, he said he wasn't in optimal shape. He added that those two races helped get him into a "racing mentality" while getting him "back into the grind".
"I have to trust the training and what I'm doing," Cirrito said. "It seems to work for me."
Cirrito is also one of the best middle-distance runners in the state. He finished sixth in the state in the 800 meters last spring and is rated as the No. 2 returning runner for that event heading into next spring. That ability to sprint, he said, helped him in the Sectional meet and could do so again at States.
"My true strength is middle distance," Cirrito said. "The 800 is always my favorite event but obviously I am able to stretch out when I have to. I knew there was one other runner that was fast from Westhampton Beach [in the Sectionals]. I had to stick with him and rely on my leg speed to gain ground and get the win so it kind of went according to plan.
"I'm going to try to do whatever I can to get the win [this weekend]. I'm going in as one of the favorites and I know that if I trust my leg speed and stay up with the leaders, by the end of the race, I can dig down a little deeper and use that leg speed to hopefully come out on top."
Weather may prove to be a factor, too, in Plattsburgh. It was in the low 40s at Sunken Meadow and Cirrito wasn't happy about that. The temperatures are projected to be in the low to mid-20s for the championship race so Cirrito is hoping he can surprise himself once again.
"I never thought I'd be a good cold runner but this past Friday I ran my best race ever," he said. "Maybe I'm wrong about myself in that sense. Maybe I am a better cold runner than I think."
Regardless of what happens in the championship meet, it could be one of the last cross country races in which Cirrito runs. He doesn't know whether he'll be running in college or if he'll be playing basketball, his other love. He's one of the best point guards in the state and has that open to him as an option for college athletics. There is, however, the chance that he plays both sports or neither sport in college and simply focuses on academics.
"It's kind of complicated for me," he said. "I'm sorting things out so I can decide what I want to do and take it from there. Educationally I'm looking to be a mechanical engineer or a teacher. I'm pretty set on that so it's more important that where I want to go, more than the sports, they have got to have my degree."