It was an opportunity that Middletown High School North harrier Connor Kinch could not turn down: a month in the south of France. The Lion senior took part in a study abroad program in July that took him to Toulouse where he studied French and French culture.
“Going across the ocean has always been one of my dreams,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to doing it for several years. I couldn’t go last year because of the pandemic.”
Kinch chose France from several options (England, Spain, Italy, Japan and Brazil) because he’s been taking French in school and wants to converse in it fluently. Kinch made the decision even though he knew that his senior year was important regarding cross country. It’s the year to put down personal bests and go for championships, and being overseas for a month could have an impact on his summer training. It was still a no-brainer for the Lion.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he remarked.
Kinch ran when he could, getting in three to four miles along the backroads of southern France. One of his stipulations for his host family was that they lived in a running-friendly area. He was the only runner in the study group and had unusual company on his trails.
“What’s special about France are the sunflowers,” he explained. “There are sunflower fields everywhere, and I got to see them up close running along the country roads.”
Kinch learned more than French in his month overseas where he was basically living on his own; he discovered a lot about himself.
“It made me a more confident person,” Kinch said. “I was forced to build my own life there, talk to new people and make friends.”
That confidence has made Kinch a stronger runner. Grinding out a 5K cross country race is difficult on a runner mentally as well as physically. Staying focused the whole 3.1 miles is demanding, and Kinch has found himself more focused than ever thanks to confidence he gained in France.
“I’ve been able to improve my mental game,” he explained. “It’s there now, and it’s all I needed.”
Kinch now believes he has learned how to run a 5K race both physically and mentally. As someone who doesn’t have a finishing kick at the end of the race, it’s imperative to stay focused while pushing the pace throughout the competition. With his new-found confidence and his own sheer determination to succeed, Kinch is looking forward to what he can achieve this fall.
While his month away may have cost him some training mileage, it has had little impact on Kinch’s early season form. He resumed full workouts upon his return and has had promising results in the first month of the season with fourth-place finishes at the two-mile Cherokee Challenge and Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park. He’ll be ready in November when the NJSIAA meets come around.
“[The state meets are] what I worked for all summer,” he said.
“My main goal is to be the best I have the potential to be. I train hard.”
Fast times, records and wins are secondary to his finding his potential.
Kinch entered the 2021 cross country season as one of the top returning harriers from the shortened 2020 campaign. He lowered his 5K personal best to a quick 15:41. He followed that up during the spring ’21 track season posting personal bests of 4:28.17 for 1,600 meters and 9:36.91 for 3,200. He finished fifth in the Shore Conference and sixth in the NJSIAA North Jersey 2 Group 3 state sectional in the 3,200. With those times to build off and now being experienced at running 5K, Kinch is more than poised for a big senior year for the Lions.
Kinch hales from a running family. Father Edward ran track and cross country in high school and college and still runs today. His mother, Mary, competed in triathlons. His younger brother, Ethan, a freshman at North, will run track. Edward and Mary coach the St. Mary’s (Middletown) cross country and track and field teams. It was at St. Mary’s where Kinch started his running career under the tutelage of his parents.
Some sports have a way of finding you, and that was case for Kinch and running. He played soccer prior to high school and was serious about it, but when he began spending more time on the sidelines than on the pitch, he realized that soccer wasn’t his future. Running was. It became his priority.
“That’s when I decided to concentrate of running,” he recalled.
It was a wise decision.