LEXINGTON — Nat Adams doesn’t say much.
He’s soft spoken. He laughs nervously when he answers questions. He is, as his Lexington High cross-country teammate Felix Cancre put it, “an A-plus listener.”
He’s an only child. He’d rather stick his nose in a book than in anyone else’s business. His best friends in preschool didn’t speak English.
Adams might be one of the quietest kids of the hundred or so runners coach Bill Babcock has at the high school. But he’s surely, far and away, the best.
“And he’s not the kid who is going fast in the warm-up, or constantly dropping names or his great times,” said Cancre. “But when it gets to workouts he totally blasts us. It’s not so much a problem because afterward he won’t be like, ‘I just dusted you.’ He says, ‘I’ll see you up there next time,’ even though that’s never going to happen.
“Yeah, give me a jet pack and a 30-second lead and I’ll see you at the finish line at the same time.”
Brookline High coach Mike Glennon called Adams one of the best cross-country runners in Division 1, and the senior’s resume has been nothing but sparkling, headlined by a trip last year to the Nike Cross Nationals, an invitational meet in Portland, Ore., where he finished right in the middle of the nation’s top 200 high school runners.
And he’s only getting better.
Adams matched his personal record of 15:49 for a 5K course in a meet last weekend — still in the first month of the cross-country season.
His 5-foot-9, 130-pound frame does not appear to have an ounce of extra fat. Even as a young soccer player his running ability always stood out. He wasn’t the most talented player, but his endurance was unmatched.
Adams first tried cross-country in middle school. Two years later, he was the fifth runner on a Lexington team that upset Reading Memorial for the Middlesex League championship. His 13:35 finish in the 2.5-mile race was remarkable for a high school freshman.
And he is just as shy now as he was four years ago.
“Ever since I was a little kid,” he said. “It’s just my personality.”
When Adams gears up for a run, his mind starts thinking analytically. He’s counting every breath, every step, gauging each hill, observing anyone around him (which, by the middle of the race, is typically a list of none) and turning himself into robotic flesh that can run harder, faster, and longer than almost any high school athlete in Eastern Massachusetts. He takes great care of himself; Babcock has noticed that for years.
But it’s this mentality, this quiet focus, that pushes the competitive spirit of an otherwise mild personality.
“I’m just focused on the race,” Adams said. “It helps me relieve stress. I just really enjoy it. It comes naturally to me.” For Adams, this approach has worked in everything.
Babcock said he refuses to be mediocre at something. “Some kids want to do a thousand things,” the coach said. “And they’re OK at all of them. If Nat is doing something, he’s going all-in and he’s putting his focus on it.”
Whether he’s running, going to church, reading, or studying for a test, Adams enjoys the peaceful sound of silence. And the noise of the violin he plays is just as soothing.
“It’s a similar outlet,” he said. “You’re stressed out, don’t feel like doing homework — go practice for a little while. Or if you’re stressed out with practicing, just go run for a little while. It’s good to have a few different things. Balance.”
Even in school, the silent focus has been a winning strategy. Adams received all A’s in his first three years of high school except in one class, a stunning record confirmed by Lexington athletic director Naomi Martin.
“English, sophomore year,” Adams immediately remembered.
He didn’t seem too worried about it. His grades and running ability are still good enough to potentially earn him a place at an Ivy League school. But if something was bothering him, no one would know.
“I spend probably 10 hours a week with him,” Cancre said. “I run with him every day. And even me, who spends so much time with him, I have a tough time getting in his head because he’s so reserved.’’
To Babcock, Adams’ modesty and focus has been what has made him such a great leader. In more than 30 years as a running coach — including a decade-plus at Lexington and 25 years at Saugus High — Babcock has seen what someone as good as Adams can do to a team.
“Sometimes it works against you,” Babcock said, if “the kid is off by himself, does his own workouts. But it takes a special kid that he wants to be like everyone else. He wants to be treated the same as everyone else. And the kids look up to him.”Continued...