Arizona runners get unexpected challenger in state championship race: A coyote

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally
The Arizona state championship cross country race, complete with an unwanted intruder — Twitter
The Arizona state championship cross country race, complete with an unwanted intruder — Twitter

Top runners often need special motivation to reach their goals. Some of Arizona’s best prep cross country athletes got that and more during the Arizona Interscholastic Association Cross Country State Championships.

As reported by the Arizona Republic and Runners World, among other outlets, a coyote jumped into the middle of the race course between the two front runners during the AIA championship race at Cave Creek Golf Course in Phoenix. According to Runners World, at one point the coyote nearly pulled even with the race leader, Catalina Foothills High (Tucson) senior Harvey Nelson.

Luckily, that’s about as much as the coyote got up to. Despite large crowds on both sides of the course, the wild animal quietly slipped off the course after running approximately 50 meters, disappearing into the brush never to be seen again.

"I think he was looking for The Road Runner, but he was no where to be found," AIA chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt joked to the Republic. "Unfortunately, the coyote didn’t finish, so he didn't place."

While the surprising appearance of a coyote might be hard to believe, the incident was caught on camera by Marilyn Aune, Nelson’s aunt, who took the photo you see above of the coyote bearing down on Nelson in the race lead.

In the end the animal was just a footnote to a fabulous finish for Nelson. The senior won the race with a time of 15:25, but not before his thunder was stolen by the coyote.

"Everyone was thankful that nothing happened to anyone," Flagstaff High (Flagstaff) cross country coach Trina Painter told Runners World. "It was just so surreal."

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Cameron Smith is the editor of Prep Rally on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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