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Runners' parallel talents lead to San Diego

They're not connected at the hip, but Ryan Gil and Rad Gunzenhauser can't seem to get away from one another.

Gil, a junior at North Allegheny, and Gunzenhauser, a Mt. Lebanon senior, are standout cross country runners competing Saturday in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in San Diego.

If recent trends hold, one shouldn't finish too far behind the other.

At the WPIAL Class AAA individual championships in late October, Gil beat Gunzenhauser by 13 seconds to win the title. The next week in the PIAA championships, Gunzenhauser finished second, four seconds ahead of the third-place Gil.

In the regional race to qualify for the Foot Locker National Championships, Gunzenhauser finished five seconds and three places in front of Gil.

It's no surprise they traveled to San Diego on Thursday on the same flight.

"We definitely know each other well," Gunzenhauser said. "We're on good terms, for sure. But we definitely want to beat each other."

They'll compete in a field of 40 top high school runners from across the country in the Foot Locker National Championship, a 5,000-meter course raced every year to crown the best prep runner in the nation.

The top 10 runners from each of four regional races advanced to the national event, with Gil and Gunzenhauser receiving berths after finishing the Northeast regional Nov. 28 in Long Island.

"It's definitely been fun," Gil said. "We've had a really cool rivalry this season. We definitely respect each other a lot, and we're friends on Facebook and stuff. We get along pretty well, I think."

Though they've been so close this season, Gil and Gunzenhauser took different paths to San Diego.

Gil called last year, his sophomore season, his breakout year. He won the Tri-State Invitational in mid-October and carried that momentum into a third-place finish at the 2008 WPIAL championships.

Gunzenhauser injured his knee during a workout late last season as a junior. The injury worsened when Gunzenhauser tried to push through it during the WPIAL championships; his hamstring tore away from a growth plate, an injury that hampered him through the outdoor track season last spring. Only sometime in the middle of last summer did he feel 100 percent.

Now, Gil said he thinks he and Gunzenhauser have shown similar, pace-pushing styles. The top 15 boys and girls finishers in Saturday's race will be named All-Americans.

"It's definitely pushing it, but I'm going to go for that, I think," Gunzenhauser said.

Chances are that Gil will be close by.

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