All American: The Ahmed Bile Story


When your dad is a World Champion runner, it’s tough to make a name for yourself. When you get injured in one of the first meets of the season, it’s even tougher. But junior Ahmed Bile was able to overcome both of those obstacles and do just that.

Bile placed 14th in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in San Diego on Dec. 11. The result means that Bile is the 14th best high school cross country runner in the entire United States.

“I’m really happy about the result because I did my best and there’s nothing I would really change about how I raced,” Bile said. “I was just really excited to get top 15.”

Bile’s top-15 finish qualified him for All-American status, an honor reserved for only a select few runners across the nation. He finished the race in a time of 15:33, 34 seconds behind National Champion Lukas Verzbicas.

“He did an excellent job,” Head Cross Country Coach David O’Hara said. “It was probably his smartest race of the year.”

The course, Balboa Park, demanded a smart race, as it was very different from the flat, rolling courses most runners from the area are accustomed to. The 5k race featured a steep uphill climb that runners had to face twice throughout the event.

“I was conservative [in my approach to the race] so that I could take the uphill,” Bile said. “I had to save a lot of energy [for the hill], so I didn’t have as much energy on the kick.”

In the final leg of the race, Bile started his kick and moved up several places to take 14th place out of the 40-person field.

“It was a 2-loop course with a huge hill, so I wanted to make sure he didn’t go out to fast,” O’Hara said. “A lot of the guys running have been nothing but first so it is natural for them to want to get out quickly. I wanted [Ahmed] to be around 20th for the first lap around the course; and he was 21st so it was perfect. He just started moving up and picking people off [in the last half of the race].”

It “runs” in the family

Bile’s performance should not come as a surprise for those who believe that athletic success is passed down from generation to generation. Abdi Bile, Ahmed’s father, was the 1987 World Champion in the 1500-meter race. He was also the first Somali runner to ever achieve the title of World Champion in this event. Despite Abdi’s accomplishments, however, he did not push Ahmed into running.

“I just played soccer [as a kid],” Bile said. “[My dad] encouraged me in soccer, so I played that for eight years. I was interested in running but I didn’t like it nearly as much as soccer.”
Abdi is not the only Bile to have garnered success in the running world. Ahmed’s uncle (Abdi’s brother), Jama Bile, was a national champion in high school in the one-mile and placed 23rd at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in 1991.

“There’s a bit of pressure in every race because everyone asks about my dad,” Bile said. “And it doesn’t help that all the newspapers always reference it too.”

Before the race, the two decorated runners had plenty of advice for Ahmed, both having competed in pressure-packed races before.

“My dad and uncle told me to run smart and to just enjoy myself and have fun,” Bile said. “They said how there was a lot more pressure to win states, and that everything afterward was just icing on the cake.”

His dad and uncle do not, however, train Ahmed to become a better runner.

“My dad gives me tips here and there, but [training] is pretty much all with coach O’Hara,” Bile said.

The Journey to All-American

When Bile entered high school, he did not have his sights set on becoming an All-American runner. In fact, running wasn’t even going to be his main sport.

“I was a soccer player freshman year,” he said. “I started running at the beginning of sophomore year to train for soccer.”

Running as a form of training did not last, however, as Bile quickly developed into one of the fastest runners at AHS.

“I was pretty average with cross country sophomore year, but indoor [track] is where I got remotely good,” he said.

During the indoor season, Bile placed second in the Northern Region in the 1000-meter run. He continued his success in the subsequent outdoor season, where he won events at multiple levels.

“I won the district mile and district 4×8[00 meter relay] that outdoor season,” Bile said.

Not only did his 4×800 relay win the district, but it also broke both the school and district record. At regionals, Bile won the 800-meter race, as well as the 4×800 relay and at the state meet, he placed second in the 800 and fifth in the 4×800.  For his efforts, Bile earned All-Met Honorable mention.

“Our 4×8 was about as close as you can get as a relay, so seeing him have all this success is like watching a family member do something incredible,” Class of 2010 graduate Michael Ejigu said. Ejigu, along with Daniel Blasser and Yohan Calcuttawalla, were the other members of that 4×800 relay team.

Heading into this cross country season, Bile had high hopes to continue his success from the outdoor season. These hopes, however, were severely hindered when he sprained his foot at the beginning of the year in a small meet against TJ.

“It was like the equivalent to a scrimmage,” Bile said. “I just stepped the wrong way on a rock or something. I couldn’t feel it during the race, but I couldn’t walk after [the race].”

The injury forced Bile to sit out seven weeks of the season and made it so his first race back was the Patriot District Championship; a meet in which he placed fourth.

“I didn’t feel the injury physically [at districts], but in terms of fitness I was out of shape so I raced pretty bad,” he said.

The injury, however, did not affect him as much at the Northern Region Championships or the State Championship.

“I think the injury [ended up being] a benefit because everyone else was running tired, so it was nice to be fresh,” Bile said.

Bile won both the Northern Region Championship as well as the Virginia State AAA Championships. In doing so, he qualified for the Foot Locker South Regional in which the top 10 runners advanced to Nationals in San Diego. At the South Regional, Bile placed fourth out of runners from 13 different states.

“It really was a dream season,” O’Hara said. “We weren’t sure if there even was going to be a season and now he’s the 14th best runner in the entire country.”

Bile was not always this good of a runner, though.

“He had no idea what he was doing [when he first started],” O’Hara said. “[During a race] he sat behind someone for awhile and then with a lap to go he would just kick. Now he’s got great race poise and good race strategy.”

“He had the obvious natural abilities and I just gave him the confidence to have the patience to not go too hard too quick,” he said.

The future remains bright for Bile, who will be able to run for five more seasons in his high school career. O’Hara doesn’t want him back into the hard workouts just yet, though.

“I’m shutting him down for 3-4 weeks,” he said. “He needs a rest because he’s been at it since August.”

Bile just hopes he can continue what he has started at Nationals next year and further crawl out from his father’s shadow.

“I’ll know the course a lot better and have the experience of running it,” he said. “I’ll know when to ease up and when to make a move.”

For now, however, Bile can relish in his storybook season and continue to make a name for himself in the running world.