Before he set world records as a long-distance runner, before he competed in state championships at Buchanan High, and national invitationals in Portland and San Diego, C.J Albertson stood on a little league pitcher’s mound with the nation watching.
Albertson remembers the 2006 Little League World Series West regional final all too well. His River Park team featured Big League talent – future MLB outfielder Jordan Luplow was River Park’s star – and came one win away from a trip to Williamsport.
River Park from Fresno instead lost 11-3 to a Phoenix, Arizona team led by future major leaguer Scott Kingery. A young Albertson pitched in the sixth inning with the game’s result already decided, but surrendered a home run and landed on the sports page of The Fresno Bee.
“That was the last game of baseball I ever played, giving up a home run on national television,” Albertson reminisces with a smirk on his face.
“We make sure we continue to rub it in at times,” says Brian Weaver, Albertson’s former coach at Buchanan and now close friend.
“That’s pretty great though, because he lived,” Weaver adds. “It was a horrible moment that everyone in the country saw on SportsCenter, and it just goes to show you that you can survive the negative things, and you can look back now and laugh at them.”
Surviving and thriving – that is the C.J. Albertson story.
Albertson has faced his share of adversity as a runner: he struggled finding balance for a period of time in his career. He’ll be the first one to tell you his senior year of high school did not end how he expected.
But what the Clovis native eventually grew into – a beloved cross country coach at Clovis Community College, a Two Cities marathon champion and world record holder in the 50K – has made the journey worth it.
If anyone can appreciate traveling a nice, long journey, it would be the long-distance wizard himself.
Albertson’s running career began in grade school, when he joined the only fall sport available to fourth graders at Copper Hills Elementary: cross country. Albertson cherishes the memories made within the walls of Copper Hills: running to the gas station down the street to buy Gatorades every Tuesday, leaving class early to compete in meets every Friday afternoon, and running as hard as he could every day, taking full advantage of his boundless, youthful energy.
It was that same youthful energy which led C.J to start breaking records in fifth grade; he set the CUSD record in the 1500m race with a time of 4 minutes, 56 seconds. Albertson finished his time at Copper Hills without ever losing a race in the school district.
“It was just natural for me to chase after records and try to win,” adds Albertson. “I didn’t know any other way to do it, other than trying to be first and not let anyone pass me.”
Following elementary school was Albertson’s cameo in the Little League World Series, and then a stellar 7th grade season at Alta Sierra Intermediate. Under coach Dustin Beauchamp, Albertson set the school record in the 3200m (two-mile) race.
He was ineligible to compete in his 8th grade year, the 2007-08 school year when Granite Ridge Intermediate and Clovis North High School opened. Suddenly living in the Granite Ridge area, but not wanting to move schools, Albertson transferred to stay at Alta Sierra, but was unable to compete as a result.
Of course, that did not stop C.J from finding other ways to feed his need to run. He joined Sierra Challenge Express, a running club organized by coach Ray Knight that met a few times each week. He conditioned with the golf team, ran by himself on the track, and created workout routines in his bedroom.
“I never really thought of it as work,” says Albertson. “It was what I did because I enjoyed it.”
As a high school freshman in 2008, C.J joined a Buchanan cross country team loaded with talent. Led by Jonathan Sanchez (who finished third at the state meet), Heath Reedy, Danny Vartanian and Adam Delton, Buchanan finished second as a team at the 2008 CIF Cross Country Championships.
Albertson was the sixth runner on Buchanan’s varsity squad that season and learned from the team’s winning culture.
“Going into that summer, everyone showed up for practice, when the state meet was five to six months out,” Albertson remembers. “We constantly communicated through social media, shared sleeping and nutrition tips, and everyone had the common goal of winning the state championship. I think that shaped how I viewed things, and I tried to lead like that when I became older.”
The next milestone for Albertson came at the 2010 CIF Cross Country Championships, when as a junior, he finished fourth individually. His time of 14:51 on the 5,000-meter course would have won any previous CIF state meet, but 2010 happened to be the fastest race in state meet history – five runners finished below the 15-minute mark.
Albertson did set the junior class record in the state meet, a mark no other junior runner has since broken at Woodward Park.
“He was coming really hard in the last mile, which was pretty impressive. His last mile was extremely fast,” remembers Brian Weaver, who was Albertson’s head coach at the time. “He worked really hard and it paid off for him. He’s had some crazy good meets.”
His performance at State qualified him for two national invitational championships: the Nike Cross Country Nationals in Portland, Oregon, and the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego.
Appreciating the opportunity to race against the nation’s fastest runners, Albertson loved his experience on the national stage – so much that he didn’t want to leave.
“The morning we left Portland, I was supposed to meet C.J in the lobby to ride with me to the airport… I’m down there, he doesn’t show up. I call and he doesn’t answer so I think he’s on the bus instead to the airport,” Weaver recalls.
“I’m halfway to the airport when he calls and asks, ‘Where are you guys’… he says, ‘I’m at the hotel still.’ I had to turn the car around, drive back to pick him up and I ripped him,” Weaver adds with a chuckle.
It was easy to forget that amongst all of C.J. Albertson’s achievements, he was just a kid.
Albertson was set up for a record-breaking senior year, with eyes on winning the State meet and returning to the national championships. He received recognition from his peers and the media, ranked as the No. 1 runner in the state headed into 2011.
Yet the expectations were followed by disappointment for C.J, who suffered an injury that ailed him physically and had a mental impact on his performance. He placed sixth individually at the 2011 state meet, a finish below the high standards he set for himself.
“It was a disappointing year,” Albertson says. “That was pretty devastating because I had beaten all the guys at that race previously by a lot.”
In the 2012 track season, Albertson’s struggles continued, running times that were slower than his freshman season. His senior track season was the only year in his high school career where he failed to qualify for state championships.
It was the first time in Albertson’s career he battled adversity and, more importantly, faced a problem he could not just run through.
“Some people when they face adversity, they give up… that wasn’t necessarily me,” explains Albertson. “I felt like I had to try harder and force myself to be good, and force things to go my way, and that doesn’t always work either. I think it took a toll on me mentally and put my body in a position where it was overly stressed.”
Albertson learned a great deal from his senior season, both about running and life.
“People always tell you growing up that if you work hard, success will come, or that running is mental. So, I thought if I’m running bad, I could flip a switch in my head and be good again, or work out harder and I’ll be the best again,” Albertson says. “I tried everything and nothing worked, and I think sometimes you have to just relax and run and do what you do.”
Following his collegiate career at Arizona State, Albertson received the opportunity to pass on the lessons he learned, when he became the inaugural cross country head coach at Clovis Community College.
Armed with a Masters degree in Physical Education from Arizona State, Albertson started the program on a strong note in its first year, leading the Crush men’s and women’s cross country team to the state championships in 2018. As a result, he was named CVC conference Women’s Coach of the Year.
Then there’s the whole deal with his record-breaking streak continuing after college.
In Albertson’s first ever marathon, he won the 2018 Two Cities Marathon with a time of 2:17:45, a record time that qualified him for the U.S Olympic Trials.
“I really enjoyed everything about the training and the race and after taking first, I thought I must be good at this,” says Albertson.
Now at age 27, Albertson continues on his tour of shattering records. Last year, he traveled to The Armory in New York City and broke the indoor marathon world record, with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 59 seconds.
The latest stop on the tour: his old high school track, Veterans Memorial Stadium, where he went for the 50K world record in front of his old high school coach.
Brian Weaver stood in the infield to time Albertson’s 125 laps, along with other Buchanan High coaches and a professional timer. Albertson’s wife and sister were also on hand, passing out water. A few other athletes middled about, having their workouts interrupted by C.J’s pursuit of history.
In front of a limited crowd on the rainy morning of Sunday, November 9, C.J Albertson’s endurance appeared limitless. He set the 50K world record with a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 30.28 seconds, cutting off a minute and eight seconds from the previous mark.
“We told our athletes when we came to practice on Monday,” Weaver says, “that they were stepping foot on a track that just saw a world record broken on it.”
“I underestimated it a little bit. In my mind, I would just go to Buchanan, break the record, go home and nobody would notice or care,” notes Albertson. “I forget that other people are watching, so all of the support and encouragement after the event showed me I made a pretty strong impact on this community.”
Up next for Albertson is an elite-only marathon in Chandler, Arizona on Dec. 20. The race is reserved for the fastest people in North America and limited to 50 men and 50 women.
Yet for C.J Albertson, it’s just another race, for somebody who was seemingly born to race; as a kid, he would time himself running up and down the stairs, or running through courses he created inside his home.
“I always liked seeing how fast I can do things and timing it,” says Albertson, “and now I guess I do that for a living.”