Humble, helpful and hard working. Smart and strong. Friendly – and fast!
Those are just a few of the ways people describe Noah Combs – one of the unsung heroes of the New River Valley running scene.
Few runners have attended as many local races as Noah in the past few years, yet you will rarely find his name in the results. Where you will find Noah is out marking the course, setting up the finish line chute, cheering on runners and compiling results. As a member of the Runabout Sports events team, he’s often one of the first to arrive at a race and one of the last to leave.
Noah found early success as a runner for James Demarco’s Blacksburg High cross country and track program. He earned a varsity spot as a freshman, helped the boys cross country team earn a Top 10 finish at Nike Cross Nationals as a sophomore, and ran a 15:45 5K PR as a junior, one of the fastest times in the state.
But Noah was not on the starting line for the first cross country meets of his senior year. Suffering from burnout, he decided to take a break from the sport he loved.
“Leading up to outdoor track my junior year I hadn’t been feeling well during training,” he recalled. “It was taking a toll on me physically and mentally. I felt tired throughout the days and had nothing left to give come practice. The plan was to take a month off to recuperate, but at the end of that month I hadn’t found the motivation to come back.”
Demarco supported Noah’s decision but always let him know he was welcome to rejoin the team. As the post-season approached, he decided to give it a try.
“I had a lot of encouragement to start running again from people around me and I began to miss training and being with the team,” he said.
With limited training he ran 16:45 and finished 23rdat the 3A state meet in Great Meadows.
Noah started working at Runabout the summer of 2015 after graduating from BHS and continued while studying computer science at Virginia Tech.
He never stopped running but only in the past 18 months has he made it a priority – juggling it with a school work, an engineering project team, and other commitments.
“Several times in college I resumed training, but I never made it into a consistent habit until my junior year,” he said. “If I’m busy I view running as a time to take a break and clear my head. Getting out the door to run, no matter how long, makes the day better.”
Make no mistake though: Noah is a fierce competitor when he does race. He finished second in the Gateway 25K last May and followed that up with a third-place finish against a strong field in the Eastern Divide Ultra 50K a month later.
“Gateway was my first race in a several years and my first trail race ever,” Noah said. “It was refreshing to be able to race without having any previous results at those distances because I didn’t care about the times or the results, I was just racing for the experience.”
Hometown: Born in Charleston, WV, but has lived in Blacksburg for the last 19 years.
Major at Virginia Tech: Computer Science
When and why did you start running? I played a lot of team sports growing up and always enjoyed competing. My grandpa was a runner and a family friend recommended I run outdoor track in 6th grade. Track was by far the best experience I had in any sport and I was instantly addicted.
Your sister, Annie Kay, is also a strong runner. Has that strengthened your relationship? Annie Kay runs club track at JMU and we often run together when she is in town over breaks. Some of my favorite runs we do together are on Christmas morning and turkey trots on Thanksgiving. It’s nice being able to run with her because it’s a chance to talk away from all other distractions.
Who inspires you? James Demarco is a huge inspiration to me. Having had him as a coach in high school, he exemplified the passion and discipline necessary to be successful in running and in life. In addition, the success of local runners in the community motivates my training and goals.
Most satisfying running accomplishment? Qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals in 2012. Individual victories are great, but it’s sweeter when you have people to share it with.
Proudest race moment? Again, Nike Nationals comes to mind. We were all ecstatic to be part of such a high-caliber race and as a team we finished 10th in the nation. Standing on the line before the race, shoulder-to-shoulder with the best high school teams in the nation, was a unique experience.
Worst injury? I’m currently working through tendinitis that has sidelined me for more time than any previous injuries. It’s certainly frustrating to have built up fitness and then be slowed by an injury, but now I’m focusing on strengthening and cross-training during downtime.
Advice for new runners? Set goals. Everyone who runs does it for their own reasons, and determining why you want to run is a crucial step for those new to the sport. Also, sign up for a race. You’ll find that there is a whole community of runners, including many people with goals similar to your own.
Favorite race? Favorite distance is 5k. I like the variety that goes into the shorter distance training.
Trails or roads? I’ve been training on roads a lot recently to prepare for upcoming road races, but nothing beats a long run on trails.
Any running superstitions or rituals? I crumple my racing bib into a ball before each race. I suppose it’s more of a strategy than a superstition – it makes the bib more comfortable to wear.
Suggestion for growing/improving our running community? Encourage friends, neighbors, etc to go on a run or race. It only takes one positive experience to get hooked. Also, I’d love to see more kids give running a try. I’ve been involved with RunAbout’s kids track programs for the past few years and the kids have a lot of fun running. Running encourages healthy habits for kids and it’s something the whole family can do together.
Fact many people don’t know about you? My first day at track practice I trained with the sprinters. Shortly after I came to my senses and switched to distance.
Goals for 2019? Get and stay healthy. Run some new race distances (free PRs).
Your might also like these stories:
Former top marathoner Michelle Lowry still running strong in Blacksburg
A thank you to James Demarco and Runabout Sports
Lessons learned from leading a college track and cross country program at age 24
Jenn Fleming’s comeback story continues with win at Holiday Lake 50K
Blacksburg running legend Peter Dorrell helps build community