Mental Focus Put Decorated St. Mark’s Runner Back on Track

Dodda holds three school records and multiple appearances on a national stage

Sahil Dodda’s transformation into one of Texas’s elite high school distance runners started when he was off his feet.

When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancellation of the 2020 track and field season, cutting short Dodda’s sophomore year at St. Mark’s School of Texas, he used it as fuel.

That fall, Dodda lined up at the RunningLane Cross Country Championships in Alabama — a de facto national meet during a makeshift season — and lowered his personal best by 26 seconds against the top competition in the country.

He didn’t stop there, breaking three school records and aiming to cap his St. Mark’s career with multiple gold medals at the SPC spring championships before heading to the University of Pennsylvania next year.

But the turning point was that hastily arranged 2020 cross country season, when St. Mark’s competed in five meets at neutral sites under strict health protocols, culminating with RunningLane.

“During that season, it was clear that he was at a different level,” said St. Mark’s track and field coach John Turek. “Nothing prepared us for what he did. That was the solidifying moment in Sahil’s mind.”

Dodda had done all the right things to prepare — eating right, core training, high mileage — but his breakthrough race provided an unforeseen test for his mental toughness.

“Now I had to prove it every time I raced,” he said. “I put a lot more pressure on myself than I had to. I wasn’t at 100 percent mentally. It wore me down confidence-wise.”

Dodda endured a disappointing performance at the SPC spring meet during his junior year before bouncing back with a school-record time in the 3,200 meters at the Texas Track and Field Coaches Association Meet of Champions last spring.

Nothing prepared us for what he did.

John Turek

“That ended the season on a high note,” Dodda said. “It gave me some positive momentum.”

He started his senior season by winning three cross country meets and finishing as the SPC runner-up. Then came Nike Cross Country Regionals in November in Houston, where Dodda defeated two UIL state champions.

The following weekend, he finished second at Eastbay South Regionals in North Carolina, again lowering his personal best time. That qualified him for the national meet in San Diego.

“It was a surreal moment,” Dodda said. “Just qualifying for that race is a dream you have as a freshman. I just wanted to enjoy every minute of it. The race didn’t go quite as planned, but it’s a trip I’ll never forget.”

Dodda hopes his success over the past four years helps future runners thrive in the decorated distance program at St. Mark’s.

“I don’t want to come back in 30 years and still see my name on the board. I just want to be a placeholder,” he said. “It’s not as much about having the school records as it is passing them on.”

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