Potomac Falls Alumnus Connor Wilson is reestablishing the glory in the “Purple Train.”


Gilded by his fiery red hair (kept tucked away in a trademark bun, of course) and motto to always go the extra mile and do one more, Potomac Falls Cross Country and Track and Field alumnus runner Connor Wilson has made his return to the track, this time gracing the “purple train” with his gifts as a coach. 

Wilson graduated in the Potomac Falls’ Class of 2011 and left behind a lasting legacy both on the school and its running programs before he advanced to Division 1 collegiate running at Virginia Tech. In his time wearing a purple singlet, he primarily raced the 800m and 1600m races, both mid-distance track events. It was in these very events that he placed 12th and 4th, respectively, at the 2011 Virginia VHSL Outdoor State Championships marking the second fastest mile time in school history and sharing the 4×800 school record with teammates Juan Campos, Grant Deker and Jordan Ferbrache.

He wasn’t always qualifying to compete in state championship meets and racing amongst the state’s fastest runners, however. 

“I wasn’t very good when I started,” said Wilson. “I could work out well, but it wouldn’t translate into races. It took a lot of effort to build the physical and mental toughness to push my limits. Similar to life, consistency was foundational and putting in the extra effort makes the difference.”

Under the leadership of Coach Charles Null, who served as head coach of both cross country and track teams for over 20 years, Wilson believes he developed readily in both athletic ability and, more importantly, mindset.

“You may have the athletic ability to make it to college or professionally, but in our sport, and most others, the lessons learned are far more valuable than the financial opportunities available,” said Wilson.

His time with Null ultimately became an influencing factor in his decision to pursue coaching at his alma mater, he says. “We had a great team culture fostered by Coach Null where we could push our physical and mental limits and have fun doing it with a great team,” said Wilson. 

“I’m proud of the culture built way before I was there, where my senior year the boys cross country teams won ten consecutive district championships and always sent teams to regionals and states,” said Wilson. “Coach Null built a great program that I was happy to be a part of where we had fun, pushed our limits and won competitions together. I look forward to bringing Coach Null and my collegiate experience back to help improve [the current team’s] success as well as the arguably more important life lessons I wish I knew at that time.”

By the end of his senior year, Wilson was one of the team’s most valuable assets. His dedication to the sport and his swift improvement scored him a spot on Virginia Tech’s cross country and track roster. 

Wilson believes his time training and competing in a panther singlet under Null’s mentorship not only prepared him for collegiate athletics, but were “arguably more foundational to life than any other experiences until joining the “real” world as a working professional.”

“I never thought I would be good enough for college until my senior year of track, so the goal was never really in mind. I just loved pushing my limits,” said Wilson. “When I realized I could make the team at Virginia Tech, it was a fun opportunity to see what their training and competition would be like. More than anything, I became passionate about pushing my physical and mental boundaries and college athletics were a great opportunity to do so.”

“Depending on your division, college athletics are on a completely different level. Competing takes a massive amount of effort and dedication. Coach Null was a very well respected coach nationally and he trained us very well; College is just an extension of that, turned up a few notches with way better competition,” said Wilson.

With an average of ten practices weekly, all ranging from distance to speedwork, and a rigorous course load per his engineering major, Wilson’s college experience was a balancing act. “Training was very demanding…Doing that while being an engineering major wasn’t exactly fun, but running was still a great outlet for health and wellness.”

Wilson ultimately decided to stop pursuing collegiate athletics during his freshman year after getting blood work done, finding out he was anemic, and realizing his time was better spent elsewhere.

Post-grad, he cultivated his passions for “emerging technology, real estate, startups, and adrenaline sports” through his work in research, business development, and corporate strategy within the real estate industry. He now is leading CleanWise Solutions operations and growth and adding health, wellness, and mentorship to his list of passions.

So, how did Wilson find his way back to Potomac Falls? 

“I’ve always appreciated the lessons running taught me about goal-setting, grit and the mentorship I received,” he says. “They have been foundational to my character. Sharing those lessons with others has become a passion of mine.”

Wilson joined the track team for their winter track season after gaining the flexibility to do so. Since his arrival, students have been training five to six times a week, improving upon their speed, agility, and strength, and, as a result, smashing both personal records and championship level standards.

“Coach Connor has a lot of knowledge about training and racing strategy from his experiences racing in high school and college,” said senior team captain Natalie Wike. “He uses this to help make sure we are pushing ourselves physically and mentally during practices, workouts, and races. He has high expectations for us and works with us to create race plans and goals.”

What is most unique about Wilson, however, is what he brings to the team aside from just physical conditioning. His years of experience, advice, and methodology in growing sharper, in terms of both physical fitness and mental robustness, are perhaps what make him such an asset to the team. 

“It has been rewarding to share my running & life lessons and see the students appreciate them,” said Wilson. “We have great team members who are willing to push themselves and seniors willing to support the changes like Wike. Change is typically hard but worth it and the team is receiving it well, even if it can be tough – but that’s the goal. Great things typically take hard work, and regularly doing hard things makes it easier to do more hard things.”

When asked about his most fundamental coaching ideal, he was quick to respond with the notion that “showing up every day beats talent most of the time. Having good goals, putting in the work and finding good mentors is fundamental to success in anything.”

A visionary, Wilson has big things in mind for the current wave of panther runners.

“I’d love to help see more students qualifying for districts, regionals and states, and be confident pushing themselves further than they believe possible, and I believe they will. There’s a lot to unpack physically and mentally to push your limits, train, and race well. Sharing that information will help transform those willing to put in the work over time,” said Wilson.

He firmly believes his most prominent running philosophies translate into life off the track as well. That “you can only grow as quickly as you recover” and that “there’s complexity behind recovery and training because if you’re pushing yourself to be great, it requires great recovery as well.”

“Life also requires great effort and you have to learn what recovery works well for you so you don’t burn out,” said Wilson.

“Running helps teach lessons that encourage the grit that growth requires as well as the struggles that lacking preparation entails,” he says. “My favorite quote embodies that sentiment. Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

As the winter track season wraps up and the team begins to head into spring, Wilson will continue to reinvigorate the current wave of panther runners through experiences and perspectives garnered during his own time conducting “the purple train.”