Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Monday, January 22, 2018

Unprecedented excellence

Most of us have known or heard of accomplished high-school distance runners who initially competed only in track because they played soccer in the fall. (Less common is a standout cross-country runner who participates a sport other than track in the spring, a la Russell Brown, almost undoubtedly the only kid in history to run a 1:54 800 meters -- good enough for a national Junior Olympics title -- following his sophomore-year lacrosse season.)

When these kids become sufficiently good at track, they are often inclined to give up soccer in favor of three-season running. When I was in high-school in the late 1980s, a kid from White Mountains Regional High School named Jonathan Ingram, having run 50.8, 1:57, and 4:26 by the end of his junior year, eschewed futbol for cross-country as a senior and wound up winning the New Hampshire Meet of Champions. Sometimes, this transition doesn't happen until after high school, even in instances of extreme talent. For example, Thomas Ratcliffe, who graduated from Concord-Carlisle High School in Massachusetts with a 4:01.5 mile (a Massachusetts and New England record) and an 8:57.47 indoor two-mile to his credit and is now a redshirt freshman at Stanford University, never ran a cross-country race as a prep, although he did run cross in middle school.

Anna Harmon of Raymond High School in New Hampshire is an exception among rarities. The senior mid-distance studette, who of this writing is the fastest girl in the state in the 600 (1:36.8), 1000 (2:54.7) and 1500 (4:42.6) meters, has focused exclusively on soccer in both the fall and the spring and has never run a scholastic race without a roof over her head. She will, she says in this interview after the 2:54.7 at the Dartmouth Relays, run track this spring.

With the New England Indoor Champs still six weeks away and New Balance Indoor Nationals seven weeks off, it's still intriguing to speculate about Harmon's prospects outdoors. This will be the first time she goes into a season with a base of focused running and competing already in hand, and it seems likely that she will focus on the 800 meters. The New Hampshire record in this event is among the state's most formidable: last spring, three girls ran between 2:06.90 and 2:08.84, yet none of them ducked under the 2:05.42 mark Coe-Brown's Hannah Parker established in 2013. When I was in high school, somewhere between "not recently" and the time the Rockies began their inexorable rise from the North American crust, the state record was, I believe, 2:15 (two of my Concord High "teammates" came within a second or so of this during my time roaming the same halls and roads, although I only escorted one of these two potential queens at the 1987 Crimson Tide Homecoming Game), and in 2002, Rachel Umberger, another Concord runner, not only set a state record but won a national title with a 2:09.67.

At any rate, I doubt that any high-school mid-distance or distance runner has ever reached Harmon's level of achievement running only indoor track, and she hasn't even run her final championship meets yet.


  1. Kid down the road from my house is a senior. I told him to give outdoor track a chance this year. Sleeps late and on a Saturday you may see him running pass all the runners of the CMS series race to get to McDonald's......carrying a two liter of Polar dry. Till now, only a victim of corporate America.

  2. The only thing we don't know about a lot of these runners is how much running they do on their own time. I imagine the young lady probably trains with her best friend which is fun and Tom probably runs with his Dad, maybe, maybe not??? If both runners really don't train much at all then in a funny way that could be a huge upside for their future. Regardless I commend you for what is a great article because you were able to see this trend in a few runners to date which is good reading!

  3. Another thing is you really have to wonder how many potential kids lost a scholarship when they tell the scouts honestly that they indeed have been putting in a lot of hard miles in the off season. I guess if I was a scout I may be looking for athletes with spectacular times during their season but off season only ate pizza in their spare time but showed a special will upon being coached.