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New cross country course designed by Maryvale coaches challenges runners

Practicing on hilly trails could help Lions in championship meet

By Nelson Coffin, ncoffin@tribune.com

12:15 PM EDT, October 9, 2013

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When Maryvale's coaching staff pondered making a cross country course on the all-girls Catholic school's 88-acre Brooklandville campus, the idea was to make the the 3.03-mile layout as challenging as possible.

After tabulating the results from the Lions' home first meet Sept 25 against Roland Park Country School, it's clear that objective was achieved.

To put it mildly, the course is not for the faint of heart.

And that, said assistant coach Kyle Reagan, could help Maryvale runners when they compete on less difficult courses later in the season.

"I think that's going to be an advantage for us," he said. "We have three meets here."

The hope is that other courses — such as Oregon Ridge Park for the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland championships Oct. 30 — will pale in comparison to the tortuous circuit that Reagan, head coach Jason Miller and assistant Katie Askine designed and made over the summer.

They began work in earnest in early July and didn't finish until the end of August, clearing brush, moving rocks, pulling up roots, tossing out debris and whacking weeds, mainly in the woodsy portion of the course.

Head coach Jason Miller and his staff logged up to three hours of work, two days a week during that span. They even posted on some Saturdays to make sure the labor of love became a reality.

"We brought in the girls one Saturday to help, too," Miller said, alluding to his team. "We bought them some pizza."

The coaches were unable to enjoy a home course for the previous four years because of extensive campus construction projects, including the building of the Erinn McCarthy Humanities Hall and the installation of a synthetic turf field, new bleachers and a track.

"Before the track, we had no access to the woods," Reagan said.

Once they surveyed two wooded, hilly sections adjacent to a softball field, the coaches went to work.

"The first thing we did was find a lot of dead wood," Regan said about how they lined the path. "Then we used some weed whackers."

They scouted for openings between trees to get started.

"(The course) kind of made itself, in a weird way," Reagan said. "We'd look for trees at least 10 feet apart and go from there."

The course begins benignly enough on a softball diamond before heading south and meandering behind the distinctive circa 1917 stone Wickliffe building, now known as the Maryvale Castle, which houses administrative offices, meeting space and classrooms.

Runners then negotiate a hill before entering the woods where they encounter more hills, protruding roots, uneven footing and the thought that a similar tract awaits them in the next wooded section, which is even more daunting.

Moreover, both areas have to be run twice before runners take a lap on the track to complete the circuit.

Competitors in the inaugural meet on the new course posted times at least a minute slower than their normal result, according to Miller.

Included in that assessment was the winner of the race, Maryvale sophomore Kendall Gray, who said that the hilly portions of the course did not bother her as much as the hairpin turns did.

"When you make those turns too wide, you lose time," she said. "It can be very frustrating."

"I still did better than I did in a time trial (earlier this season)," she said, noting that her 22:49 was not close to her personal best 21:04 set at the Lake Forest Invitational, in Delaware, earlier this month.

Even if the runners improve by learning the quirks of course, it's still always going to be a challenge.

"I took a coach friend of mine on a walk-through (of the course)," Miller said. "He told me that it's hard to get into a groove on it because of all the different terrain. You run on a field, a track, hills and the woods. It makes it tough."

Miller concluded by saying that this year's Lions are "one of the better teams we've had here. But there's not going to be anyone breaking 21 minutes on this course."