Hayden Hebert said he came into his junior cross country season at Century High School a little rusty.
The Knights junior admitted he didn’t quite devote himself to summer workouts as much as he should have, but he took to the streets when he could. Hebert’s work ethic increased once the season got underway, and he began to progress.
Hebert finished second at the Carroll County meet in 17:23.7 on Oct. 24, where he was edged by Liberty senior Woodrow Kashima by two seconds, and came in fourth at the 2A West meet a week later as Carroll’s top finisher in 17:26.
He finished sixth in Class 2A at the state meet at Hereford High School in 16:17.9 the following week, and the Times Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year ran the third fastest time in Carroll County history at the state meet since it was moved to Hereford in 1995.
“The biggest thing is the amount of work he’s put in,” Knights coach Chris Mead said. “It’s not like he burst onto the scene just running crazy fast times. This is three years in the making or more of him consistently showing up every day and pushing himself to limits that most people have trouble doing – and doing that over and over again every day — this is the result.”
Hebert is the first Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year from Century since John Mead was awarded the honor in 2013. With Hebert’s help, the Knights finished third at counties, third at the 2A West meet, and third at states with 127 points behind champion Oakdale and runner-up Liberty.
Century competed in the Bull Run Invitational on Sept. 21 at Hereford, the same course as the state meet. Hebert finished 29th in 17:15.1, and his state-meet finish was almost a minute faster than his first race on the same course earlier in the season.
The Hereford course is a challenging one and it involves plenty of sharp turns and big hills, including the infamous “Dip,” a steep ravine runners have to navigate twice as they compete. The Bull Run Invitational featured more than 160 teams this year, and Hebert said the mid-September heat presented a real challenge.
“I was really overthinking the hills and trying to get down them as fast as possible, and it was wearing me out real quick,” Hebert said. “At states, you didn’t have the heat to wear you out, so I took it down the hills a bit easier and rested my legs to push up the next hill and gain some ground on people.”
November brought brisk temperatures when the Knights returned to compete at states, but Hebert and his teammates battled the cold and the course to take a top-three finish.
“Running the same course a minute faster is not super easy to do,” Chris Mead said. “Him and the rest of the team really showed up that day and put a lot of trust in their training and their legs and went out and did it.”
When Hebert joined the team as a freshman in 2017, he trained with the upperclassmen before him to improve and increase his speed to significantly improve. He finished 20th at the county and 2A West meets and 62nd at states as a freshman and came in ninth at counties, 16th at regionals and 41st at states as a sophomore.
He capped his junior season with seven top-10 finishes.