Until this summer, Terry Vail never realized how difficult it could be to hurdle a few obstacles on the track.
"I never knew it was so technical," said Vail, 17. "You've got to think about everything. You've got to think about your hands and your arms. Everything has to be in a certain place. It just has to be perfect."
A few weeks ago, the Bel Air senior returned from a Penn State hurdling camp with dozens of drills designed to blend the proper mechanics with better speed. After working out three hours a day through the early part of the summer, Vail switched to two-a-day workouts to fit in most of those drills. In addition, he also ran several nights a week with the Harford County Gliders Track Club.
Vail had hoped to cap off the season with a trip to the The Athletics Congress (TAC) national championships, but at the TAC regionals in Hampton, Va., last weekend, he narrowly missed qualifying. While only the top three advanced, Vail came in fifth in both the 110- and the 400-meter hurdles.
Still, he could not complain too much. His times ranked among the best he has run -- finishing the 110 in 14.6 seconds to match his career-best performance. At 400 meters, 100 meters longer than the top high school distance for hurdles, Vail finished in just over 57 seconds.
"I'm happy with my races," said Vail, one of the younger runners in the 17-18 age division. "I was just happy to be able to race with these guys. Even though I lost to them, I kept up with them. I just wanted to run my race, and I did."
Locally, Vail has dominated Harford County in the 110 and the 300 hurdles. Since the day Vail, then a freshman, showed up at the track to keep in shape for football, immediate success turned the 6-foot, 190-pound receiver into a track star.
This past spring, Vail won his third straight county title in the 300 hurdles and his second in the 110. He went on to finish second in the 300 and third in the 110 in the Class 3A state championship meet. The Baltimore Sun's Harford County Male Performer of the Year in track, Vail was the only boy to win four gold medals in this year's Harford County championship meet.
Still, Vail wasn't satisfied with his season. "My form got a lot better but I lost my speed. I got a lot slower between the hurdles," said Vail who ran his best high school times as a sophomore.
If he had improved his best times, Vail said he thought both county hurdle records might have been within reach. His best times came within three-tenths of a second of the county marks. The 110 record of 14.3 seconds is one of the oldest in the county set by George Gordon of North Harford in 1978. The 300 mark stands at 38.3 seconds set by James Brown of Havre de Grace in 1989.
"[Breaking a record] was a big goal this year, and I didn't get it, so I was upset. Next year, my goal is to crush them, to actually run right through them," said Vail, who already has received recruiting letters from several Division I programs.
Next spring, Vail also plans to branch out a bit and add the long jump to his repertoire. In the summer, he would like to try the decathlon, a grueling 10-event test of strength, speed and stamina.
Vail already has competed in most of the running, hurdling and jumping events that make up the decathlon. Only three would be brand new -- the pole vault, discus and javelin -- but Vail is ready for the challenge.
"It's an event you have to practice year round, and I want something I can do year round," said Vail. "I'm crazy I guess, but I feel I can excel at it."