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A healthy obsession


It would have been understandable if Mount Hebron junior Liz McCarter had just said "enough is enough" when it came to running.

After a surprisingly successful freshman season in cross country, the first time she ever ran competitively, McCarter has endured one injury after another.

First, it was a stress fracture in her back that same year during indoor track. Then there were shin splints, a broken wrist and other ailments that kept her from being at full speed.

McCarter, who grew up playing soccer and basketball among other team sports, asked herself many times, "Why bother?"

She's not about to give up the sport, however.

"It's so raw," she said. "It's like a true sport because it's all about who wants it the most and it's all about who's willing to push the hardest to get it. It's not so much that you practice, it's more like you condition yourself. That's why I like it so much."

After earning second-team All-Metro honors during the cross country season this fall - she took third in the county, regional and state meets - McCarter has enjoyed a healthy and productive indoor track season.

She was a triple winner in the county championships - setting meet records in the 800 (2 minutes, 22.36 seconds) and 1,600 (5:17.70) and also running the first leg of Mount Hebron's winning 3,200 relay team - and won three more first-place medals at the regional tournament in the same events. At Monday's state meet, McCarter won the 800 in 2:21.31, finished fourth in the 1,600 in 5:17.75 and ran the opening leg on the 3,200 relay team that placed second in 9:54.02.

McCarter is savoring every healthy moment.

"It's been really nice. It's unusual, though. I don't want to jinx myself because this is the longest stretch I've actually been healthy," she said. "It's nice to come out to practice every day not hobbling around. It feels good. I'm always knocking on wood, thinking, 'I hope it stays this way,' and I'm just going to make the most of it."

Also an artist, McCarter has been focused and motivated in anything she did since she was a little girl. Her mother, Diane McCarter, remembers when her drawing was voted the best in the classroom during pre-school.

McCarter need that drive to overcome all the setbacks in running.

"It was just one thing after another, and she was kind of miserable with all the injuries," Diane McCarter said. "But she never gave up. ... She's very competitive and always wants to do better."

McCarter's involvement in running came about by chance.

During the summer before her freshman year, McCarter could be found running around her neighborhood or at the school's track in preparation for playing soccer and basketball. One day, former Mount Hebron cross country coach Mark Reedy was at the track while she was running.

"I was running around the track and I don't think I was even able to run a mile at a good full pace at the time," she said. "He said, 'You should try out for cross country,' and I was like, 'Wow ... what is he thinking about?' "

Reedy, however, knew what he was talking about. McCarter found instant success, winning her first two invitationals and then leading the Vikings to a regional title with a first-place finish that helped her earn first-team All-County honors.

She has overcome the obstacles that have come her way and developed a strong passion for running.

"I refer to her as a gladiator," Mount Hebron coach Paul Ulrich said. "I have never seen anyone more dedicated to the sport [or] a harder worker than Liz. She understands the mental part of it, she understands the physical part of it and she's a student of running, too."

McCarter, a team captain, uses yoga and visualization to help her get ready for races. Eating right and getting rest is a must. Pushing herself in practice is a constant, and a plan comes with every race.

"Very few kids have a strategy for each race," Ulrich said, "but she develops one and we go over it a couple days before a race: 'This is how I'm going to run in the first quarter, this is how I'm going to run the 800, this is where I'm going to make my move.' She does that on her own and then runs it by me, and we either modify it or stay with it. Every race, I modify it less and less."

Said McCarter: "There's a quote somewhere I heard: 'Winning is the science of being totally prepared.' I think that's really true - you have to do the little things right, take care of yourself, come to practice every day and work hard. So much of it is mental, having confidence and the right mind-set."

Still, as a creative person who'd much rather stay longer in art class than go to math class, she wonders how she can be so into running around in circles.

"It's like a love-hate relationship," said McCarter, who carries a 3.7 grade point average and is a member of the National Honor Society. "Sometimes I'm like: 'Why can't I being doing something fun again like basketball or something like that?'

"But running has taught me a lot about myself. The great thing about it is if you work hard and put in the time, you'll see yourself getting better and it's right there. You'll see your times go down and that's really rewarding."


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