What did Bill King and Emma Larkin do on their summer vacation?
They kept busy and did a lot of running around.
The Dulaney cross country performers ran nearly every day from the end of school in June to the start of practice earlier this month, logging about 300 miles apiece.
King and Larkin are part of a trend that has become the norm, especially among the area's top performers. Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules don't allow teams to have official summer workouts, so the runners must be motivated to do it on their own.
"The top runners, or anyone who wants to have a better chance at a successful season, has to put in the summer miles," C. Milton Wright coach Donnie Mickey said. "The amount they run is really up to what they may think is appropriate for them. Distance running is really a year-round activity, and if you look at almost all of your top runners, that is how they treat it."
King, who was one of the area's top junior varsity runners last year, wanted to make a big splash at the varsity level this season. That's why the junior would run 13 miles on a summer's day, sometimes seven days a week.
"This was huge for me," King said. "I just put in a lot more effort. This is going to be a big season for me, hopefully. I knew I had to really give it something special."
Larkin was one of the state's top runners as a sophomore in 2005, finishing seventh in the state title race. But shin splints and a subsequent foot infection sidelined her for almost all of last fall, and the senior wants to return to her previous form.
"My competitors are pushing it higher, so I've got to adjust to what everyone is doing," Larkin said. "It's gotten a lot more competitive now."
Senior Mason Campbell of Towson is determined to build on his surprising success last season, when he finished third in Baltimore County and won the regional during his first season of cross country.
Towson co-coach Ed Faya said Campbell put in a strenuous summer of work and was in great shape when the Generals started practice. "He's a monster right now," Faya said.
Said Pikesville co-coach Gerard Filosa: "The kids realize that the level of competition is getting greater, and for them to be competitive, they've got to come in and be ready to run and almost be in midseason form to compete with the upper kids."
Brad Jaeger, a former high school coach and the owner of runningmaryland.com, said that the recent success of former high school stars Matt Centrowitz (Broadneck) and Alison Smith (Atholton) caught the attention of many.
Both runners, who graduated in June, were known for putting in numerous miles on their own to prepare for the seasons.
"All of the coaches that work with these athletes during the summer stress high mileage during the summer season," Jaeger said.
Jaeger, Filosa and others say that the heightened awareness of cross country and track also has inspired runners in recent years. There also are more scholarships available for runners than in years past.
"Any runner, pretty much anywhere, understands from go that higher mileage is required to move up to an elite level," Loyola coach Jose Albornoz. said. "I tell my team that they pretty much have to 'swallow the pill' that lets their minds accept that running cross country and being a runner are two different things."
King and Larkin seem to understand that success in the postseason meets in November starts with hard work in the summer.
"It's as if really the season never ended, and I kept improving over the summer," King said. "Almost everyone trains during the school year, but it's money in the bank during the summer."