Sometimes, when a cross country runner is amidst a chase pack with 800 meters left in a 5-kilometer race, it can be a challenging obstacle to overcome.
But when Mount Desert Island senior Tia Tardy was a handful of strides behind the leaders with a half-mile to go in Saturday’s Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions, it spelled trouble for her competition.
On the track, the 800 is Tardy’s specialty, and she used her prowess in that distance to power past a handful runners and break the tape in 18 minutes, 33 seconds, on a cloudy, cool afternoon at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.
Tardy heard a spectator mention that the race had a half-mile left, and a light bulb immediately went on in her head.
“I just thought about running an 800 and tried to pick it up from there,” Tardy said. “That definitely helped.”
The midseason invitational, which was celebrating its 15th running, also saw Yarmouth junior Luke Laverdiere run to victory in the boys race.
“I think I’m in excellent shape,” said Laverdiere, who clocked in at 15:33. “It’s halfway through the season, and I think it’s definitely a good gauge for what I wanted to do this year.”
In addition to the outstanding individual runs exhibited by Tardy and Laverdiere, the Falmouth boys and Cumberland, Rhode Island, girls walked away from Belfast with team titles.
The Clippers, the only out-of-state school to attend all 15 Festival of Champions races, and the Yachtsmen beat out a field of six other out-of-state schools and 64 other Maine schools.
Cumberland tallied 131 points while Greely of Cumberland Center was second with 161. Rounding out the top five were Yarmouth (208), York (210) and Harwood Union, Vermont (265). George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill was the top Class C team in sixth place.
The Falmouth boys accumulated 127 points while Scarborough, the defending meet champion, took second with 177. Deering of Portland was third (203), Greely fourth (228) and Lincoln Academy of Newcastle fifth (243).
Maine runners also got a sneak preview of this fall’s state championship course.
“That’s why we came this year,” said Laverdiere, noting that his Clippers opted for the Manchester (N.H.) Invitational last fall. “Exact same course a month later so I’m really excited.”
Tardy also had plenty of reason to be pleased, in particular after a testy Saturday that started with her taking her SATs.
“It wasn’t the ideal situation,” she admitted. “I would’ve liked to have more time to warm up and stuff, but it was still a good run.”
It also marked the first time all season that Tardy has had a large pack of runners to deal with, and she was able to remain patient until the late portion of the race when she outkicked a group that included Malaika Pasch of Falmouth (2nd), Anneka Murrin of Yarmouth (3rd), Katherine Leggat-Barr of Greely (4th) and Carolyn Todd of Greely (5th).
“It was definitely eye-opening today, having a group of people there all running the same [pace] and pushing each other,” she said. “I definitely felt it more, but it’s good to have more people around you and pushing you.”
Tardy feels she could be running faster on the same course late this month.
“I’d still like to run a little faster but we’ve still got tons of meets to do that,” she said. “It’s good to see where I’m at right now.”
Laverdiere agreed, noting that he made his move earlier in the race.
“I pushed on that super-highway which is right after the mile,” he said, referring to a section of the course that heads into the woods during the second mile. “Really hammering the second mile was my goal.”
Wyatt Lord of Hampden Academy finished a strong second in the boys’ race, while rounding out the top five were Falmouth’s Jeremiah Sands, who paced the Yachtsmen’s team win, Noah Eckstein of Harwood Union and Josh Lombardo of Westbrook.
Follow Ryan McLaughlin on Twitter at rmclaughlin23