BIG HORN — Hills can make or break a cross-country runner. If run properly, hills help an athlete surge past the competition. If not, they dole out punishment physically and mentally.
Runners had plenty of hills to contend with late Friday afternoon during the Powder Horn Invitational. The 10-team race pitted athletes from several classes against each other and served as a barometer of team progress about halfway through the season.
The 3.1-mile course began with a steady ascent, had several smaller hills in the middle and a downhill finish.
“It’s cool coming down (the hill), but it eats you up in the first mile right away,” Tongue River head coach Tim Maze said.
Maze said his team trains to run steadily uphill and then use momentum in their favor on the downhill portion.
“We like to charge down the hills,” Maze said. “Gravity is on your side, so if you spend a little energy, you’ll get double the return on a downhill. If you push, you’re flying and you can make up a lot of ground.”
Jason Barron finished strong in the final stretch, leading the Eagles and taking 10th overall with a time of 19 minutes, 24 seconds.
“I felt slow but at the end I found my kick,” Barron said. “The downhill was really what I was waiting for, to kind of speed up and get that extra edge that I wanted through the finish.”
Big Horn head coach Dan Biebel coaches his runners to attack inclines in a similar manner.
“You try to run those long hills with a little in reserve so you can carry over the top,” Biebel said. “That’s a good measure of toughness.”
Noah Harvey led the Rams with a fourth-place finish and time of 19:03, just ahead of teammate Nathaniel Lydic, who took fifth and ran 19:07.
Harvey, a junior, didn’t compete in cross-country his freshman year but took it up last season with encouragement from friends and coaches. Harvey said he went out too fast Friday but was pleased with his overall performance. He called it the toughest course of the year but said he enjoyed parts of it.
“At the beginning, it’s just dreadful,” Harvey said. “It’s a lot of fun after you get down the big hill.”
Maze said the TR runners wanted to better their performances from last week’s race in Sheridan, which they did Friday.
“Our older kids were a little disappointed last week, and so we had a focus on improving this week,” Maze said. “Hopefully we’ll keep building on that.”
Most of the runners said the toughest part was the last half-mile. Indeed, the course is set up so runners turn a corner and see the finish line tantalizingly close, but still have a few minutes left in the race.
“You’ve really gotta fight through that mental barrier,” Barron said.
Buffalo won both team races. The Lady Bison took first with 37 points, including the top three finishers, and the Bison tallied 42 points.
Several of the top runners from Sheridan High School didn’t compete, but the team still had many notable placers. Sarah Gonda paced the Lady Bronces with a seventh-place finish and time of 23:21. Jessie Fettig took eighth in 23:27 and Piper O’Dell placed 10th with a time of 23:37. On the boys side, Blaine Johnson finished eighth in 19:15.
For the Lady Eagles, Chloe Wilson led the way in 23rd place with a time of 25:36. Kalie Bocek took 35th in 27:01. Bocek said the course challenged her but called it one of her favorite courses. For the Big Horn girls team, Elizabeth Foley took 38th with a time of 27:20 and Mollie Watson finished 53rd in 33:34.
Big Horn and Tongue River compete next Friday at the Tongue River IXL Invitational, while Sheridan runs next Friday at the Casper Invitational.