Lawrence County High School cross country coach Stanley Johnson could tell by his runners’ practice times Thursday they were excited about the Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic Invitational.
“This is the largest high school race that any runner from Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will run this year,” he said. “I just tried to get them to buy into the hugeness of this race. It’s in their backyard, and I really want them to take ownership of it and really do well.”
More than 5,500 runners from across the Southeast will compete Saturday in 14 divisions beginning at 8:15 a.m. on the grounds of the Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center. Admission to the race is free, but organizers are accepting donations for parking.
One of Lawrence County High School’s top runners, senior Justus Montgomery, said his goal is a personal best.
“My goal right now is to get about a 16:25, maybe 30 seconds faster than I’ve had this year,” he said.
High school boys and girls races are 3.1 miles, while junior high runners will run a 2.1 mile course.
Montgomery said the Oakville trail is one of the fastest, but is also challenging. At a section of the varsity section of the trail known among runners as “the snake,” runners either “make it or break it,” Montgomery said. “It’s really hilly,” he said. “That will really test you. If you break down right there, then the better runners will have you.”
Top Lawrence County High girls runner Lexie Burfield said she hopes to break into the 18-minute range, though she’ll be running with a sciatic nerve injury. Burfield said she’s especially looking forward to the challenging sections of the trail.
“I love the part with the hills,” she said. “They’re pretty steep and really challenging.”
Hartselle High coach Kenneth Lopez said his team usually achieves personal bests in Oakville. He said eighth-grader Taylor Barnett is expected to lead the girls’ team. Her 3.1-mile race time is about 22:30.
“I would expect her to do well on Saturday,” Lopez said. “She really likes the course. I wouldn’t be surprised if she runs better than she has ever run.”
Lopez said other top girls runners from Hartselle are ninth-grader Reagan Bowling, junior Mallory Faulker, Abigail Davis, who is recovering from a hamstring injury and eighth-grader Brantley Owens.
Top Hartselle boys runners are juniors Aaron Davis and John Paulsen, sophomore Chase Barrett and seniors Alex Wilt and Chad Wallwork.
“I would expect the top ones to be in the low 18 (minute) range,” Lopez said. “Chase should be flirting with 18 and low 19s, and the same thing probably for Alex.”
Wallwork is running with an injury and trying to run faster than 20 minutes, Lopez said.
A significant factor in the race will be congestion before the one-mile mark, but runners should spread out later in the race, he said. “We train for this just like any other meet,” he said. “It is a big meet, and we want to do well in the meet, but this is another step towards our goals.”
Seniors Ian Yarbrough and Victoria Hardiman are Decatur High’s top runners, coach Rick Doke said.
“We’re just hoping to do well against teams we’ll be competing with for the region — Florence, Hazel Green, Bob Jones — we want to do well against them,” he said.
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