ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Apparently the key winning the Early Bird Two Miler cross country meet at Fairland is to be a first-time runner.
Dragons' seventh-grader Brody Buchanan won the middle school boys division Tuesday in his first cross country race. Coal Grove eighth-grader Laura Hamm won the girls division. The first race she ever won was the 2018 Early Bird. Chillicothe's Laikin Tarlton won the Early Bird last year, her first time running it. Tuesday, she repeated as champion of the high school girls division.
"I was nervous," Buchanan said of how he felt at the starting line.
A basketball standout, Buchanan hadn't practiced cross country running until two weeks ago. His strategy was, well, just to run fast.
"I didn't know how fast anybody else was or anything," Buchanan said. "I went out with the leaders."
Buchanan didn't lead the whole way, but did for much of the race and always was within a few yards of the pacesetter. About the 1,200-meter mark, he took to the front. As he turned left and down the hill toward the Ohio River at Old Locks 27, Buchanan pulled away. He came up the hill alone and crossed the finish line in 12:55.
Buchanan said he was surprised to have won.
"I started training kind of late," he said. "Our team has trained all summer and they did great. I was surprised to be out there in the lead and I just kept telling myself I'm not going to let them catch me."
Hamm finished in just more than 14 minutes.
"I feel pretty good," Hamm said of her performance. "I didn't do as good as I did last year, but I've been doing better in practice."
The heat likely was a factor in Hamm not matching her blazing time of 13:25.1 from 2018. The temperature was 98 degrees at the start of the girls middle school race, the first of the day, and felt hotter.
"It was pretty hot," Hamm said. "The shade from the clouds helped, but it was still really hot."
Tarlton, a senior, finished in 12:20 to take the girls high school title. She said she likes running at Old Locks 27. Even though the competition is against smaller schools - Chillicothe is a Division I school, while most of the competition Tuesday was from Division II or Division III schools - Tarlton said she felt sufficiently challenged.
"The course is so pretty," Tarlton said, looking toward the sparkling Ohio River flowing by, surrounded by green trees on both sides. "It's almost distracting it's so pretty."
Team scores weren't available at press time.