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Prep track: Capital’s Panger finds success with a new approach

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Capital runner Peyton Panger pushes past the pain with work ethic and talent few athletes possess, to reach success even fewer achieve.

Panger, a sophomore, ranks among the state's best Class AAA girls in each long-distance track event. Despite her youth, she represents one of the most talented and hardest working runners in the sport.

"She's just driven to win, basically," Cougars Coach Willie Ruffin said. "She has that drive. She only lost once and I think that kind of tore her up, made her a little mad, so it'll be hard for her to lose again."

That attitude certainly presented when Panger described her work regimen that consists of 400-meter repeats and running mile after mile with short recovery times, among other strenuous training.

"You get the feeling of 'I'm tired, but I have to keep going, and I have to keep hitting target times.' " Panger said. "If I do mile repeats that running a hard mile and then turning around and running another one. It's the feeling that 'Oh, I can't do this. Oh, I'm so tired,' but then you have to turn around and say 'Oh, yes you can. Get up and work at this.' "

Panger, a standout cross country runner as well, said she's applied a lot of work to her shorter distance training this spring in order to increase her speed.

"I think I'm a lot stronger in the mile this year than I've ever been," she said. "I think it's the speed that I've really unlocked and realized that 'Hey, I actually can put one foot in front of the other a little faster than I thought.' "

At the 2012 state track and field championship, Panger placed third in the 3,200-meter run (two-mile), fifth in the 1,600 (mile) and 13th in the 800. This year, Panger, one of the team's long-distance co-captains, ranks second in the mile and fifth in the two-mile for girls Class AAA, according to www.runwv.com

A different attitude and approach has been the key to this year's results, Ruffin said.

"She's come into this season more relaxed than she has in the past," he said. "She's been working with some of our sprinters. She has a lot more speed than she has had in the past."

That speed has allowed Panger the potential to reach even greater heights in track than she experienced in cross country.

"I think she's better in track than she is in cross country," Capital cross country Coach Jared Smith said. "She's continuing to work harder on getting faster, faster leg turnover. She's really trying to get faster turnover in her legs to correlate with her strength work. You put those two together, and she gets all that down, she's going to be a great distance runner in the future."

Panger poses a threat in each of her events, but Smith said he thinks Panger's most suited for the longest of them, the two-mile.

"I think, personally, watching her run, from my perspective, she's better at the two-mile," he said. "She's going to be a lot better in the two-mile in the future, because of how much strength she has, and when you put that speed in there too, being able to pick it up in races, a lot of people couldn't go with her, because you put those two together and it's a lot to handle."

Her focus this year, though, is on the mile event.

"I was just hoping to kind of get up and get my name out there and get in the mix," she said. "The mile time, for some of the girls that are really fast are already going under five (minutes). I'm just hoping to hit somewhere under 5:10 and be in the contention for the top six at the state meet."

Panger undoubtedly possesses the talent, attitude and desire to reach her goals, Smith said.

"Her will, she will never, ever give up in a race, no matter how sick she is, how bad she's hurting," he said. "She's a go-getter. I admire her attributes. She's just on top of her game, and I just think as a 10th-grader, she's only going to get better."

To reach success, Panger said it takes more than talent, and she's committed to work through the pain to list among the state's elite runners.

"I think there's a degree of natural, God-given talent that comes with it, but on top of that is a lot of hard work, a lot of miles, a lot of diet and workouts and getting stuff done ahead of time so I have extra time to run," she said. "It's a lifestyle."


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