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Prep cross country: Strategy key for Buffalo's Harrison

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Buffalo cross country runner Hayden Harrison ranks among the state's best as week-in and week-out he paces the field, with an unusual strategy that allows him an edge on his competitors.

Harrison, a sophomore, lists sixth best in boys Class AA/A, according to, and he leads the Bison with a different approach as he admittedly struggles to keep a constant speed throughout a race.

"I'm not really good at keeping pace," Harrison said. "I just try to do it as fast as I can."

To combat the pacing problem, Harrison employs a running technique called "fartleks," Buffalo cross country Coach Patrick Hart said. The technique hinges on quick, intermittent bursts of sprinting in between a slower, more tempered speed.

"He might take 30 steps quick, really fast, then slow back down to race pace," Hart said. "That way you don't kill yourself the whole race."

Harrison said he's noticed the benefits of the technique, as well as how it affects his competition.

"It cuts seconds off, if you know how to do it," he said. "You kind of speed up in the middle of the race: slow down, speed up, slow down. It kind of confuses the runner on what you're doing."

As other runners work to maintain a constant pace, Hart said Harrison's bursts allow him to build a bigger lead.

"I think it gives him an advantage over the other runners, because I'm sure other runners know about it, but I'm not sure that many of them use it," Hart said. "If you're with someone, then sprinting 30 steps and get back to your pace, you're that much further ahead of them and they're not going to catch you if they're running the same pace as you were previously."

Beyond finding a running method that best suits him, Harrison's success can also be attributed to the hours and miles he puts into his craft.

"He comes to practice and does what he's supposed to do and then he does a little extra running on his own every day," Hart said. "He has a great work ethic."

Harrison looks to be the next in line of a recent trend in solid runners at Buffalo, with former Bison runner Dylan Rich now a freshman at the University of Kentucky and Dominic Rich, a sophomore at WVU Tech.

"I've had people talking about how Buffalo's been producing runners and it is pretty proud, because this is a small school and we don't get a lot of credit for anything," Hart said, "but to be out and about and people just know about it, that's pretty cool."

Last season, Harrison placed 23rd (17:28) as the top-finishing freshman at the AA/A state championship, with Dylan Rich fourth (16:12) overall, as Buffalo claimed fifth as a team.

Harrison said he learned a lot from practicing with Dylan Rich.

"He's the one who helped keep our paces up during runs and he's the one we always tried to stay with to get better," he said.

Now, Harrison said he's taking aim at Dylan Rich's mark set at last year's state meet, annually held at Cabell Midland.

"At states, at Cabell, I'm trying to beat Dylan Rich's time," Harrison said. "He ran a 16:12. I was trying to hit my goal of 15:53."

Harrison said his personal record is 16:36 for a 5-kilometer high school course.

With individual wins at AAA-hosted meets like Capital's Raising the Bar Invitational, the Ripley Covered Bridge Invitational and Hurricane Invitational, Harrison has the momentum to reach his goals this season and continue to improve.

"If he can build up and get a lead and hold on to it, that's the main thing he does," Hart said. "He knows he's good, but he hasn't hit his full potential yet."



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