Running uphill is not fun or easy. And if teams aren’t prepared for what the Havre High cross country course has to offer, they are going to have a very long, and grueling outing on Saturday at the Central A divisional meet.
The Blue Ponies haven’t hosted the divisional meet since 2007, but the course that wraps around parts of the Montana State University-Northern campus hasn’t gotten any easier. And hosting the Belgrade Panthers, Browning Indians, Lewistown Golden Eagles, and Livingston Rangers, the Ponies could very well take full advantage of the true meaning of home field advantage.
Havre High’s home course is one of the toughest in the state. It is packed with long uphill stretches, as well as plenty of downhill, but has almost no level portions in the challenging three mile loop.
“Anytime you know the course as well as we do,” Head coach Kyle Fisher said. “It is going to be an asset. Anywhere you run in Havre there are hills, whether it is a long run, or it is a hill day. We are definitely a hill running team and we work on hills a few times a week. You also work harder when running at home in front of your fan base.
“But it is one of the few courses that teams see that has a pretty steep grade of hills,” Fisher added. “As well as quite a few hills. Probably about 40 percent of the course is uphill and the other 40 percent is downhill, with another 20 percent flat. It is definitely one of the more grueling courses that we run on.”
And to make things even tougher, not only do the runners begin the race with a long climb, they also finish the race with an exhausting sprint up another hill.
The race begins in front of Cowan Hall, with runners running west through the courtyard towards the MSU-N practice football fields. They then loop around to run east, back through the courtyard, following 11th street down past Cowan Hall, and past the fountain to college hill (the sledding hill). Once down below the sledding hill, the runners make their way back west, running up hill alongside Cowan Dr., past Cowan Hall until they make their way south, looping around the Youth Build are, as well as the large field on the east side of the campus and the football practice field. Once around the football field, the harriers once again follow 11th street eastbound to loop around the fountain, the final step before repeating the entire course one last time.
“I really don’t think it is all that hard,” senior Trisha Kinsella said. “But (for teams coming in), it is definitely the incline at the start that hurts them. We just push ourselves, and coach Fisher pushes us to get up the hill, so that is a strength for us. The finish is tough too, but because we practice on it, we know when to push and kick it in.”
But the girls team has excelled all year, especially at home, but for newcomer Elijah David, the course has its tough parts, but is the loop that gets to him. Most courses the Ponies see is one three mile stretch, instead of smaller course repeated.
“The loops are challenging,” David said. “It is hard to run the same course over, and over. They are a bugger, because you know in your head you have to run one or two more loops, and you know you have to run past a point one more time, and that is always a downer.”
The course the Ponies will run on in Helena at the state race is also a loop, so that could prove to be in Havre’s favor if they excel at home once again.
Senior Marc Klimas has led the boys team all year long, and knows exactly what to do run well at home, one last time. The Ponies prepare a lot by running hills throughout the season and off-season, and spend plenty of time running the MSU-N course. And if Klimas could help out his team with a little advice, it would be to get off to a good start.
“We practice there a lot,” Klimas said. “And during off-season training we are there running the course as well. We are doing tempos on the course, and other things of the sort. We just know the course very well, and we understand where to pick up the pace and where not to. We know the strategy to running this home course and that is a benefit.
“I think that a lot of teams go out way too fast,” he added. “And when the hills come, that is when we are going to be able to pick it up. And when teams loop back around that is going to kill them.”
If it isn’t tough enough to run uphill for nearly half of the three miles, the home stretch is daunting to the competitors. The final sprint to the finish, once the runner loop around the fountain for the last time, is a decent grade of hill, and after a long race, it takes everything out of the athletes to finish strong and fast.
“That makes it challenging,” Fisher said. “When you are trying to run a race and you start off uphill, obviously it will slow your time down. Then, when you are finishing on a hill, and the grade of the hill you are running up is tough, then it definitely cuts into where you time is going to be. When you finish races uphill you are exhausted.”
Saturday at the Class A divisional race in Havre, the Blue Ponies, as well as the rest of the field will find out just how tough the Havre course is. Saturday's races begin at 10 a.m.