CUMBERLAND – “Great race,” said Nick Morris to Harlow Ladd. There wasn’t time to say more. Two hearts and two minds were still trying to come to grips with what had just happened.

After some three miles of running over slick grass and muck at Twin Brook Recreation Area, they arrived at the finish line virtually together. The photo finish gave Morris the Class A cross country championship for a second straight year. It gave Ladd heartbreak.

“I’ll think about this race for the rest of my life,” the pain in his voice and his eyes. Meaning he’ll retrace his steps and rethink his strategy again and again. “What happened today will make me a better runner.”

The clock said Morris beat Ladd by two-hundreths of a second. Or the time it took for Ladd to glance back to his right at the oncoming Morris, who used his sprinter’s kick to make up a gap of about 25 yards.

“I knew the spot where I wanted to start my kick,” said Morris, a Scarborough High senior. “I didn’t know I was running out of time.”

Spectators lining the very end of the course Saturday couldn’t pull their eyes off the two tall runners with powerful strides. They crossed the finish line and neither knew if the other had won. The outcome was in the hands of the finish line judges examining the photos.

Soft gasps were heard when the official finish was revealed at the awards ceremony. So many had thought Ladd, a senior at Messalonskee High in Oakland, held off Morris. Fans of the sport have become unaccustomed to finish-line duels. Dominant runners have reigned for a long time. This was a magnificent finish.

“I’m glad I was able to run with someone of his caliber,” said Ladd. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Nick but that’s what I’d tell him. That I’m honored to have run with him in that race.”

All the glory might have been Ladd’s but he’s bowing to Morris. Where does this grace come from? Actually, it’s always been part of this sport. We just don’t give cross country a fraction of the love we shower on football. We don’t pay attention.

“It’s a great sport,” said Lisbon Coach Hank Fuller. “The only thing you have to do to be good is turn the doorknob.”

Meaning there are no hockey skates to sharpen, no skies to wax, no baseball gloves to break in. No need to find an empty basketball court or an unused soccer field. Just open your door and run.

Saturday, it was eventually settling on Morris and Ladd that they will never run a race like this again, but together they carved a place in memories. In another seven months they’ll be out of high school.

That thought hit Abbey Leonardi, the phenomenal Kennebunk runner. Saturday’s championship was her fourth. “I remember being naive. I was a freshman when I won my first and I didn’t know what I know now.” Meaning, she makes running to the lead look so easy when she knows how difficult it is to take on the challenges of a champion race after race.

“I’ve been thinking that this is my last (high school cross country) race here. This is where it started. It’s bittersweet.”

Evan Kendall, a North Yarmouth Academy senior, felt the same but for different reasons. NYA won the Class C boys’ title but Cam Regan, always the leader, faded badly and was his team’s fifth runner.

Instead of rattling at the sight, Alex Coffin, Kendall, and the others did what their coach told them. If one falls, the others have to step up. “That’s what we did,” said Kendall standing near Regan while medical personnel worked to get him back on his feet.

Natalie Murphy is a freshman from Islesboro, half of a two-girl team from the tiny island school. Her family lived in Yarmouth until about six months ago. Running was her way of assimilating into a new community. She finished 14th but didn’t understand why I singled her out.

“I love running.” Saturday, they all did for better or worse.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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