BELFAST- Her good demon perched on one shoulder, urging Emily Durgin to keep running, to ignore the pain and her exhaustion. Her bad demon whispered different words.

Slow down. Give in. Stop the hurt.

“I try to keep the good and bad demons in balance,” said Durgin, who never does give in. She had just followed Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk across the finish line Saturday in the state boys’ and girls’ cross country championships. She and Leonardi have been the great adversaries of schoolgirl running over the past several seasons.

This time, like other times, Durgin couldn’t catch Leonardi. Not that she didn’t try. Durgin pushed her body and then pushed harder.

“You have to be so mentally prepared in running,” said Durgin, who led the Cheverus girls to the Class A title. “Physically, so many are the same.”

I have seen high school athletes give in on football fields and hockey ice and other places. In cross country, the concession usually happens after the finish line is crossed no matter if you’re second or 32nd. To the pedestrians among us, it is a constant fascination.

High school runners have 16, 17, 18 minutes to think. They’re not wrestlers or basketball players or downhill skiers who simply can’t check out and dream.

Abby Mace wore a bear claw in face paint on one cheek, the letters MCS for Maranacook Community School on her forehead and the look of dulled pain. She missed nearly three weeks with a strained IT band (the muscle on the outer thigh). She was also the two-time Class B champion.

Her leg started hurting about a mile into the race. She felt sick. She continued to run. Dacie Manion of Old Town had the lead. Mace finished second, more than 30 seconds behind.

“Abby Mace is a courageous runner,” said Danny Paul, who coaches Falmouth with Jorma Kurry. “She ran on memory.”

Nick Morris of Scarborough was tired after the first of the 3.1 miles of his race. No, he said, he didn’t try to deny the feeling. Wasted effort. Run with it.

“I felt guilty about how tired I was. I had to trust my training. I worked all season for this. I had a strategy,” said Morris.

He had to capture the lead later in the race. His coaches gave him a plan, instructing Morris where he had to be in relation to the other contenders and at what point on the course. To their delight, he didn’t stray.

So little to do, physically. One foot in front of the other, again and again and again. Your mind has time to roam.

“I dealt with my demons and doubts,” said Matt Lane, the former Yarmouth High and William & Mary star. Did he start too fast or too slow? If his rival didn’t eat him up would the course consume him in the end?

“Football players get to reset,” said Lane. Focus on 30 seconds of intense action, return to the huddle, prepare for the next physical confrontation. Distance runners can over-think.

Silas Eastman of Fryeburg, a precocious sophomore and the Class B champion, admitted that his mind “wanders a little” on the trail. He didn’t say where.

Matt McClintock of Madison, the Class C champ, says he “zoned out” during the Festival of Champions earlier in the fall on this same course. “I don’t remember much. I didn’t even hear my coach.”

Saturday, he felt his stomach cramp in the woods later in the race. “I was asking myself if I went out too hard.” And maybe not knowing what might happen if the answer was yes.

“You’re always fighting that urge to back up,” said Kurry, the Falmouth coach. “And knowing if you do, it could open the door to the runner behind you.

“I always hear footsteps,” said McClintock. “Whether there’s someone behind me or not.”


Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]