MT. ARARAT’S Katherine Leckbee hopes to make it a three-peat on Saturday in the State Class A Cross Country Championship at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. Leckbee, a junior, won the KVAC title three weeks ago and captured the Class A North Regional title last week.

MT. ARARAT’S Katherine Leckbee hopes to make it a three-peat on Saturday in the State Class A Cross Country Championship at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. Leckbee, a junior, won the KVAC title three weeks ago and captured the Class A North Regional title last week.

TOPSHAM

When Katherine Leckbee was a fifth-grader, her class started the day by heading outside and running.

 

 

Who knew that six years later, that morning jog might turn into something more for the now junior at Mt. Ararat High School?

“I had no idea that I would like running. I tried it in middle school and discovered that I was pretty good at it. I have kept with it since.”

The daughter of Michael and Joanne, and twin sister to Madison, Katherine has used her experience over the past three years of running cross country races to her advantage.

This year, Katherine has found another gear. On Oct. 21, she won the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship, then this past Saturday, captured the Class A North regional crown, completing the Troy Howard Middle School course in Belfast in a blistering 18:47.77, a full minute ahead of rival Anne Guadalupi of Cony, who finished second ahead of Brunswick’s Micaela Ashby and Isabella Pols.

“I was excited to win KVAC. I thought that I could, and to reach that, it blew my mind. I didn’t know if I had that in me. Plus, racing Anne is always tough. She is so fast. I was happy with that race.

“Then regionals, I was expecting 19-minutes, but I ran in the 18s and had a big lead. It was exciting. The course wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. There were some spots that were muddy, but it didn’t suck your feet down. The week before I’m sure the course was worse.

“I know the course. I have practiced it and I know that it is a fast course. Hopefully I will be up there again, with the same speed. I have a lot of confidence in running that course.”

Throughout her high school running career, Katherine has faced stiff competition. If it wasn’t Guadalupi, it was Brunswick’s Tessa Cassidy. For instance, in last year’s regular season, conference, regional and state competitions, the trio took turns taking the lead from each other, with all three standing atop podiums throughout the year. Katherine finished second in both the KVAC and State Class A championships, and was third in regionals.

“I was always just trying to keep up with them, and it was never a certain thing about who might come out on top between us three. It was always a friendly competition.”

Longtime Mt. Ararat High School cross country coach Diane Fournier feels Katherine reminds her of a standout Mt. Ararat duo — gifted runners Beth and Jessie Wilcox.

“Katherine is a solid runner because of her work ethic. She reminds me of the Wilcox twins in that respect,” said Fournier. “She always does what is asked of her, gives 100 percent when needed and is simply very mentally tough. On Saturday, she decided to go it ‘alone,’ did not hang around for some of the other top runners to run with her. She took off and if they wanted to keep up they had to keep the pace she set. No one did.”

Early days

Throughout elementary school, Katherine wasn’t into sports. She gave basketball a whirl, but it didn’t take.

“I didn’t play other sports, just activities. I was pretty good at running in fifth grade when we would run in the morning. It kept us from bouncing around the room all day. I tried basketball, but it wasn’t my thing. I like to get out there and run.”

Soon, Katherine was run- ning in middle school, and finding herself ahead of the pack.

Middle schoolers run on courses that measure between 1.7- and 2.3-miles throughout an Andy Valley League season, and Katherine’s quick starts and long strides served her well.

Then came high school, where young runners often find it difficult to adjust as the distance changes to a 5K, or 3.1 miles.

“You had to learn to endure it for longer. You would go out two miles and think it is over soon. But in high school, you get to the two or even three-mile mark and realize you still had more to do. I had to train my brain to that. I used to go out really fast and I would realize that I had a lot more to go and had used up my energy. Now, I am used to it and races seem to go quickly.

“When I was a freshman, I was trying to find out where I fit in. I bounced around a lot, but now I have found my stride. I have a set course now. I can figure out what I want to do.”

And Katherine has grown, standing in her words 5-foot, 8-inches tall, though she seems a bit taller, with her long legs giving her an advantage.

“Two years ago, I saw that mental toughness in her,” said Fournier, who remembered the skinny young lady that Katherine was, and still is. “With her build, I didn’t know how strong she was physically. I believe weight lifting has helped her get stronger, but she is so strong mentally and continues to get more so each season. We have a saying that the mind gives in before the body is ready to and she keeps pushing her mind to let her body do more.”

“I have gained more confidence over these past three years. My freshman year was about adjusting and learning everything. Cross country last year was a lot easier and I could push myself further and harder. This year, I have been able to compete confidently. I have had a couple races where I didn’t have much of a lead, but I was able to keep my stride and my form.”

Coming into her junior year, Katherine’s goal was to head quicker, make her competition run her race. That strategy has paid off.

“Somehow I just started to go out more open and leading on my own rather than tagging along. It is a new strategy that I am trying out and it has worked.”

“I think this year she is finding she is ready to go out on her own and see what she can do. Despite who she is running against, they will be chasing her, which presents a different mind-set, instead of the ‘chaser’ you become the one chased,” said Fournier.

Despite the constant training that Katherine does throughout the year, she says cross country races still tire her out.

“I feel whooped. I usually can’t feel my legs. At the beginning it hurts because of the shock from not moving to moving. But, the start doesn’t bother me like the end does. I try to work on lengthening my stride because the less steps I have to take the better. I find that I have found that perfect medium.”

On Saturday, Katherine and her Eagle teammates return to Belfast’s Troy Howard Middle School for the State Class A Championships, with the girls scheduled to run at 3:55 p.m. The course might be a bit choppy after five other races are contested on state championship Saturday. The easy take is to say Katherine’s goal is to win. But, that isn’t the only answer she gives.

“Winning states is one of my goals, but my ultimate goal is to do my best and run the race that I want to run. I would love to win.”

As a leader, Katherine has stepped into her own. She routinely helps her Eagle teammates, hoping to see personal-bests. After the regional race during a cooldown run, Katherine was excited to hear how her teammates finished.

“I asked everybody if they had gotten PRs. They all raised their hands. I love it when everyone does their best. That is always a goal, for us all to do well and improve.”

“She is a great teammate,” added Fournier. “She will run with everyone on the team on the days that allows that sort of running. Her teammates are so supportive of her because she is so down to earth and cares about her teammates and how they do.

“She has been a leader by example, even last year as a sophomore. She is there when opponents finish, and of course when teammates finish. You would never know she is the caliber of runner she is with regard to how she mingles with the rest of the team.”

As for Saturday, Fournier feels Katherine will compete with Falmouth’s Malaika Pasch and Kennebunk’s Louise Holway for the individual title, along with the ever present Guadalupi.

“She will have to be ready to run a smart race at the start, strong in the middle mile and be willing to run through that brick wall the last 800 to the finish,” said Fournier. “It will be a tough race if you look at the times. At the Festival of Champions (Oct. 1), Pasch ran an 18:36 and she had people to run with. Katherine ran 10 seconds slower, having run about two-and-a-half miles all by herself. Katherine will have to run a great race, which she is very able to do.”

With another year of high school cross country in Katherine’s future, she hasn’t made a decision about college as of yet. Though, a likely scenario will see her running.

“I want to run in college, but I have no idea what I want to do. I think about it a lot, and I think I will figure it out when the time comes.”

State meets

The competition at Belfast begins on Saturday with Class B boys at 1 p.m.

Class B girls are on the course at 1:35 p.m., with Class C boys and girls at 2:10 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively.

Class A boys are slated to begin at 3:20 p.m.


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