Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said that no male had broken 16 minutes on the Hereford course. Three boys have cracked the mark since 2008, including Sherwood’s Solomon Haile (15:43), who set the course record at the 2008 state meet. This version has been corrected.
For 10 days following her second consecutive victory in the Maryland 3A girls’ individual cross-country championship last November, Emily Mulhern endured the achy aftermath of running the Hereford High course. Tucked in the woods of rural Baltimore County, the treacherous, three-mile trek is known for its steep inclines and hilly paths. The course piles extra seconds onto the times of its competitors and pain onto their churning legs.
That’s why, despite Mulhern’s success, the Urbana rising junior said she wasn’t exactly heartbroken when she caught word earlier this month that Hereford will not host this fall’s meet due to construction at the school.
While the annual Bull Run Invitational will not be held as a result, a new site for the Nov. 9 state championships has yet to be named.
“I had mixed emotions because on one hand, it’s such a great accomplishment to run the course,” said Mulhern, who repeated as champion with a time of 19 minutes 20.1 seconds. “But the course adds extra pressure because of all its hills in a race where you’re already nervous because it’s state. It’ll be nice to be able to compete against just the runners and not the course, too.”
Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said last week that his team is in the process of gathering information on parking, facilities and other needs for the meet before looking into potential replacement venues.
Since 1980, Hereford High has hosted all but two state meets.
Sparks said the meet could return to Hereford in 2014. But for as familiar as the course has become, few claim to be accustomed to its many obstacles, the most notable of which is known as “The Dip,” a steep ravine that must be travailed twice during the final mile.
“If you started to go south at Hereford, it could ruin your day in a hurry,” said Severna Park Coach Josh Alcombright, whose team won the 4A boys’ crown last year. “You have to run a strategic, smart race.”
At Hereford, only three boys have run faster than 16 minutes and only three girls have broken the 19-minute barrier. Sherwood’s Solomon Haile set the course record in 15:43 at the 2008 state meet. No other boy has cracked 16 minutes in a state meet at Hereford.
Last year, Clarksburg senior Will Bertrand’s first-place time of 16:02.7 was the fourth-fastest in course history. At the Virginia AAA state meet at Great Meadow, Chantilly’s Sean McGorty won the 3.1-mile race in 14:47 while Lake Braddock’s Sophie Chase took the girls’ title in 17:24.
Just behind Bertrand was Severna Park’s Ryan Forsyth, a rising senior who ran most of last year’s race with one bare foot after losing his shoe in the opening 100 meters.
“I like the challenge, but I also like that it’s a known quantity,” Forsyth said. “I know the times aren’t the best there but at the state meet, I’m not worried about times; my focus is to do what it takes to help my team win the state championship.”
Along with winning a title, some runners hold hopes of using the state meet to draw the eyes of colleges and open opportunities for postseason events on the national stage. Maryland cross-country Coach Andrew Valmonbelieves Hereford provides a gauge for an athlete’s grit.
“We realize it’s a tough course and that’s an advantage in knowing the athlete has been tested,” Valmon said. “When they go out to college courses, they are more prepared.”
Towson Coach Roger Erricker, entering his 29th year, agrees, but said having a less grueling course could give some local recruits a boost.
“I’ve never been crazy about the Hereford course and thought it was unfair to some kids, especially the ones on the Eastern Shore that don’t have a chance to run hilly courses during the season,” he said.
Erricker cited rising Towson junior Ashley Simmons. She ran an unspectacular 21:45 at Hereford as a senior at Cambridge-South Dorchester (Md.) High before becoming one of Towson’s top runners.
One attraction of the Hereford site was that it also hosted the Bull Run Invitational, allowing the local teams within the field of 100-plus schools to get an early feel for the course.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coach Chad Young said having such a primer was helpful in his team capturing the 4A girls’ title last fall.
“Wherever they decide to hold the race, you’ll probably see teams check out the course beforehand and if there’s an invitational earlier in the season at the same site, you’ll probably see a lot of teams try to compete there,” Young said.
Ultimately, with a more time-friendly course likely to serve as the new site, the race to gain a competitive edge could become just as important as the state meet itself.
“I wouldn’t say it’s great and I wouldn’t say it’s horrible; it’s just going to be different,” Alcombright said. “But for me and the kids, it could be in a parking lot for all we care. Once you get to the state meet, it’s all about competition.”