ST. Albans/Manchester, Conn. — Riley Maher, a senior at BFA St. Albans, qualified for the Interscholastic XC New England Championships on November 9th, in Manchester, CT, at Wickham Park.
“The race was bittersweet because it was my last one,” said Maher. “Coach Mashtare really prepared me well with awesome workouts and good strengthening exercises.”
Maher finished the 5,000-meter race with a time of 17:16, placing 120th out of 260 runners. He placed in the top ten for Vermont runners.
“I was hoping for a better time, but I was pleased with my placement with the other Vermont runners,” said Maher.
Maher, the only racer from BFA St. Albans to qualify for New Englands this season, started the race in a ‘box’ composed of independent runners from Vermont.
“There were four people in the box--three on the starting line. I made my way to the front,” explained Maher. “I think it was one of the best for placements for a starting position.”
Maher noted that the start of the race was more difficult than the events he attended in Vermont during the regular season.
“Unless you wanted to be at the back of the race, you had to start quickly,” said Maher. “It was very cluttered the first mile because everyone was boxed in.”
The quick start, Maher noted, isn’t always a bad thing.
“It’s good sometimes to start out faster than you think you are able to run,” said Maher. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and when that happens, it can be one of the worst races of the season.
“When you succeed where you didn’t think you could and you break through a barrier and move on to the next level of competition, it’s very rewarding.”
To ensure he’d be familiar with the course, Maher arrived a day early and took a jog around the course; he’d also read about it online earlier in the week.
“I knew it was going to be challenging. I suspected it would be fast, and the jog confirmed that,” said Maher. “I didn’t care about placement as much as my time. I didn’t want my last high school race time to be slow.”
Maher, who battled pneumonia through the middle of the regular season, took fifth in the state championships in Thetford and ended his high school career in Connecticut.
“It took mental toughness to complete this race,” said Maher. “Midway through the race was really challenging. It’s late in the season, and we’ve raced a lot. It’s hard to maintain focus every weekend.”
The fast pace and the crowd of mainly unfamiliar racers might have been a challenge, but there wasn’t much time to think those factors over.
“The last mile went by very quickly, I remember taking the trail back to the finish shoot and it went fast,” said Maher.
“When you know the field and you see who’s close to you it helps motivate you,” said Maher. “In a large crowd of unknown runners, you don’t have that same assurance. You don’t know where you are in the pack.”
Racing at New Englands gives small-town Vermont athletes a glimpse of the field outside of the state.
“There were some very talented people there,” said Maher. “Big meets are really useful for staying tough in your race.”
While some independent runners take to the course alone, Maher had one of his coaches with him: his mom, Lisa.
“My mom gets really excited for my meets,” said Maher, “and she said it was emotional for her since it was my last high school meet. She and my grandmother were both excited to be there.”
“It’s been a great experience to have my mom coach me the last two years of high school,” said Maher. “It always helps to have a support system. My mom gave me help with strategic tips and planning the race.”
Maher would encourage other runners to work toward a trip to New Englands.
“It’s worth the effort, and the race itself is really cool,” said Maher, “but it’s more about the accomplishment of qualifying that people and teams should try for.”
“I was proud to represent my school at New Englands, but I do wish my team had gone as well. They worked so hard and had so much talent,” said Maher. “I have confidence they will make it in the future. Maybe next year I will watch them! It’s an experience I’d like them to have.”