Sailor Miles stands only 4 feet, 5 inches, but the St. James seventh-grader has found her place in cross country competing with girls older, taller, stronger and more experienced.
Miles qualified for the AHSAA state cross country meet in Oakville on Saturday after finishing sixth in the Class 4A, Section 2 meet on Nov. 1, where she divided the deep field of powerhouse UMS-Wright runners, which placed seven girls in the top 10.
“I thought that I wasn’t going to do so well because I know that UMS-Wright is really good,” Miles said, “and has some really fast people.”
Miles, who started running at age 4 and who competes nationally in triathlon competitions, is the second-ranked seventh-grader heading into the 4A state meet. She ran a season-best 21:32 in the 5K, according to Alabama Runners.
And she is one of several seventh-graders in the area who are going to Oakville.
“I know state will be tougher for me because I’m younger, and they have more experience,” she said. “When there are people in front of me, it makes me want to go catch them. It’s really fun when you win. And when you lose, it gets you pumped up to go and run more, and practice more, so you can win the next time.
Trinity seventh-graders Benjamin Collier Wilson and James Wells Rutland will compete in 3A.
“Our program is young,” said Trinity coach Axel Borrero. “It is young in that it has not been around for a very long time … six of our 10 runners at state will be in the range of seventh and eighth grade.
“My only expectation is that they run the best race possible. I want to liberate them from the element time and make it more of an experience of knowing the self. These meets make a runner somewhat of an empiricist. If they are able to read both body and mind, good times will follow. I am very proud of all our team. I am equally proud of those making it to state as much as those who have helped us all get there.”
Montgomery Academy coach Kevin Weatherill said it is more rare for a seventh-grade boy to be at a state meet than a girl.
“You’ll see quite a few younger girls running in the state meet than you will boys,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with development. Younger girls can perform at a higher level sometimes because their bodies haven’t fully developed yet. Where with boys, you presume that as they get older, the muscle development increases and the gap between younger boys and older boys gets bigger than the gap between the younger girls and older girls.”
Montgomery Academy is sending two seventh-graders to state in Class 1A-2A — twins Andrew and Kate Harris, who started running in 5Ks when they were 8 years old.
“It’s a good way to think about everything,” Andrew Harris said about running. “Running … is like a family, kind of. And it’s fun.”
Kate Harris likes the interaction with the older runners. Harris, the third-ranked seventh-grader heading into to state (and 14th in 1A-2A), doesn’t get nervous running with the high school girls.
“It’s just like any other race for me,” she said. “Probably what I’m looking forward to is being able (at state) to run against people that … that are more select, than just running in, say a regular race against varsity. This is the more select group of varsity runners and this will be more of a challenge.”
Cross country racing, Andrew Harris said, is challenging. The state meet will be only his second varsity race.
“I’m kind of sad the season is ending, but I’m hoping it will end well,” he said, adding if there was someone on the team he looked up to, it is junior Everett Fuller. “He’s a good runner. And, he is pretty religious, so I look up to him a lot. He encourages me. I talk to him sometimes about strategies … on courses that he’s run on before and I haven’t. He tells me the ways around the course.”
Catholic seventh-graders Sarah Littrell, Megan Revor, Katelyn Stark and Annabel Starrett will also compete.
This is the first time since 2009 that Catholic has sent a team. The 12- and 13-year-olds are nervous, citing the height and age of the competitors they will face. They enjoy the competition, though, and meeting new people.
“I want the girls team to be in the top five,” Stark said. “And … individually, I would like to get a lot faster.”
Miles knows state competition will be tough.
“I’m looking forward to all the excitement and the fun at the state championships,” she said. “And I want to get top 10. We’ll see how that goes. But I’m just going to push my hardest and do my best.”