This time, Lauren Paul is the veteran.
West Muskingum’s junior middle distance specialist will make her third appearance in as many years Saturday at the Division II state track meet.
But unlike her first two trips to Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, when she was simply trying to crack the top eight, she has reasons to aim high.
Paul had the fourth-best 1,600 time of the four regionals at 5:12.1, and the eighth-best 800 time at 2:18.4. She also enters state undefeated in the 1,600.
“I’m sure the winner will be in the five-minute area,” Paul said. “My (personal record) is 5:08, but the winner will probably be 5:00 or high 4s. I’m just trying to focus on the race and not let the lead pack get too far in front of me.”
Tornadoes coach Dave Boyer pointed out three areas where Paul has improved the most: confidence, foot speed and recovery.
“She knows what to expect and how to react before and after races,” he said. “She has prepared herself emotionally and mentally. I haven’t coached an athlete who fights through the threshold of pain like she does. She stands up straight, doesn’t show fatigue and battles on.”
Paul overcame the heat in 2012 to finish seventh in the 1,600 in 5:13.7 and was less than four seconds outside of the top five. Unfortunately she was unable to bounce back, finishing 16th in the 800.
She enters with that experience in mind. Paul has approximately 50 minutes to rest between races.
“The mile comes first, so you give it all you have and you just have to trust your training in the 800 and hope you’re prepared,” Paul said. “We discussed maybe just running one (race), but my coach said: ‘You made it here in both, so you might as well give it all you’ve got and see what happens.'”
Paul spent much of the week trying to stay fresh. She said the nervous energy already is surfacing.
“There’s always the pressure you put on yourself to perform well, and knowing all the girls up here are going to be very competitive, it’s a good type of nervous,” Paul said. “I think it normally translates into adrenaline and helps you during the race.”
Paul said discussions with Boyer have focused on this year’s meet and not the past.
She thanked Boyer for his support and encouragement and called him “inspiring.”
“He’s always telling me I can do it, no matter what,” Paul said. “Our entire team is blessed to have someone who comes every day to practice with a positive attitude.”
Boyer has seen few work like Paul. He knows her time is approaching.
“She has a tremendous work ethic. We have to chase her off the track because she never feels like she has trained enough,” Boyer said. “She’s already paid the price, now it’s time to reap the rewards.”