GALION — They shouldn’t be friends.
They compete at rival schools separated by roughly 6 miles of asphalt through the heart of Morrow County.
They are the top distance runners at those schools.
They go head-to-head almost weekly from midseason on.
They challenge each other step-for-step for 5 kilometers over all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of elements.
Yet Cardington’s Jacob Long and Mount Gilead’s Austin Hallabrin are anything but enemies. They are very much friends.
“It’s not really a rivalry,” Long said, a senior All-Ohioan for the Pirates. “We’re friends.”
Hallabrin, a junior All-Ohioan with the Indians, agreed.
“We have a friendship,” he said.
How friendly is it? Long invited Hallabrin to a preseason Cardington cross country team get-together.
“It’s a close friendship,” Hallabrin said. “It’s great running with him, and I definitely need someone to push me.”
Long played it down, saying they sometimes get together for fun runs.
“When we’re not in school, we’re getting together. We talk about other guys and talk about each other, trying to figure each other out and play some mind games,” Long said. “But we’re definitely friends and push each other whenever we can.”
The two know they need each other. Long motivates Hallabrin, and Hallabrin motivates Long. If one has an off day, the other is going to make him look silly, and friendship or not, no one wants to be beaten badly.
“When we get to the bigger races, we’re pushing each other and helping each other get through it so we can do better later on,” Long said. “The only time we’re really rivals is at state, and that’s when we’re head to head.”
A year ago, Long got the better of Hallabrin at the Galion Cross Country Festival at Amanns Reservoir Park, finishing second in 16:16, while Hallabrin was third in 16:21. However, the rest of last season, Hallabrin proved to be a step or two quicker, finishing in front of his friend in six races, but by fewer than 10 seconds in three of those.
A couple weeks ago back at Galion, Long cracked 16 minutes to finish as runner-up in 15:56, while Hallabrin was third in 16 minutes flat.
“I was thinking he was going along with his strategy, pulling away from everyone,” Hallabrin said. “At that point in the race, not much was going on in my head. I got consumed and overwhelmed with pain and I didn’t necessarily want to go with him. I just wanted to run my own race.”
Long was held out of last week’s Bob Reall Invitational in Lancaster to heal up some nagging injuries so he can be fresh for the big meets looming in October and November. Hallabrin won the Lancaster race in 16:42.
But more friendly showdowns are looming, starting with next weekend’s Ron Thill Invitational at Mount Gilead and continuing until the state meet at National Trail Raceway in early November.
Hallabrin vs. Long
3. 16:21 Galion 2. 16:16
1. 16:42 Lancaster 3. 16:57
2. 16:28 Mount Gilead 4. 16:50
1. 15:52 MOAC 2. 15:55
1. 16:04 District 2. 16:11
1. 16:22 Regional 4. 16:37
10. 16:23 State 18. 16:29
3. 16:00 Galion 2. 15:56