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Long and short of it

Jackson-Milton duo helping drive each other in distance

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jackson-Milton junior Cole Graham competes during the 4x800 relay at home against Springfield, Liberty and Mineral Ridge. Graham posted team-best times for the Blue Jays in distance events.

NORTH JACKSON — Distance events, along with cross country, is one of the most isolated competitions in high school sports.

Sure, in cross country, there are massive groups of runners, and during the spring, track runners also face-off in sizable numbers.

But at the end of the day, it’s just the runner and the clock — nothing else.

Jackson-Milton doesn’t have the biggest group of distance athletes, but runners such as junior Cole Graham and sophomore Katie Campbell represent the Blue Jays with flying colors.

Tuesday afternoon, Graham and Campbell defended their home turf against other schools such as Liberty, Mineral Ridge and Springfield, both posting wins in distance events.

For most runners, it’s about digging down and finishing strong. That was the case for Campbell, who won the 1600-meter run with a time of 5:58:40.

“The key to being good in the mile is that you got to have some kind of distance background,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I play soccer, I play football, I’m just going to run the mile.’ You’ll just be out of shape. I feel like if you want to be really good at the mile, then you got to do distance training.

“If you don’t have the distance, you don’t have what it takes to do as well in the mile. It’s a fun race, but it’s also really tiring at the same time.”

With only a total of five girls running track for Jackson-Milton, both the boys and the girls team have to work together for success during the spring.

Campbell spends a lot of time working with Graham, who placed first in the 3200 with a mark of 11:06:16, roughly 20 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.

“I just run down the streets around my house and the track,” Graham said. “(Training with Campbell) helps competition wise, having somebody to push each other works better than just trying to run by yourself.

“The competition helps a lot. You always have someone pushing you, especially with the mindset.”

Any distance runner logs a sizable amount of miles on their feet, with Campbell being no exception. Her training regiment involves up to 15 miles to begin her week. Sometimes more.

“Saturdays I’m usually off unless there’s an invitational. Sundays I usually run about 8 to 9 miles really slow — not fast at all,” Campbell said. “Mondays are a good, easy 4 to 5 miles, sometimes 6.

“If we don’t have a meet on Tuesday, it’s speed to go at race pace, or quicker because that’s how you’re going to get better at the mile. Like, (Monday) I was with (Graham), and he does somewhat like tempo speed on the track, and he was running 800s, which is two laps, and I was just trying to stay with him.”

Graham also competed in the 4×800 relay and placed second in the mile at 4:59:44. He’s also a member of Jackson-Milton’s cross country program.

Running multiple distance events isn’t an easy task, but Graham tries to just stay focused on his race and enjoys the thrill of running.

“Because I can’t catch a ball, all I can do is run,” said Graham with a hearty laugh about choosing track and field. “Cross country and track goes in both hands and builds off each other. I train the same way pretty much.

“I want to make the state and regionals and keep beating my times. My personal-best in my mile is a 4:57. I’d like to bring it down to like a 4:30:00, 4:21:00, just keep pushing, keep training hard, longer runs.”

Despite being so individualized, it’s camaraderie that keeps a small group of distance runners together as a family.

“I feel like, especially at this school, there’s just very few distance runners, especially in track in general,” Campbell said. “I feel like just having the guys with you because guys are obviously naturally faster than girls, just having them to go on easy runs with them in the trails behind the school. (I) just try to stay with them, push that last mile, really dig deep because I feel like they’re might be downfalls to not having girls on your team, but there’s also some really positive things about having a good group of guys to run with. I feel like that’s what we have positive going on at Jackson.”

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