Even runners as dedicated to the sport of cross-country as Steve Maine don’t always want to spend their time running—let alone doing it more than an hour away from home on hot summer mornings.
But after a little coaxing from his coach, that’s exactly what Maine did. The Highland Regional High School senior traveled all the way to Holmdel once a week for six weeks to work on one of the most demanding courses in the state.
And while he dreaded it initially, Maine knows it’s about to pay off.
“I didn’t want to go at first, because it was mornings in the summer, but I realized it could help me,” said Maine, who placed second at the Camden County Championships last week. “Then I realized if I’m going to be any good and accomplish the goals I want to, I needed to make those trips.”
Holmdel is the site of New Jersey's group level state championships and Meet of Champions, so the decision was a strategic one. Not only would Maine get the physical benefits from training at one of the more grueling courses around, but he would also become comfortable there before the postseason events rolled around.
“That experience is going to help a lot,” said Maine, who also attended a cross-country camp in Maryland with his teammates August 19-24. “My legs will be strong. I will be able to run the hills better and will be mentally tougher.”
All of the offseason conditioning had Maine running the fastest times of his career in the early part of the season. However, he suffered a foot injury in Jersey City more than a month ago and re-aggravated it in a meet against Schalick in late September.
Maine's injury was diagnosed as an issue with his plantar, which is located on the bottom portion of the foot. Suddenly, even jogging a few steps was painful for the Highland senior, leaving him to fear for the worst.
“I was worried about it because I thought I might be done for the season,” he said. “I was concerned, because I wanted to keep winning and I wanted to be there for the team. I was racing so good before I got hurt.”
Fortunately, the injury was not as severe as Maine originally thought.
Maine went to a foot doctor and chiropractor, who helped him heal the injury while also providing him with enough physical therapy to make a quick comeback possible.
After missing almost three weeks of practices and meets, Maine returned to the team last week where he nearly won the Camden County championship. He was side by side with the eventual winner for the vast majority of the race, before the lack of running the previous three weeks finally caught up with him, causing him to fade over the final stretch.
“I didn’t feel 100 percent, but I felt 80 percent,” he said. “In the last 1,000 meters, my legs were just gassed because I hadn’t been training for three weeks. Everything felt good, I was just a little out of rhythm.”
Highland coach Bob Wagner was more than pleased with the result.
“The race was a lot better than it appeared because he was up in front almost the entire race, but we were just glad to see him healthy,” said Wagner.
Maine’s focus now turns to the South Jersey Group 3 Championships, which are held in two weeks at Delsea. Maine placed second there a year ago and is once again one of the favorites.
“We are hoping we shapes up well; it’s really a four-man race,” Wagner said. “To be honest, we think he will be even better at Holmdel where he has been training all summer.”
Maine thinks so, too. The Tartans’ top runner is anticipating a couple of big performances over the next month. He rattled off some of the top runners in the state and believes his experience will help him compete with the best.
“You have to respect (the top runners), but I feel like I am ready to compete with them,” Maine said. "My goal is to try to win a state title because I know that course so well.”