Harrison Osborn of Scarborough steals a look at Abbas Muktar of Lewiston during the Class A State Cross Country Championships in Belfast on Nov. 5, 2016.
LEWISTON — In sixth grade, Abbas Muktar used to run around his block “for the (heck) of it.”
Now he’s one of the top runners in the state and a captain of the Lewiston High School cross country team.
“When I first got chosen as captain, I thought I should not be captain,” Muktar said. “I didn’t feel like I had any leadership traits. You know, I was always quiet. I was always in the back and just did my thing and went about my day. That’s just how it worked.”
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, something that head coach Rebecca Dugan believes Muktar’s younger teammates understand.
“I think he’s definitely one to look up to, for sure,” Dugan said. “We have one sophomore runner, Noor, who just started running this year. He always tries to battle it out with Abbas. So that’s one of those looking toward him kinds of things.”
Muktar started by running around his neighborhood, timing himself for fun, and according to the senior, that’s when he “fell in love” with running. In middle school, Muktar ran mostly middle distances like the 800-meter run for the track team. He didn’t even know about cross country and couldn’t fathom running 5,000 meters.
“When I did hear about it, the distance was mind-boggling because I’m not used to running anything more than a half-mile, and this is six times that,” Muktar said. “I was kind of pressured into it by my coach, Kim (Wettlaufer). He said, ‘You look like you would be good at cross country.’ And Noor (Shidad), our second runner, the same thing.”
Muktar ran solely track his freshman year before being “pressured” into cross country by his coach. Lewiston has had a great history of distance runners, from Isaiah Harris, who graduated in 2015, to Mohamed Awil, who graduated in 2013, and many others. Muktar was unaware of the tradition he was about to continue when he joined the Blue Devils’ cross country team.
“I didn’t know much about the program,” Muktar said. “I just loved running.”
While the distance can be daunting, cross country has become like a second home for Muktar.
“One of the best things about cross country is how close the team is,” Muktar said. “I really like that about cross country. In track, there’s more people and sometimes there’s groups. Cross country just feels like a family, which makes it a whole lot more bearable. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know how I would cope.”
The reserved captain used to be quiet, going about his day. But before the season started, senior runner Isse Tawane left the team, leaving Muktar to lead the Blue Devils. It’s been a process to convert into a leadership role.
“I think it really is a big step for me, going from just a team member and doing my own thing to being a team leader,” Muktar said. “It was difficult at first. I’m not used to raising my voice or taking command. I think it will be really good for me now, getting some leadership experience. It’s always good to have some.”
Leading stretches and warm-up runs are a couple of functions that Muktar has to lead the team through, while also keeping the team focused on the tasks at hand. While words may not be plentiful from the senior, Muktar’s coach believes his work does the talking.
“I think a lot of the other guys see him as one who is working really hard and is having some success,” Dugan said.
And Muktar is definitely having success. At the end of last year, Muktar finished 24th in the Class A state meet at Belfast in a time of 16:59 — a time he hopes to break this year.
“My goal time for this year is like a 16:20,” Muktar said. “Earlier, before the season, I was saying that I was going to go under 16:00 all together. I want to get to New England for the first time.”
On Friday, Muktar ran a 17:36 at Leavitt, a slightly hilly course. To train, Muktar has to run by himself most of the time.
“On long runs and workouts, I kind of have to run on my own, except for meet days when I get to run with the team,” Muktar said. “It’s actually not that bad. I don’t usually start out that fast, I slowly get into it. Maybe start at a 6:50-, 7-minute mile pace and move up to 6:20, kind of work up to it. It’s a lot easier that way than going fast right off the bat.”
Muktar’s time may have been below his standards on Friday, but the Festival of Champions at Belfast is coming up, and that’s where Muktar likes to run the most.
“Belfast and the Festival of Champions is one of the best around if you ask me,” Muktar said. “The flatter the better.”