“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” — Steve Prefontaine

Whenever she felt she wasn’t focused enough for training or competition, Jillian Richardson would repeat Prefontaine’s quote to herself. Passed down to her by her coach and older brother, Justin Richardson, the legendary runner’s words inspired the Edward Little sophomore to become one of the state’s top high school cross country runners in a short period of time and the Sun Journal All-Region girls’ cross country runner of the year.

The youngest of six children in an athletic family, Jillian grew up shy and mostly begged out of playing sports before starting high school. She enjoyed running, though, and decided to give cross country another shot as a freshman after trying sport briefly in middle school.

“I did it more for fun,” she said. “As the season progressed, I tried to push myself, just to improve. But mostly I was having fun.”

With longtime EL running guru Dan Campbell as her coach, she learned more about the sport in one year than most high school runners learn in four.

Before this season, Campbell left to coach cross country and the fledgling track and field program at the University of Maine-Farmington and was replaced by Justin Richardson, EL’s school resource officer, and Jillian’s older brother.


Justin, who was the state Class C cross country runner-up for St. Dom’s in 2005, knew his sister had the physical tools to become an outstanding cross country runner. She just needed the experience to develop the right mental approach.

“We had high hopes for her heading into this year because she had come a long way her freshman year,” he said. “In running, you need that perfect combination of good genetics, hard work and the right mentality. I knew she had the talent and the hard work down. She just needed that mental piece.”

Jillian said her brother was the right person to help her develop the mental aspect of running competitively.

“It was a lot of fun (being coached by her brother),” she said. “He wasn’t afraid to tell me if I had something to work on. He taught me to have confidence in my running and to not be afraid to give it my all.”

Adding to the challenge for the Richardsons were the painful shin splints Jillian had to deal with through most of the season. They managed them by lessening the wear-and-tear by having her cross-train and work out on an elliptical machine on lighter days and keeping her off pavement when she did have to run.

Even with those precautions, Justin wanted Jillian to learn that the cliche “no pain, no gain” was virtually invented for cross country runners.


“Sometimes, she’d finish a race and not even be breathing hard. I had to remind her it’s not supposed to tickle. It’s supposed to hurt,” said Justin, who ran collegiatly at the University of Southern Maine. “Running three miles all-out is not easy. It has to hurt to a certain extent. There’s going to be pain and you have to push through it.”

Jillian discovered her best races were the ones where she felt the least comfortable. She loves running hills, in part because they take her out of her comfort zone.

Not surprisingly, she had her best finish of the big post-season meets on the hilly course at Cony High School, where she took third in the KVAC championships.

“That was my best race,” she said. “I had a plan to go right out from the start and I stayed with that plan. I think the hills help me focus and give me something to use to push forward.”

She followed that with a sixth-place finish at the Class A North regional championships in Belfast, tops among sophomores, then placed 19th in the state meet on the same course the following week.

Now hooked on cross country, Jillian is running distance events in indoor track this winter and plans to compete in outdoor track in the spring.

“I’m focusing on pacing myself and finishing strong,” she said. “I want to go into next cross country season improving my mileage and having more of a plan for all of my races.”

Although family and professional reasons may preclude Justin from returning as the Red Eddies’ coach, he said he will still be around to mentor his sister and help her develop her gift while she gives it her best.

“I think Jillian has the ability to do way more than I ever did,” he said. “She just needs to put those three things together — genetics, hard work and the mental piece — and she’ll keep getting faster and stronger.”

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