Leavitt cross country runner Margo Kenyon was one of the top runners in Class B before the state championships were canceled. She is sitting on a hill behind the school that she ran up many times over the past couple of years Thursday afternoon when the Hornets got together to turn in their uniforms. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Editor’s note: The Maine high school cross country state championship races, which were supposed to be held this week, were canceled, so the Sun Journal is recognizing the area runners who qualified.

Soccer was the fall sport of choice for Margo Kenyon from kindergarten through her sophomore year of high school.

Track and field, where she has excelled in the mile and 2-mile runs, has always been the Leavitt senior’s favorite sport, but running anywhere besides a pitch in autumn never really crossed her mind until last year.

That’s when a fellow soccer player, track and field teammate and close friend, Ava Petrin, proposed the idea of switching to cross country together. Kenyon, who was still fairly new to Leavitt after transferring from Spruce Mountain, had a number of other friends who ran cross country, so she decided to try it out.

“I wish I’d taken it up sooner,” she said.

It isn’t so much the success she’s enjoyed in just two years on the trails that makes her wish she’d switched to cross country earlier. It’s more the sense of community within the sport, she said, and the impact the people she has met through the sport have had on her.

Specifically, Kenyon wishes she’d had more time being coached by what she refers to as “the dynamic duo” of head coach Neal Rioux and assistant coach Jamie Juntura.

“I’m very close to them,” she said. “They’ve both been a really big influence on my life, and I wish I’d met them two years earlier.”

That makes not having a state meet to run in all the more difficult for Kenyon. The Maine Principals’ Association earlier this week canceled the meet, scheduled for Saturday in Bangor, due to coronavirus concerns.

Leavitt cross country runner Margo Kenyon was one of the top runners in Class B before the state championships were canceled. She went for a jog up the hill behind the school Thursday afternoon when the team got together to turn in their uniforms. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The runner-up in the KVAC Class B state qualifier was looking forward to the state meet, not only as an opportunity to run with and for her team one last time but what she saw as redemption for not finishing the job in the qualifier and last year’s state meet.

“I had big expectations for states,” she said, “because the course in Bangor is flat, like the one at Edward Little (at Auburn Middle School), which is where I had my fastest time (20:49). I thought I could get that down to the low 20s. I was also looking for a bit of redemption.”

Kenyon qualified for states in her first year of cross country but couldn’t finish. Two miles into that race, she blacked out and collapsed.

It wasn’t the first time she had experienced physical problems running, which she’d always chalked up to lack of experience and not knowing how to pace herself.

But she took a blood test after the season and the results showed that she had iron deficiency anemia. Since she does not eat red meat (she hopes to be an environmental attorney and ultimately plans to go full vegetarian), doctors prescribed daily iron supplements.

Within a month of starting the supplements, she noticed a big difference in her endurance. After a successful indoor track season in which she finished fourth in the mile and sixth in the 2-mile in Class B, she was geared up for a strong outdoor track season before the COVID-19 outbreak forced cancellation of the spring sports season.

Running had become as much of a necessity for Kenyon’s mental health as her physical health, so she continued training through the spring and summer, anticipating what a cross country season at full strength would be like.

Leavitt’s Margo Kenyon (120) placed second in the KVAC Class B country championship last month at Quarry Road in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Kenyon still lacked experience, but absorbed as much advice as she could from coaches and competitors.

“She’s dedicated to everything she does, not just running but in school,” Rioux said. “She studies everything she’s doing thoroughly. She’s constantly asking questions and seeking feedback and wanting to get better.”

For a newcomer to the sport, Kenyon picked up on the nuances of cross country quickly, including the dynamics of being a team leader in an individual sport, Rioux said.

The meet in Auburn that she ran her PR was a breakthrough. Kenyon hit the accelerator early, as she is wont to do, but maintained the pace throughout the race.

“That was her first really complete race where she walked away from it saying, ‘That’s my potential,'” Rioux said.

Leavitt’s Margo Kenyon (120) is helped from the ground by teammate Abby Marston (122) after placing second in the KVAC Class B cross country championship at Quarry Road in Waterville. Kenyon placed second and helped the Hornets qualify for the state meet. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Running for the first time at Waterville’s challenging Quarry Road course, for the state qualifier, Kenyon started out fast again. But the hills, and Winslow’s Olivia Tiner, ultimately caught up with her. Tiner won the race by 43 seconds.

Tiner, a track and field rival who Kenyon has developed a friendly relationship with over the years of competition, offered words of encouragement after the race.

“It’s a hilly course and you have to run more strategicall,y and I just went out too hard and got tired,” said Kenyon, who plans to take up Nordic skiing this winter in lieu of a likely COVID-cancelled indoor track season.  “It was my first race there, and it was, like, her fourth or fifth time racing there, and she told me she did the same thing her first time.”

Kenyon fell in love with cross country because of that competitive courtesy, and she wishes she had more time in high school cross country so she could do some mentoring of her own.

She may yet get a chance to do some mentoring. Kenyon plans to run cross country and track in college, and is currently exploring options such as Middlebury, University of Vermont and Colby.

If she attends Colby, Kenyon will get more chances to master Quarry Road, the Mules’ home course. And more chances to catch up with the dynamic duo.

“I’ve already told them if I go to Colby, I’ll be coming back for every home meet that I can,” she said.

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