by Chris Hunt
Sarah Hardin’s scorching time of 19 minutes, 48.49 seconds at the 2010 Class 1A state meet came as a surprise to many on the Lake Norman Charter cross country team. Not only did the shy sophomore finish in fourth-place; she was also the first girl in school history to complete a 5-kilometer race in less than 20 minutes.
Then again, expecting Hardin’s rise to become one of the top five 1A runners in the state would have been difficult for most people to predict. Last summer, she joined the Knights’ cross country program more for social reasons than a need to compete against the best in the sport.
Yet by the end of the season, Hardin had shed more than a minute and a half from her personal best set as a freshman at Hopewell in 2009. Without an excessive competitive streak, she still assumed the top spot on the Knights’ squad.
Hardin even earned the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2010 Lake Norman-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award.
“I like cross country because it gives me something to look forward to; I get to see my friends,” said Hardin. “I look at cross country as helping my teammates. If I was running for myself, I wouldn’t see the point in it.”
Running comes natural for Hardin. Lake Norman Charter coach Craig Zamiara said the sophomore is blessed with tools most cross country runners covet. Zamiara only had to recommend a small tweak in Hardin’s stride to drastically improve her performance on the trails.
This season, Hardin focused on increasing the length of her stride. After a fall full of 60- and 70-meter, long-stride sprints and agility work – along with constant coaching reminders to stop shuffling her feet – Hardin’s times dropped as if they rolled off the edge of a table. At the Midwestern Regionals on Oct. 30, she finished fourth with a time of 20:07. She would shave close to 20 seconds off that time one week later at the state meet.
“Sarah was built to be a runner,” said Zamiara. “She has long legs and endless endurance. (Her long legs) cover more ground and use less energy. She kept getting faster and faster until she peaked at states.”
Whether intentional or not, Hardin inspired her teammates to compete in practice, always chasing her times. As Hardin got faster, so did her teammates. Not only did Hardin make a name for herself in 2010, the Knights also finished second in the 1A team competition, just two points shy of a state title.
“Before the season, I knew she would be one of our top runners, but I didn’t think she would be the top runner,” said Zamiara. “(Her teammates) had to run with her to get the top spot and that made them faster. She quietly brought the team to where it needed to be.”