Sophomore assaults the track, shatters
On Saturday April 12 at the Tacoma Invite, North Kitsap High School 1600-meter runner Hilary Leonard was lacing up her running spikes when she saw a lady bug.
“I made a wish on it to get a PR,” said 16-year-old Hilary.
Her wish of a personal record came true.
As Hilary crossed the finish line in 5 minutes, 15.56 seconds, not only did she set a 13-second personal record, she broke North’s 17-year-old 1600-meter record.
In 1991 Sally Shaw ran the 1600 in 5:17.
Although Hilary didn’t learn she’d set the record until the following Monday, both she and coach Lee Hodin knew she’d accomplished something monumental.
“I knew it was something special,” Hodin said. “I sat her down and I told her she had just ran the perfect race and she needed to be proud of herself.”
A humble Hilary responded with a shrug and said, “And I made a new friend, too.”
The day of the record-setting race Hilary’s plan was to run a relaxed race and keep up with the pack.
She was nervous before the race. To calm her mind before any race, she chats it up with the competition and often makes new friends. When it’s race time, she follows a very detailed strategy.
During the first lap she wants to get out fast. The second and third lap she keeps her pace steady and continues to push herself to the limit. During the fourth lap she gives it everything that’s left and usually closes her eyes the last 20 meters because it makes her feel faster.
She executed her strategy perfectly on April 12.
“She was in a huge pack with 15 girls surrounding her and she looked like she was running by herself,” Hodin said. “In the second lap she broke stride once and I remember writing on my clip board, perfect movement in the pack. I have never seen better pack movement in my seven years of coaching. In the fourth lap she showed courage and she just pushed, she was going for it.”
Hodin said he was bummed they didn’t know Hilary set the record because they didn’t make a big deal out of it. But at the same time he knew that wasn’t Hilary’s style.
“She’s not a flamboyant type of person,” Hodin said. “She struggles with success. We’re talking about an incredibly humble girl who hasn’t done a lot of sports in the past, so to find herself as the stud of the team is a new experience.”
Instead he told her in the weight room before a 6 a.m. practice run.
“Lee told me ‘you ran pretty fast, faster than the record,’” Hilary said. “I was pretty shocked. I had no idea. I was pretty excited.”
Hilary’s journey to becoming a track star is short, less than two years in the making. She didn’t begin competing in distance races until her freshman year, she’s now a sophomore.
Her track career began as a seventh-grade JV hurdler. Hodin said by the time Hilary was in eighth grade, she was a borderline varsity competitor and it wasn’t until her freshman cross country season that Hilary showed promise as a distance runner.
“She just put in the time, she worked harder than any of the boys and she went from a so-so athlete to a champion,” said Hodin, who refers to Hilary as the feel-good story of his career. “The best part of her story is she’s earned every bit of her success. She has talent but her greatest talent is probably her work ethic.”
Hilary, who doesn’t race to win, but races because she loves getting out and meeting fellow runners, agreed with her coach.
“I think my success is not so much natural talent, but a more of a willingness to work for it,” said Hilary, who runs eight to 10 miles every weekend.
Now that she’s set a school record Hilary looks to accomplish a few more goals before the track season is over.
She’d like to find the pants she lost at the last meet — and set a few more PRs of course. Her PR in the 3200 is a 12:16 and she wants to run an 11:30. She’d also like to shave another four seconds off her mile time to run a 5:11.
“I want to work on my speed more and I think I can do it if there’s a fast field to motivate me,” she said.