By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– Frances Massey doesn’t have a lot of answers when it comes to why she’s so good at running long distances in such a short amount of time.
She lets the results speak for themselves.
Massey, a freshman cross country sensation at East Lincoln, has taken the 2A running world by storm this season. She’s never finished lower than second in a race during her first season of high school running, and has no idea why.
It isn’t genetics –– no one in her immediate family is a distance runner, she said. It isn’t a life-long progression –– she took up running as a sport less than two years ago. And it isn’t some secret training regimen –– she simply shows up and runs.
“I really don’t know. At all,” Massey said. “I just started running in seventh grade and I tried out for track and I did pretty well, so I decided to keep going at it.”
Massey is the youngest of quadruplets –– two boys and two girls. While she is busy after school trekking across the Denver countryside, her siblings –– Jake, Josh and Malinda –– are busy executing their routine and notes during marching band practice.
Massey said as a seventh grader at East Lincoln Middle School she ran a mile in “around 7 minutes” during gym class, and was asked to join the track team.
Two years later, that 7-minute mile is down to 5 due to a combination of natural talent and dedication to her craft.
“I just come to practice and run,” Massey said, who added she and her teammates average “about 40 miles” per week. “It’s gotten easier since I’ve been practicing, but it also comes pretty easy.”
The combination of talent and dedication that Massey possesses is “a blessing” for the Mustangs cross country program, first-year girls coach Gail Chapp said.
“We often can get a really talented runner, but they don’t have that heart and dedication. And sometimes you get the ones that have the heart and dedication but not the talent. In Frances, you’ve got both,” Chapp said. “She has such a gift in her talent as a runner, and she also has the heart and dedication. To have that both has just been a blessing to the team, and you can see it in her performance as well.”
The Mustangs, who will participate in the annual United Way Invitational meet today in Newton, are ranked in the top three among 2A girls programs statewide, program coach Melvin Morrison said.
Morrison said this year’s girls team is “by far the best girls team I’ve ever had,” and its frontrunner is Massey, who has won the first two Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference girls meets this season.
Massey also won the Shelby Invitational, and finished second in the Freedom Invitational to Asheville Reynolds’ Anna Vess. Vess, who is ranked 24th overall indivdually in the state among females regardless of classification, according to the website NC.Milesplit.com, was only 12 seconds better than Massey, who on that day ran her season-best of 19:05.68.
“She’s a phenomenon. She has a great sense of what it takes to be great. She’s a go-getter. I don’t have to push her very much at all. She pushes herself, like an inside clock,” Morrison said.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and she has the toughest mentality of any runner I’ve ever coached. She hates to get beat, and will do what it takes to be at her very best.”
Even with all the attention focused on Massey –– Morrison called her his “secret weapon” but added, “We can’t hide her anymore. The cat’s out of the bag.” –– she isn’t the only reason the Mustangs have fared so well.
The girls team is full of talented runners, who are only pushed harder by the successes of Massey.
The girls team is gunning for its first state title in the sport, which would join the 2009 boys team that won a state championship.
“It’s really more of a team effort than anything. It’s not just me who pulls the team. Everybody else works just as hard as I do, runs just as hard as they can,” Massey said.
Massey’s race-day strategy is to sprint to the front, she said, then put her body into cruise control by pacing herself through steady breathing. She also loads up on carbohydrates before a race.
“And then, at the end, I usually try to kick it in,” she said.
More often than not, that final push brings her a first-place finish. But don’t ask her to explain how or why it happened.
She simply doesn’t know. It just does.
“A lot of people ask me why I enjoy running,” Massey said, “and I can never really tell them.”