David Wysong, Chillicothe Gazette | Chillicothe | The Chillicothe Gazette Published 1:14 p.m. ET Nov. 6, 2019
CHILLICOTHE – For the first time in 31 years there was a Chillicothe Cavalier running at the OHSAA Girls State Cross Country Championships.
That Cavalier was senior Laikin Tarlton as she qualified by finishing 18th overall out of 130 runners in the Division I girls regional race at Pickerington North High School on Oct. 26 with a time of 19:11.8.
The accomplishment made Tarlton the first girl from Chillicothe to race in the state meet since 1988 when Misty Allison qualified for CHS and ultimately finished No. 1 in the Class AAA state girls race.
“It’s really cool to me that I get to be such a big part in our school getting back into running and being a top school in running because before my freshman year we never won a conference title or anything like that and now we have four straight conference titles,” Tarlton said. “It’s just really cool to see throughout my high school career the running culture has really begun to change and that everyone that’s on the team cares and is working for it. It’s really cool that me making it to state kind of symbolizes the changes that have been happening at our school by my mom (Heather Tarlton) and by coach [Rob] Strong.”
Seeing her accomplish the feat was also especially sweet for her mom Heather Tarlton who was not only a proud mother but a proud coach as she has been leading the CHS girls cross country program since 2017.
“It was amazing,” Heather said. “Anytime you can get a kid to state, especially in Division I – it is just a great feeling. It was great for our program. Our district and our region are pretty cutthroat, you can’t be off at all to get out. There’s no cruising through the district or the region … I saw some younger girls on the team, one of them was standing there watching Laikin get her medal at regional as a state qualifier and it was just like she was really kind of looking up to her and said, ‘I really hope I can go to state someday,’ and it just made me so happy that maybe it’s going to be inspirational to the other girls coming up.”
Tough road makes accomplishment even sweeter
The road to get to state was a tough one for Laikin as she hit multiple roadblocks throughout her career.
One roadblock was having to figure out how to run with low iron.
“She was anemic for like three seasons and I really struggled to get her iron up,” Heather said. “That really affects distance running.”
That was not the only setback for Tarlton though, as last winter she got mono which is also a big setback for endurance athletes, according to Heather.
“It was unfortunate that we faced as many obstacles as what we did in her high school career, but I think looking forward to college now, all of that – to be able to guide her and work through those things with her – I think she will be able to have a successful and fulfilling college experience,” Heather said. “She’s kind of faced a lot of the things that set most distance runners back and already overcome them. So, I feel like it should be smooth sailing, or she’ll at least be prepared to face whatever moving forward.”
The setbacks were tough but, like her mom said, they might have actually made Laikin a stronger runner.
“They were definitely setbacks and made running more challenging, but I think that setbacks make successful runners,” Laikin said. “I learned to trust the process and to put the work in, even if I’m not seeing immediate rewards. That’s a big lesson that I can apply to almost all aspects of my life.”
Despite all the obstacles, Laikin has grown as a runner throughout all four years of her high school career and it showed in the results.
In her freshman year she finished 25th in the D-II regional race at Pickerington with a time of 20:29.06 and then finished in the top 50 in the D-I regional race her sophomore year with a time of 20:01.32. She then won a Frontier Athletic Conference title her junior year and finished 25th at the D-I regional race with a time of 19:55.2 before winning the league title again this year as a senior and then finally advancing to state.
“The biggest growth I’ve had is just the ability to complete workouts on my own and pace myself because that’s the hardest part about being a new runner is you have to figure out how to pace yourself through workouts, how to pace yourself on runs and really getting that training down,” Laikin said. “You have to just figure out what that pace feels like. Once you can find a six-minute pace in a workout it makes it easier to find that in a race … With racing, I think I’ve grown some with not getting in my head and trying to not let my mind get to me in a race, just focusing more on what’s happening in the moment, not on what is going wrong or what could go wrong.”
Looking to the future
Laikin ultimately did not get the results at state that she particularly wanted, finishing 106th out of 184 runners with a time of 19:52.1, but earning the opportunity to race in the meet was a big accomplishment in itself.
Now she looks to prepare to cap off her high school running career with a big track season in the spring. Last season she qualified for regionals in the 4×800-meter relay, as well as the 3,200-meter run where she ultimately finished ninth at the regional race with a time of 11:37.27.
After that, she has hopes to continue her running career collegiately.
“I think that it’s a really positive thing and it helps not only achieve in that but it helps you achieve academically, it helps you schedule your time, it’s a good stress reliever – I think it’s just really beneficial,” Laikin said.
Heather thinks that Laikin will only become a stronger runner in college.
“She knows the process, she trusts the process, she’s got the work ethic down,” Heather said. “She has learned to battle through different mental things that are caused when you have low iron and you can’t perform, it really beats you down mentally. So, she’s worked through stuff from a sports psychology view point plus just the working through of all the workouts and getting that pacing down and all that stuff. So, I just really think she is set up really well to perform in college and even as a lifelong runner.”
The 2020 high school track and field season begins March 28, 2020.