This Small Town Runner Is Headed For Her Biggest Stage In XC

The No. 1 question I've heard this season: Where did Kelsey Harrington come from?

Where did this girl, who now ranks VA No. 5 all-time (16:55), who was a former 22-minute-plus 5K runner, emerge from? The answer, in my eyes, is simple: Bristol, Virginia, a town just a tiny fraction the size of Virginia Beach.

That's where Kelsey resides and it's the place which made her into one of the best runners in the country.

But I also tell people. Kelsey isn't new to running, either. She has been running for some time now and has competed in cross country since middle school. In that time, she's fought off health scares, had new coaches, and came to a realization. Running was her sport

A lot of this came last year just before outdoor track started. It was during that time when she and her head coach, Josh Shuler, sat down and discussed goals for the season. The biggest on that list was taking down Maria Large's school record in the 1,600. 

By the first race of the season, where Kelsey had already dropped 22 seconds off of her 1,600 PR, it was already time to rethink the goals for the season. That's when they focused their sights on chasing Mary Caroline Heinen's times and trying to beat her at state. 

By June, only a few people outside of Bristol and Maggie Walker High School knew who Kelsey Harrington was, but by sunset that night the whole state wouldn't forget her.

Her double, in the blazing heat, still could be her best athletic achievement to date. 

At the VHSL Class 2A State Track and Field Championship, she won both the 1,600 (4:57) and 3,200 (10:37) by attacking from the gun and holding off one of Virginia's best runners in Heinen -- something likely few others in the state could do. 

Harrington's star was rising, but yet again we had no idea how high it would go until she raced her first 5K of the year, this time at Knights Crossing. But it was there where she took down the course, facility and meet record while also completely throttling NXN finalist Sasha Neglia by 21 seconds. 

From that point on it was a show: Week after week, we had to see what she would do next.

She tallied up 10 wins in 12 races, with her other two being a fourth-place finish at Foot Locker South and an All-American finish at NXN. 

That leads us into her final cross country race of the season at Foot Locker Nationals. 

The biggest problem with Harrington comes with being a small school runner. She's rarely had athletes to contend with. That, of course, is a good problem to have but a problem none the less.

But these past two races have done a lot of good in helping her realize that and better her racing strategy. 

Foot Locker South was a mess of a start and NXN was jam packed. Kelsey learned to navigate the field and also adjust her pace in-race. In both races she moved up, down and back up. 

This weekend, though, it is a totally different animal. There are just 40 girls, and all of them are elite. There will be some who want to sit back and others who will push the pace from the gun -- Kelsey will be one of them. 

Unlike the others, though, this one shouldn't be jam packed or muddy or a bad start... this one is about racing and seeing who is the best 5K runner in the country. 

Not since 2015, when Heritage graduate Weini Kelati won and Libby Davidson was sixth, have two Virginia-based girls finished inside the top 10 at nationals.

This weekend that could change with both Harrington and Bethany Graham vying for All-American finishes. 

Kelsey's training has been simple and effective all season long. Her and her coach have trained favoring quality over quantity, kept the miles low and focused on a lot of impact free fitness training (pool work).

The workout above is similar to an average workout she would do during the season with reps, intensity, and break times varying. 

We could go on all day talking about how she has broken all of these course records that were held by top five finishers at Foot Locker Nationals.

The real take away, I've seen, is how it relates to this weekend is the courses she has raced on. She has raced 12 times this season. Nine of those times were on courses that almost anyone in the state would say was the hardest course they've raced on all season.

Simply put, this small town runner has faced some big challenges already and is ready for the biggest one yet.