When contemplating what he likes about running cross country and how it compares to track and field, Dan Harkin makes some interesting analogies.
“Track is like a math test,” the Mattituck High School senior said before a recent practice. “Track is just laps. It’s concrete numbers. Cross country is like a science test. You’re going off course and stuff, into the woods. It’s more abstract.”
While Harkin may wish he could veer off course every now and then to enjoy the scenery, it’s unlikely to happen, especially now that he has inherited the position of being the Mattituck boys cross-country team’s No. 1 runner following the graduation of Jack Dufton.
“We had a good relationship — friendship and relationship to help us push our limits,” Harkin said. “We helped each other a lot, and we were friends on and off the field. It does feel different, yeah, especially that Jack’s now off the team. It’s a big difference. I have to step up and be the leader.”
An All-League runner last year, Harkin missed qualifying for the state meet for the first time by a mere two places in the Section XI Championships. Even though he ran a personal record of 19 minutes, 29.39 seconds on Sunken Meadow State Park’s five-kilometer course and finished two places ahead of Dufton, he walked away disappointed that day.
Being the frontrunner, Harkin said, has its pros and cons. “Now I get looked at,” he said. “Everyone takes me seriously.”
On the other hand …
“There’s no one to just be up at the front with me,” he said. “Me and Jack were pretty equal as runners. It’s just not there any more.”
A three-sport athlete who also wrestles and runs track in the spring, Harkin has a good frame for a cross-country runner, with long legs and the strength to power them.
“Dan, if he really puts his mind to it, he can achieve a lot this year, I think,” coach Mike Jablonski said. He added: “Dan was nipping at the heels of Jack last year. They were actually going one-two, back and forth last year, and I think now it’s time for Dan to step up and really kind of put the rest of the field away and show that he is our number one runner.”
Harkin spent the summer in Europe. He said he did a little running, “but I don’t think it was enough to keep me in the shape that I should be in, so I’m really going to have to push it these first couple of weeks.”
His first major test of the season will be Sept. 24 when Mattituck competes in an invitational meet at Sunken Meadow.
Harkin said he is a more motivated runner now. “I’m doing it for me now,” he said. “I’m not doing it for anyone else. That’s what it is. I’m not doing it to make anyone else proud. I’m doing it to make me proud.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s top runner, senior Dan Harkin, said he is a more motivated runner this year. (Credit: Bob Liepa)