By Conor Walsh
---- — Olivia Lantz is far from your typical track star.
In a sport where success is often the result of specialization and the benefit of top facilities, the Manchester Essex standout has risen to the top in a much different fashion.
Where many of her competitors run year-round, Lantz has a more balanced approach to her athletic pursuits, supplementing her winter track dominance with soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring -- sprinkling in long runs during those seasons, of course.
And unlike most other runners in the state, Lantz doesn’t even have a track to call her own, as the Hornets’ team generally trains outdoors while occasionally using Gloucester’s Field House.
This would all be news to those that the sophomore has already dominated in the mile in her young career. After placing fourth in the New England Championships as a freshman last March, Lantz has built off that success this winter.
Last weekend, she broke the Division 4 state meet record in the mile with a 4:58.39 finish, topping the previous mark by more than four seconds.
This weekend, she’ll look to build off that in the state meet.
After that, she hopes, a return trip to the New England Championships. And, if all goes well, she hopes to take the next step to the National Championships.
“I don’t know if there’s a trick to it,” Lantz said. “I think it’s really just having a goal and having my coach help me toward my goal, that really helps me to push to reach that goal. We’re really lucky to have such good runners in the Massachusetts area because then it really helps you to be more determined to get that good time, because you know girls around you are going to run those times and you might eventually run against them.”
Lantz’s success, in the plainest possible terms, is the result of hard work.
Despite her natural affinity for track, Lantz said she maintains a loyalty toward her other two sports.
“There’s a lot of controversy over the whole thing with indoor track being my only season,” Lantz said. “Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I ran the other seasons, but then other times I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t really care that much. I like it.’”
Not that it matters, though. While Lantz commits herself to her other sports, the thought of track season still dictates many of her habits. For example, during soccer season, Lantz said she’d often go for what she described as “short runs.” In reality, they were four-mile trots, not exactly something to scoff at following a strenuous soccer practice.
And then each weekend, Lantz would ramp it up at least once, stretching out her distance with a 90-minute, 12-mile run to “build a base.”
“She’s very self-motivated,” Hornets’ coach John Barbour said. “I think she would do well without a coach because she has a good instinct. She does soccer in the fall, she’s never done cross-country, but on her own she was doing long runs on the weekends all through the fall. She knew what she needed to do without any consultation from me at all.”
With that important fitness base, Lantz enters her similarly unusual winter track season. The Hornets have only had a program for five years and have only competed at the varsity level for the three years Lantz has been a member of the team, and without a track to practice on, the Hornets have to get creative. Luckily for them, the snow over the past few years has been minimal, allowing Lantz and other distance runners to train outdoors for much of the season.
They use the cemetery adjacent to Manchester Essex Regional High School on School Street as a track of sorts, as one lap around the cemetery’s circle is roughly 200 meters -- equivalent to a half-lap at a standard outdoor track.
Other times, they have to get more creative. Some days, the Hornets train on treadmills in the cardio room near the school’s gym. Other days, they’ll run the school’s many stairwells to train. And when they’re lucky enough to get on Gloucester’s track, the Hornets use that time to work on quickness and technique.
Those creative measures haven’t impacted Lantz much, though. A natural -- she broke the 6-minute mark in her first varsity race as an eighth-grader -- Lantz has steadily improved over her three years of competition, cementing herself among the state’s elite with two more full seasons remaining.
And while her training conditions are unique, Lantz wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We just try to be as resourceful as we can,” Lantz said with a laugh. “I like it. That’s how I’ve always run track and I just can’t really see it any other way. This year, you can really see how much the program has really developed and everyone’s getting into it, and it just seems like we’re working so well with what we have.”
Alongside three competitors from Gloucester, Lantz will look to improve on her third-place finish at last year’s All State meet Saturday at Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center.
After that, she hopes, another trip to the New England Championships, where she finished fourth last March with a time 5:06.77, then a personal record. Having shaved seconds off that already this season, though, the ultimate goal for Lantz transcends the region.
She wants to compete with the nation’s best.
“I went to New Englands last spring, so hopefully we can go a step further this year,” Lantz said. “But, really, I’m just focusing on improving my time because that’s really how you get far.”