Nov. 24—Payton Bell knows the course at Twin Brook can be an uphill battle, but the Edward Little senior feels more inclined to compete in cross country races featuring grueling slopes.
Bell's tenacity and fourth-place finish in the Class A state championships with a time of 20:13.56 has earned her another Sun Journal All-Region Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award. She previously earned the accolade following her freshman and sophomore years.
"So I ran it my freshman year so I knew what it felt to run it — and I enjoy running hills more than I like flats, so I was really excited to run at Twin Brook," she said. "So going in there I was a little bit worried because I knew that there were a lot of underclassmen that had been doing very well recently and just didn't know how I would place against them."
She decided to stick with her plan of pacing herself on the flats and then throw herself into overdrive when she encountered Twin-Brook's hills.
"There's a girl, and her name is Annabelle Brooks (of Cheverus), and we run close to the same time, so I am just going to stick with her," Bell said.
Brooks finished seventh at the Class A meet with a time of 20:36.35.
"We went the day before to walk the course, and she loves hills," Edward Little cross country coach Katie Byrne said. "So I think her plan was to go out and really work the hills, and she did, especially late in the meet with that final, very, very incline with like 600 meters to go. She kind of gets herself psyched up for courses like that."
Bell's fourth-place finish is the best of her high school career at the state championships. She placed in the top 10 all three times she competed in a Class A meet, taking ninth as a freshman in 2019 and seventh as a junior last year (the 2020 state meets were canceled due to a surge in COVID-19 cases).
Bell experienced prosperity for the entire season, with a several first-place finishes in other competitions.
She finished 12th in the Festival of Champions, where she produced a personal best time of 19:22.58. She placed first in the Northern Maine Regional Class A championship with winning time of 20:00.65 and collected another win in the Mt. Blue Relays with a time of 13:10. She also won the Kennebec Valley Conference championship, breaking the tape with a time of 21:06.5.
"She placed 12th overall — and the Festival of Champions is a huge deal," Byrne said. "Payton is a wonderful individual — very humble and sweet in general."
Byrne said Bell is a gifted, dedicated athlete and is all business at practice and competitions.
"(Bell) is just a machine," Byrne said. "Payton is someone who pushes the limit. She just works so hard. I think she gets it. She understands the work that needs to go into the type of season that she wanted to have and that she has had. She has been mature about every thing.
"Even as a child, she did track and field, coached it as a young woman. She kind of lives and breaths it. (Running) is very second-nature to her. She is very active in general so the running lifestyle kind of seems part of her success."
But Bell said she took a laid back approach to her senior season and focused on enjoying herself.
"This whole year I have been trying to have fun and enjoy cross country without being too stressed about competition," said Bell.
Bell pointed out that she has been surrounded with dedicated coaches and a nurturing father.
"I have been really lucky for cross country and being able to train with (coaches) Keith Weatherbie through my freshman, sophomore and junior year, and this year ... Coach Byrne was our coach this year and she has been such a great coach for us. I love her so much and I've been lucky to have her as a coach," Bell said.
"This is the first year that our girls team was a full team that had a really good potential at makings states. We didn't make it, but it was really cool that it was close."
Bell said Her father, Jesse, is competitive by nature and suggested to her to give cross country a shot.
"My dad was like, 'You (should) try out cross country," Bell said. "I wanted to do it for the social event because I had a friend deciding to do it with me. I just stuck with it, and he has been a very big role model when it comes to training and pushing my limits — and he always there at meets, too. My whole family comes."
She will stay busy in the winter skiing for Quarry Road Ski Club in Waterville, but she is undecided when it comes to running outdoor track in the spring.
" ... I enjoy some times running on my own, and I honestly like cross country more than track," she said.
She hopes to continue running for the University of Maine in Orono, where she will study psychology to become a mental health therapist.