WATERVILLE — Hayden Barlow hadn’t had much experience in the 100-meter dash going into Saturday morning.

“Just basically one race,” the Gardiner Area High School sophomore said. “Where my shoe fell off.”

Barlow, normally a miler, got another crack at the dash as part of Gardiner’s sprint medley relay team at the Waterville Relays on Saturday, one of many athletes trying their hand in different events at the annual early-season meet.

“It was different. I usually pace myself and I can’t pace myself in the 100. I have to do a full 100 percent,” Barlow said. “It’s nice to try something new.”

The Waterville Relays’ relaxed and unorthodox structure makes it a perfect event for teams to get creative and athletes to take chances. Each event, both on the track and in the field, requires at least three athletes for a team to be able to score based on the combined finishes, and that means some schools have to mix-and-match from other fields in order to have enough to be counted. Sprinters try throws. Distance runners run sprints. Throwers run relays.

May and June are for doing what you know best. In April, athletes at the relays step outside of that comfort zone to help the team — while seeing if they have some unrecognized talent in another field in the process.

“It’s both. We need to fill all the events that we can, and we need to see how people are doing at this point in the season,” said Waterville coach Ted Brown, whose team competed along with Gardiner, Mt. Blue and Maine Central Institute among locals. “This is really a team-bonding experience, because everybody’s a part of a relay. No one goes out there alone and does something. You’re always part of a bigger group, which is unusual for track and field.”

That’s why Waterville’s Sophia Poole, normally a middle distance runner and long jumper, found herself in the high jump area, ready to try an event she had never done before in a competitive setting.

“It’s always nice to try something new, but it was definitely nerve-wracking,” the sophomore said. “Last night I was thinking about it and trying to improve my technique. … There’s a lot more technique to it and it’s just a different style, so it takes some getting used to.”

Gardiner racewalker Bianca Tripp varied into unfamiliar territory of her own, running the 400 for the first time in competition as the second leg of the distance medley.

“It was my only running event today, so I went out and did the best I could. I could just put everything into it and not worry about other events that I had to do later,” she said. “(I was) a little bit (nervous), because most of the other girls had been doing 400s and stuff, and I didn’t really completely know what I was doing.”

Waterville’s Amir Khan had the same feeling. Normally a thrower, Khan was put onto the Purple Panthers’ 4×200 team and charged with learning how to hand off and take batons on the fly. When waiting to do the discus, javelin or shot put, Khan feels fine. Waiting to take off for his leg of the relay, however, the senior said he could feel the nerves kicking in.

“I was really nervous. We didn’t practice the handoffs, we didn’t do any of that,” said Khan, who mishandled the baton to start his run but recovered with a clean handoff on the other end. “I picked it up, I didn’t even know we could still run if we dropped it. For two seconds, I’m like ‘Oh wait, we can still run!’ “

Khan helped the Purple Panthers score points in the event, and afterward sounded ready to run again.

“I wouldn’t mind doing it again if they need me to do it again. Honestly, I’m not going to lie, it was fun doing something else for a change,” he said. “If you’re on a track team, you shouldn’t always be limited to the stuff that you’re always good at. It’s good to try new things to find out what else you’re good at.”

Many did. Poole jumped 4 feet, placing in a tie for third in the high jump among individual finishers. And Tripp’s splits in the distance medley impressed coach Jen Boudreau enough to consider another try down the road.

“She says she’s not a 400-meter runner, but when I got her splits, she’s definitely a 400-meter runner,” she said. “She’s definitely going to be doing it.”

While teams needed their athletes to range into different events, Boudreau said many of them were looking forward to giving something else a shot — and perhaps even excelling there.

“They’re really amazing at stepping up to the plate,” she said, “Saying ‘Sure, I’ll run the mile. Sure, I’ll run the 100 today. Why not?’ “

And with so many athletes in new spots, the pressure that will be on in May and June was off — giving teams like Mt. Blue, competing in its first event of the year, an ideal setting to find a rhythm.

“Most kids came in today, at least outwardly, looking pretty relaxed,” coach Kelley Cullenberg said. “And obviously they’re going to perform better if they’re relaxed. … I take it as now we have a starting point, now we know what to work on.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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