Molly McGrail finished the cross country season as a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference champion to earn runner of the year honors. She also finished second at the regional and state championship meets.

Now, imagine how she would have done if she were healthy.

Instead, the Maranacook junior hit those marks with hip pain and shin splints, and still finished as one of the area’s top runners. For her efforts, McGrail is the Kennebec Journal Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. It’s the second consecutive year McGrail has earned the honor.

McGrail entered the fall looking to build momentum off a successful spring track season. She was well on her way, however, toward the end of the season she began to experience pain in her legs.

“I think I was just over-working my body more,” McGrail said. “I had this weird hip pain that never seemed to go away, and over time I just developed shin splints that I tried to push off for as long as I possibly could.”

It was an injury that would nag McGrail for the rest of the season. Still, her times got better. She won the KVAC B championship with a time of 20:32. She finished second at the regional finals with a time of 21:15, a minute behind champion Olivia Reynolds of Maine Coast Waldorf. And she saved her best time for last, running the Class C championship in 19:15 to give her second place, again behind Reynolds.

“I just tried to keep a very positive mental perspective of it all, and just mind over matter at that point,” McGrail said.

McGrail said fighting the pain while running during the postseason became more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

“It’s so hard,” McGrail said. “You’re just fighting for everything. You’re so close, but yet you’re so far. You can feel your jaw clenching, and you’re like ‘I’m going to throw up (from the pain)’ Everything is just shaking. It’s the most intense 20 minutes or 19 minutes of my life.”

What may have helped ease some of the pain was how well the Black Bears were performing as a team. Maranacook took home the KVAC B team championship, as well as the Class C South championship. The Black Bears finished second at the Class C meet, 25 points behind champion Orono.

“We had high hopes (for the season),” McGrail said. “We just came into it with a positive mindset and achieved what we wanted to.”

McGrail pushed forward to the New England championships, but at that point, her hip and shin pain were too problematic.

“It got progressively worse,” McGrail said. “When I got to New Englands and we had to run on the asphalt, that just really triggered everything in my body.”

McGrail has since rested up and is preparing for the winter sports season, where she will compete as a member of the Maranacook Alpine team. She’s also looking forward to next fall, where a strong number of runners will return to chase championships. McGrail looks forward to being one of the team leaders next year.

“I remembered my freshman year when I came in,” McGrail said. “I just looked up at all the older runners, and they just guided me, and tell me everything I needed to know, how to push myself, how to maintain. I’m just really excited to be a part of that and help the younger runners and show them the way.”

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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