Published April 11. 2013 4:00AM Updated April 11. 2013 10:25PM
Some consider the art of distance running an acquired taste.
First, there's the commitment of logging miles upon miles on the track or out on the road, often in solitude. Then there's that certain threshold for pain an athlete must learn to endure in order to push the limits.
Brianna Lenehan decided to jump into that world when she arrived at Norwich Free Academy four years ago. She was a soccer player up to that point, playing on travel teams.
Asked why she threw herself into a life of shin splints and aching lungs ... well, Lenehan can't really give a good reason.
"That's a good question," Lenehan, the NFA senior All-American said. "I don't know. Some of my friends ask me, 'why do you do it?' too. It's tiring, but there's just something about it that you love."
Lenehan made the right choice. The Day's 2012-13 All-Area Girls' Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year was one of the state's top distance runners and helped the Wildcats win their first CIAC Class LL indoor state title.
"I'd just watch her roll through workouts all season long that some of my best boys have never been able to do," NFA coach Chad Johnson said.
Family played a role in Lenehan giving running a try. Caitlin, her older sister, was a runner. John Fields, her uncle and godfather, coaches the sport at Teachers' Memorial Middle School in Norwich, too, where she finally decided to give distance running a try.
"It had been an idea to try it," Lenehan said. "I don't know why I actually did it."
Lenehan took to the sport quickly, placing fifth in the Class LL indoor meet at 600 meters as a freshman. She continued to do well each season, but came up short in repeated attempts to win an individual state title.
But all of her frustrations ended last fall when Lenehan began her final year of high school competition by winning the Eastern Connecticut Conference, CIAC Class LL and State Open cross country championships. She was named Gatorade Connecticut Girls' Cross Country Runner of the Year.
"I did better than I thought I would," said Lenehan, who will run next year at Columbia University. "I was just trying to continue that. That gave me confidence to do better."
Johnson, Lenehan's home room teacher, worked with her on the mental aspect of running.
"She finally learned something that my dad told me when I was running: the sport is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical," he said. "It really is a mental sport. It truly is.
"There's not a lot of secrets among the top dozen or so girls in the state. They're all working hard. They're all doing the miles. They're all doing the workouts. It's all about being at the (starting) line and knowing that you can win. We'd talk about Michael Jordan, about how he knew the shot at the end of the playoffs was going in. … All these people who talk about success and it all comes down to the mental aspect."
All of Lenehan's physical and mental work paid off. She won Class LL titles in the 1,000 and 1,600 this season. She set a meet record in the 1,000 (2 minutes, 53.64 seconds), breaking the mark set by Glastonbury All-American Lindsay Crevoiserat in 2010 (2:54.71).
"My coach told me, 'hit your splits and run like no one is around you and not worry about anyone challenging you,'" Lenehan said. "I'd rather run alone than with other people. I get kind of caught up in other girls' races when I'm with people. I'm just more confident."
Lenehan placed second in the 1,000 at the State Open and fourth in the 1,600. She finished fourth in the 1,000 at the New England meet and teamed with Camille McKenzie, MiaLynne Park and Dyshelle Pemberton to finish fourth in the 4x400 relay.
That foursome also finished second in the sprint medley relay at the New Balance National Indoor Track and Field Championships, earning All-America status, the first time as All-Americans for any female athlete in the history of NFA, Johnson said.
"This year just kept surprising me because I didn't have too many expectations," Lenehan said. "We went to nationals and the relay team got second. That was just such a surprise."