By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – What’s the perception of Birhanu Harriman and Tommy Wolfe among their Lebanon High track teammates?
“Most of them think they’re crazy,” chuckled Raiders coach Kevin Lozeau.
You can understand why. The sophomores don’t just practice and compete for their school’s squad, they embrace outside challenges. Significant challenges.
Last August, Harriman was one of two Lebanon soccer players (Sawyer Weale was the other) to break the program’s preseason fitness-test record. Harriman needed just 13 minutes, 29 seconds to run a mile, two 1/2 miles and two 1/4 miles with only short breaks in between. Wolfe was fourth at 13:58, not far off the previous record of 13:43, set by current Ithaca (N.Y.) College player Owen Johnstone.
In March, Harriman and Wolfe mapped out a marathon route near the latter’s Grantham home and made their first attempt at that distance. The try ended after 21 miles when Wolfe fell and banged up his knee, so they waited a week and this time finished together in 3 hours and 28 minutes.
“The idea of a marathon just seemed interesting,” Harriman said. “How far could we keep going at a certain pace and at what point would it really start to hurt?”
Said Wolfe: “I started to crash around mile 25 because I hadn’t eaten nearly enough, just a 100-calorie gel and a couple of saltine crackers.”
Playing ping pong in the school’s weight room three days later, the pair were bantering with physical education teacher Matt Dancosse about the department’s record for the mile, set at 4:57 by 2020 graduate Cody Davis. With only a quick lap around the track as a warmup, Harriman and Wolfe came up short of the mark by two seconds.
“They really enjoy running,” Lozeau said of the pair, who have been friends since seventh grade and can often be seen jogging around town together. “I don’t think you can run that much without loving it.”
Earlier this month and during the high school’s spring vacation week, the pair upped their degree of difficulty, running a mile at the start of every hour for 48 consecutive hours. The course they chose was near Wolfe’s house, which abuts the Eastman Golf Links’ second hole. The 15-year olds would cut across to start their mile on holes 17 and 18, cruise past the clubhouse and finish on holes 1 and 2.
“Waking up from a deep sleep at 3 a.m. was difficult,” said Harriman, who’s 5-foot-5 and 110 pounds. “The second night I just remember the cold and wet and not much more. I slept for 12 hours after we finished.”
Lozeau said he was startled when the two came to him with the idea of running for two consecutive days. The coach emphasized he’s always concerned with the teens’ health and monitors their mileage.
“It’s not normally what you’d want to do in the middle of the competitive season, but they’d already run their meet for the week,” said Lozeau, who allowed his charges to miss a few practices to rest before and after their effort. “This is a weird season with Covid and we only have six meets, total.”
Wolfe noted that the 48-hour attempt nearly died when he and Harriman slept through their hourly alarm during the second night. Luckily, his sister, Madeline, sleeping in the next room, heard the noise and woke the boys, who staggered out into a slush-covered landscape.
Birhanu Harriman and his older siblings, Raphael and Isabella, were born in Ethiopia and adopted by Lebanon residents Cliff and Stephanie Harriman. Raphael ran track at Ithaca College and Isabella played ice hockey while at Lebanon.
Wolfe, 5-11 and 145 pounds, has the benefit of his father’s experience. John Wolfe has run marathons for years and even conquered a few 50-mile races. He’s running a marathon next month with his daughter, a 2020 Lebanon High graduate who will enter Dartmouth in the fall. Wolfe’s mother, Elizabeth, has also run several marathons.
With such backgrounds, it wasn’t a surprise that Birhanu and Tommy took to running. Both are soccer players and hope to again compete simultaneously in that sport and cross country as juniors. They continue to improve their times, Harriman pushing his mile mark down to 4:40 and Wolfe lowering his 2-mile time to 10:30.
Lozeau said he believes that if this was a normal invitational track season with competitions against better and more far-flung opposition, that Harriman, who’s in his first varsity season, would be running a 4:30 mile. That’s only seven seconds slower than the school record set by Wegene Wells-Bogue in 2004.
Harriman and Wolfe said they’re open to the idea of competing in college. Even if that option doesn’t present itself, however, it’s hard to see them stopping their runs any time soon. The idea of tackling a 50-mile run gets them excited.
“Everything else fades away and you’re just moving and it feels good,” Wolfe said. “You have to get to a point in running where you don’t think about it at all.”
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