Distance runners in Hillsborough County will finally get relief from having to race against Lars Benner next year. After all, the Newsome senior has been one the top performers in the county over the past four years.
His freshman year he was Newsome’s No. 2 runner for cross country. By his sophomore year, he was the runner-up in the 3,200-meter run at the Hillsborough County championships. Last year he earned all-state honors in the 1,600-meter run. Already this year he anchored Newsome to a victory in the distance medley relay at the Nash Higgins Invitational.
Not bad for someone who took up the sport only as a way to get in shape for basketball.
“I never thought of myself as a distance runner,” Benner said. “I didn’t think I would progress that well.”
“He is a tough competitor,” said Orlando Greene, who is the head girls track coach at Newsome and coaches all the distance runners. “I’ve never had a freshman come out (on the boys side) and be that good right away.”
Benner’s toughness was perhaps most on display his sophomore year at the Hillsborough County cross-country championships. Benner was about 20 meters from the finish line when he collapsed from overheating. Rather than accept aid right away, which would have disqualified him from the race, Benner crawled his way to the finish line.
“That’s just the kind of guy he is,” Greene said. “I have to remind him from time to time he doesn’t have to win all the practices.”
For all of the individual accolades that Benner has accomplished, he is quick to point out that he doesn’t enjoy the sport just because of his own successes.
“I like the camaraderie (of cross country),” he said. “I like track because of the personalities (of the sprinters, throwers, etc.). I like the sense of team.”
Benner is coming off a successful senior season in cross country that saw him take runner-up honors at the Hillsborough County championship meet. He broke 16 minutes for the first time at the state meet, where he came in 11th place in the 4A race.
He will get to go up against some top competition March 16 at USF in the Steinbrenner Invitational and in April when he goes to the Florida Relays. His goal this year is not only lower his personal bests, but to also earn all-state honors in the 1,600, 3,200, and the 4-by-800 relay.
Greene will try to enjoy having Benner on the team for one last time, because he knows runners like Benner don’t come along too often.
“In my 10 years of coaching, I’ve never had an athlete like him. To perform four years consistently,” Greene said. “He will be missed by the coaching staff and the kids.”