Even after a sensational cross country season last fall, Westminster’s Hannah Toth still prefers racing on the track.

The senior distance runner mastered one of the most challenging courses in the country to win the Bull Run Invitational and the Class 3A state cross country championship at Hereford, but for her, nothing beats the thrill of a race on the track.

“I feel like track kind of evens the playing field for everyone,” she said. “It’s just one circle. It’s pretty easy just to stick with people and kick when you need to kick. It doesn’t really depend on the course.”

Toth, who finished 19th at the state cross country championships as a junior, had never won a state championship or a cross country invitational until last fall and her success carried over to the track where she won two more state titles, at 800 meters and 1,600 meters, indoors.

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Now she’s aiming to complete her high school career with a few more gold medals as she prepares for the Carroll County Athletic League Championships Thursday, the Class 3A East regional meet next week and the state championships May 26 and 27.

In her final tuneup for postseason, she won the 3,200 meters in a personal best time of 11minutes, 25.75 seconds at the Maverick Madness meet Friday at Manchester Valley. She also anchored the Owls winning 4x400 relay team.

Her main goal for the next few weeks is to break five minutes in the 1,600 meters. She came close at the Gator Invitational at Reservoir on April 29, running 5:00.62.

Toth and her coaches attribute her vast improvement over a single year to experience and a summer of running that built to 50 miles a week.

“I think the writing was always on the wall,” Westminster cross country coach Ryan Dulaney said. “She came out her freshman year and you could see the potential there… It just took a little time to get there. It’s a maturity thing. It’s muscle development and just the accumulation of mileage. She ran so many miles that eventually all that hard work is going to be the answer.”

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When she arrived at Westminster, Toth didn’t expect to run cross country. She tried out for soccer as a freshman, but when she got cut, she decided to give cross country a try.

Aside from a little running with Girls on the Run in elementary school, she had never really raced. She did, however, have a good foundation for running competitively.

“I did play a lot of sports as a kid, but a lot of sports I did, I found myself running a lot,” she said. “I played flag football for a while. I really still don’t know how to play football, but I just did the running back, just running with the ball. In soccer, it was kind of the same thing, playing midfield, running up and down. I don’t know why it didn’t click sooner.”

Still, she never expected to be a champion.

“Building mileage was something I didn’t really take into account when I started cross country. I definitely saw it as more of a social thing, just kind of being around people, making new friends, going to pasta parties, stuff like that, but I didn’t take it too it seriously until I got a little bit more into it. I think what got me going is I’m a little bit more competitive, so when I had my first good race, I was like, “Okay, I can take this a little bit more seriously.’”

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The combination of her improving times and her growing competitive drive made her commit to a summer of high mileage. She also worked out with Flying Feet Running, where her mother started training after Hannah became serious about the sport.

Although neither of her siblings — her twin Sarah nor brother Jacob — run, Hanna shares her love for the sport with her parents, Beth and Jacob Toth, and enjoys running with them.

Beth Toth said she saw the drive to improve emerging in her daughter.

“She wants to win and she wants to do as well as she can in what she pursues, so she becomes very focused,” Beth Toth said. “With running, she picked up and she started running a lot of miles consistently week in and week out to get experience. And we kind of helped her along the way, just for support but mostly so she didn’t do too much.”

Hannah tapered her running late in the summer to be ready for cross country and immediately discovered that her hard work paid off in a big way. On September 3, she won the Seahawk Invitational at South River in 18:12.4, her personal best time on a three-mile course.

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“Last summer, I put a lot into it,” Toth said. “I wasn’t really super high in mileage until the summer hit where I definitely started upping it a lot more, maybe more than I should have, but it was fun and I enjoy high mileage. It made me confident going into the season. I think it really helped me and also doing the running club with my mom kept me doing workouts, kept me accountable.”

In the cross country state finals, she won in 19:08 — 47 seconds faster than the second-place finisher and well ahead of her 2021 finish in 20:26.2.

Owls track coach Colleen Kerman said that race is a prime example of Toth’s ability to strategize within a race.

“There are definitely moments when you can get boxed in in a race or you don’t get the start that you want, but Hannah just seems to go with it,” Kernan said. “It doesn’t seem like she lets anything rattle her when she’s out there. In cross country states, she did end up just blowing the field out, but that race started out very fast and Hannah didn’t take that bait. She let the two or three girls leading go out and potentially ruin their race and she just kind of sat back and had confidence in her race plan.”

This fall, Toth will run for Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. With a 3.8 GPA, she plans a career in physical therapy or sports medicine.

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Running for the Thundering Herd, she’ll use the same hard-working, goal-oriented approach that made her a high school champion. Winning isn’t her sole focus.

“I just think it’s kind of keeping up with yourself, still setting goals,” Toth said. “At first — and this might sound bad but — winning didn’t mean as much when it kept coming, so setting those goals like time goals kept me going. That first place, it means a lot, but I think personal goals mean a little more to me.”

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