Jordan's Tavia Dutson just lets it all soak in when it's time to race.
While she stands in a lineup of legs shaking out nervous energy, she takes in the starting line official's familiar instructions and surveys the matted-down grass field ahead.
For dozens of harriers, these are more than just the moments before a 3-mile race across the hills and dirt of the neighborhood golf course or park. They are the culmination of months and miles logged, and the payoff for a day-after-day onslaught of burning legs and lungs. Hundreds of runners will experience that moment Wednesday at the state cross-country championships at Sugar House Park.
"There's nothing quite like that moment," said Dutson, who placed second in the Class 5A meet last season with a junior state-record time of 18 minutes, 17 seconds. "I get a mean look on my face, but not on purpose. I just try to get ready to race and compete, and not just run."
But Dutson, a state title threat, wasn't always sure about her future as a runner. Like many top runners, she trained primarily on her own during her first track season, slogging through workouts without a primary training buddy. When she joined the cross-country team, she found some camaraderie.
"There is a lot of time to talk during an hour-long run," she said.
But it took all of 18 minutes for Dutson to realize she may have found her sport.
"When I realized I was pretty good, I knew I had to run," said Dutson, who focused her efforts on running after an 18:37 second-place performance on the Sugar House Park course as a freshman. "Then I started to love it."
Dutson's story is just one of many of those who will toe the line to try to break records at Sugar House Park, a heralded course that has seen both state records broken and future Olympians born and each year seems to get better.
The 2012 state cross-country meet was the fastest on record. On the boys' side, 10 of the top 15 times on the course were set last season. The girls also posted four of the top 15 times in last year's championship races.
This year could be even more impressive.
"There are four or five girls that could break the record this year," Dutson said. "I could see myself breaking the record and placing second or third at state. It's crazy."
It's been more than a decade since the Bingham girls' cross-country team won the state's last girls' national title. The Davis girls' team may be the team to bring it back to Utah, and the Darts are the undisputed favorite to repeat as Class 5A champions.
Coach Corbin Talley has groomed the Darts into a perennial powerhouse and a national force. The Darts currently are ranked No. 1 in the nation, led by two state-title contenders in freshman Aubry Argyle and senior Taylor Cox. American Fork, ranked No. 35 in the country, also will challenge for the team title.
"Even if we are the favorites, our girls have got to really come together and work hard in the race for the win," Talley said. "There is some great competition, and we are really looking forward to a killer race."
Lucy Biles of Herriman also will take aim at her first Class 5A title after winning in Class 4A with a sophomore state record last year. Bingham's Marlee Mitchell and Whitney Rich also are in the mix for the top prize. There are other Utah schools garnering national rankings as well. Class 3A's Park City is ranked No. 7, while Class 4A's Skyline and Ogden are ranked No. 36 and No. 38, respectively. Ogden's Sarah Feeny is a favorite for the Class 4A title.
On the boys' side, American Fork is the favorite to repeat for the Class 5A state title. The Cavemen are ranked No. 2 in the nation and are running faster than this time last year. American Fork's Connor McMillan has hit his stride, running an impressive 14:32 at region last week. The Cavemen averaged an impressive 14:52 on the region course with only a 42-second spread between the top five runners and are looking to repeat the feat on the state course.
Alta's Kramer Morton, the defending Class 5A champion, is fresh off a region title and is much improved from last season. Lone Peak's Clayson Shumway, Bingham's Andrew Brewer and Westlake's Austin Brower and Trevor Gibby also are all in the mix for the top prize.
O Wednesday at Sugar House Park
11 a.m. • Class 1A girls
11:30 a.m. • Class 2A girls
Noon • Class 1A boys
12:30 p.m. • Class 2A boys
1 p.m. • Class 3A girls
1:30 p.m. • Class 4A girls
2 p.m. • Class 5A girls
2:30 p.m. • Class 3A boys
3 p.m. Class 4A boys
3:30 p.m. • Class 5A boys