Senior Hannah Feinsilber will be as familiar as anyone with the trails she’ll run when Owen High School hosts the Western Highlands Conference Championship Thursday, Oct. 20.
That’s because she has spent the last four years running that system of trails on her way to becoming one of the most prolific distance runners in the history of the school. The Oct. 20 race will be at the Black Mountain campus of Montreat College.
Feinsilber burst onto the cross country scene at Owen her freshman year, recording the seventh-fastest time in the program's history (20:49) while representing the Warlassies in the state championship meet that year.
“My freshman year I was kind of new to the sport,” she said. “I just kind of went out there and hoped for the best, I didn't really have a goal or anything I was working hard for."
During what her coach Joe Hyder classifies as a "down year" her sophomore season, Feinsilber failed to qualify for the state championship meet.
"I was mad about that," Feinsilber said. "And that made me want to really work hard during my junior year."
It was then that Feinsilber's "inner drive" to succeed in the sport emerged, said Hyder, in his 30th season as the cross country coach.
"In this sport you have to want it," he said. "She knew at that point that she wanted to be good and she showed that she knew how to work. And at that point, having a goal to get better helped her improve."
Feinsilber got serious about breaking the school record of 19:18 in the 5K cross country, a record currently held by Mary Frith.
Feinsilber's sophomore slump inspired her to commit to more than just hard work.
"I knew if I wanted it bad enough, then it was up to me," she said. "So I had to make a bunch of lifestyle changes. I stopped eating sugar and flour, and that's been a pretty big part of my life."
It was her junior year when she began trying to inspire her teammates with her work ethic and overall approach to the sport.
"When I was a freshman I was more like 'I'm just running for me,'" she said. "Now I understand that we're a team, and part of that relationship should be helping each other improve. I've learned the best way to help motivate a team is to inspire passion rather than just expect everyone to feel how you feel."
Her newfound commitment to the sport propelled Feinsilber back into the state championship as a junior, where, despite what Hyder called wet conditions, she placed 23rd overall with a time of 21:29.90.
Her best time (20:19) came on Oct. 6, in the Veritas Invitational, hosted by Veritas Christian Academy at Fletcher Park.
"I still want to beat 19:18," she said. "It's definitely a challenging goal because it's over a minute faster than where I currently am. Everything would have to click."
Feinsilber will qualify for the state championship this year, held on Nov. 5 in Kernersville, Hyder believes. That would give her three chances to break the record, with the 2-A western regional meet scheduled for Oct. 29, between the conference and state championships
"It's going to be tough for her to do," Hyder said. "But it's not impossible. I am hoping to at least see her break the 20-minute mark before she's finished."
Knowing that running will likely continue to be a part of life long after her cross country career is over, Feinsilber will miss her teammates when the season ends, she said. Record or no record, when the season is over Feinsilber won't have any regrets about her four years on the Warlassies cross country team, though she'll miss her teammates, she said.
"It would be great to beat the record, but I think I'll be happy no matter what as long as I know I went out there and did my best," she said.