By Jeff Keeling
Daniel Boone High School running standouts Adam Barnard and James Garst have a friendship built on miles of training together – thousands of miles – and success on the track and the course. Lots and lots of success.
The seniors who recently led Boone to a state cross country championship reckon they’ve run close to 10,000 miles since becoming freshman teammates, becoming close friends in the process. That’s nearly enough distance to take them to Portland, Ore. and back twice, and Portland is precisely where they and their teammates head next weekend, all expenses paid, for the NikeCross Nationals.
Barnard, who won the state meet Nov. 1 in Nashville, took first in 14:44 at Saturday’s Nike regional qualifier in Cary, N.C., where Boone’s team ran as the Washington County Ridge Runners. With the best teams 11 states had to offer, they placed second (see related story below) to secure a spot competing with the nation’s best high school runners at Portland’s Glendoveer Golf Course (start time is 2:35 p.m. local time). High school cross country races are 5,000 meters, or 3.1 miles, so Barnard’s pace was a personal-best 4:44 per mile Saturday.
Boone coaches Len Jeffers and Ray Jones say Barnard and Garst, the team’s only seniors, have led the way in creating a team culture that should outlast them and leave Boone, a three-time state champion, competing at a high level for years to come.
“It goes with more than advice and words, it goes with the example that these two have set, and people seeing they’re success and what they’ve done to get there,” said Jeffers, who ran on Boone’s first state championship team in 1981. “Others want to follow.”
Sitting in the team’s cramped, cinder block locker room after a day-before-Thanksgiving team workout, recent Georgetown signee Barnard spoke of the bond he and Garst have developed over the years.
“You’re sometimes out for an hour, an hour-and-a-half on the road. You really get to know someone in a run, because all there is to do is just talk. It’s just you, the road and your partner.”
Barnard is a talkative towhead with a middle distance runner’s frame: 5 feet, 10 inches tall and 130 pounds. He won the state 1,600 meter title last spring, and Nov. 1, he was seven seconds ahead of team runner-up Brentwood’s top runner, Brodey Hasty, and Garst, who finished third less than a second behind Hasty. He plans to study sports management at Georgetown.
Garst, quiet with dark hair, is built more like the soccer player he was before focusing exclusively on running. At 5-7, 135 pounds even after a season of running, he’s built more for the longer-distance events that aren’t run in high school.
Garst, who said he and Barnard “run with each other probably 350 days a year,” is talking with coaches and recruiters at East Tennessee State and Western Carolina universities, among others. He plans to become a nurse.
“I’ve taken all the pre-nursing classes you can take here (at Boone) and enjoyed them all,” Garst said. “I really like the teachers and loved getting into the basics of it. Anatomy and physiology was probably the favorite class I took.”
The road to the running life
Both Barnard and Garst – who are joined on Boone’s varsity squad by underclassmen Josh Routh, Ben Varghese, Mitch Bronstetter, Zac Branham and Nick Roth – can trace their running roots to one local running family, the Armentrouts. Garst enjoyed soccer as he went to elementary and middle school at Sulphur Springs, and in sixth grade, “I went out for track because I wanted to get better at soccer.”
Then he ran into Lisa Armentrout, a former Boone athlete and runner who began helping to show him that running could be about more than improving one’s performance in other sports.
“She set a good foundation for me there, and I began to get more interested in running competitively,” Garst said. That led to Garst qualifying for the eighth grade state meet in 2010, where he met Barnard, a Ridgeview student.
Barnard was a gifted runner, but until that eighth grade year he’d focused more on football and other sports. That was when he met Lisa Armentrout’s nephew, Josh Armentrout, who had begun coaching at Ridgeview.
“He had run at Boone, and he would actually run with me,” Barnard said. “I’d say he and Cameron Shelton, who was one of his teammates, were the ones that got me really devoted into it and it fueled the fire.”
Building the culture
In 2011, Boone returned as a team to state for the first time since 2005. That year, the team that included Barnard’s middle school mentors had finished. Garst and Barnard were freshmen.
The 2011 team did their 2005 predecessors one better, placing fifth. After two runner up finishes to Brentwood in 2012 and 2013 – with Barnard finishing seventh and then fourth, and Garst placing 21st and then ninth – Boone broke through a month ago. Barnard, Garst and junior Josh Routh finishing first, third and fourth, and the team edged Brentwood 47-50. (Cross country team points are added up by the top five’s individual finishes, so a lower score is better.)
Garst credits coaching, and his and Barnard’s perseverance in training even when they were alone in fully adopting the Jeffers-Jones program.
“The end of freshman year and sophomore year it was just the two of us quite a bit,” Garst remembered.
By the time they were juniors, Garst and Barnard had been joined by the younger runners who have now created that base for ongoing success.
“We hadn’t had a lot of guys buy into the process at that point, and now we’ve got 15 or 16 guys who are 100 percent bought in and come out here every day no matter what the terms and conditions are,” Barnard said. “When we were trying to start this program and get people to buy in, it was kind of cool to see the domino effect.”
Jeffers’ co-coach, former ETSU “Irish Brigade” runner Ray Jones, said the seniors’ example shows younger runners, even down into middle school, what can be.
“This didn’t happen overnight for these guys,” Jones said. “This has been a four-year process, and they’ve accomplished some tremendous things.
“The other kids can look at that coming in and by the knowledge and information they get, we explain, ‘you might be here this year, but next year you’ll be here.’”
Barnard expects that he and Garst will continue training together on holidays and during the summer even through college. As far as the more distant future is concerned, he is looking forward to catching up with his running mate whenever their paths might cross.
“I’d say we’ll still connect. Definitely if we’re both in town, if we’re still fit and not old and fat, we’ll get together and do some runs.”