Central sprinter Harriet Barber setting records and enjoying the journey

May 10—MANCHESTER — Harriet Barber always had the skill and work ethic. The Manchester Central senior track runner just needed the right mindset.

Barber, who owns both an NHIAA Division I outdoor and state indoor record, had confidence issues, to the point she almost didn't come out for the team.

At her first New England Outdoor Track and Field Championships as a sophomore, Barber was in tears, frozen with fear before her race, she said.

But after meeting with a sports psychologist after that season, Barber, a University of Connecticut commit, had had an epiphany, she said.

"I realized there's no way this is going to work out if I'm going to be this stressed for every meet," Barber said after practice Thursday at Livingston Park. "We were just talking about you can't just do a sport like this and not have fun with it."

Barber is the two-time defending Division I outdoor track champion in the 400-meter dash and set the division record in the event last spring (56.2 seconds). She also won the 200 dash at the D-I meet, won the 400 at the NHIAA Meet of Champions and was the runner-up in the 400 at the New Englands last year.

This past indoor season, Barber set the state record to win the 300 dash (39.59) at the Division I championships.

Barber, who is 5-foot-7, quit competitive Irish dancing, which she started in third grade, after her sophomore year to focus more on track. Field hockey, Barber's other sport at Central, helped her learn to just have fun while competing and translate that outlook to track.

Through help from her coaches like Central head coach Tim Morris and her mom, Maura, an assistant coach, Barber learned during her junior year to accept that she will have subpar training sessions. She can't break a state record every day, they told her.

Maura, who also ran at UConn, suggested Barber speak with the sports psychologist.

Morris, in his fifth season leading Central, said Barber has been the team's hardest worker since she was a freshman. "Once she was able to hone her efforts and begin to build on those achievements, she took off," he said.

Barber, a captain, also turned her competitors into friends. Getting to know them and lifting them up, Barber said, helped build her own confidence.

"I remember I would go into every meet and I would talk with everyone — my competitors — and I would ask how they were doing and talk about the race and stuff," Barber said. "It just made a really cool relationship with everyone and that's what I loved. ... That would take my nerves away so I'd run better."

Barber said she used to pace herself in the 400, which is one lap around the track, then sprint at the end. Now she sprints for the first 50 meters, keeps pace on the straightaway and sprints again for the final 200 meters.

In the 200, Barber sprints the whole race.

Morris said Central has had seven meets this spring. Barber, who also competes in relay events, has won the 200 and 400 at all of them.

The Division I Championships are two weeks away — Saturday, May 25, at Portsmouth High School.

"She's a very intelligent runner," Morris said. "Every race — no matter the distance — (she) has a race strategy and she mastered it pretty well."

It's not all about winning or setting a personal record, though.

Barber constantly reminds herself that she just loves to run. This spring, Barber is enjoying the moment, she said, trying to focus less on the cycle of practices and meets and more on cheering for and helping teammates and appreciating how her coaches have helped.

With all that she has experienced, Barber feels she can teach her teammates, she said. Barber has been a leader for Central since she arrived, said, Morris, but has become more vocal in that role over recent seasons.

Barber's biggest advice, she said, is to be humble but never be afraid to go for it.

"It's OK to feel like you're not your best right now," Barber said, "but if you really focus on bettering yourself and not just always competing with other people ... I think that's the biggest thing that helped me."