by Leonard Shapiro
Memo to the track and cross country coaches at the University of Virginia:
It might be wise to contact 17-year-old Middleburg resident Charlotte Scharfenberg, a Foxcroft senior who will attend UVA in the fall. Though she’s never had any formal training as a long-distance runner, she recently joined 16 of her classmates in the annual Cherry Blossom 10-mile run in Washington.
Not long after she reached the finish at the Washington Monument, she learned she’d placed second in the women’s 19-under classification in a race that included 22,000 runners, about 250 in her division. She never saw the 19-under champion, Jane Haines of Hilliard, Ohio, timed in 1:09.57 (one hour, nine minutes and 57 seconds). Scharfenberg ran 1:13.41, less than four minutes behind.
“I was just excited to cross the finish line,” said Scharfenberg, who had never gone that far before. “My mom was there and we watched the other Foxcroft girls come in. Then I called my dad. He looked up the results on the computer and saw I finished second.”
Scharfenberg started running to stay fit when she arrived at Foxcroft four years ago. She also rides year-round and plays defense on the field hockey team in the fall, and that season coincides with cross country. Competing in all three sports and maintaining the quality grades it took to get into Virginia likely would have been a stretch.
“Running has always been something I did for fun,” Scharfenberg said, adding that she tries to go out four or five times a week, usually between 45 minutes and an hour. There are countless trails on Foxcroft’s 500-acre campus and she often runs alone “because it helps clear my head.” She’ll also occasionally go out with friends in an informal school spring running club. She covers 5 1/2 miles over 45 minutes, and once a week she’ll go a little longer and do a seven-mile run, usually at a 7-minute, 20-second clip per mile.
This past fall, Scharfenberg entered and won Middleburg’s Cherry Blossom five-kilometer run (3.1 miles), beating everyone, male and female. It was her only other formal race before the 10-miler last month. Foxcroft Cross Country Coach Matt Mohler had no idea she was that fast until she won that day, but purposely did not try to talk her into quitting field hockey to join his team.
He was thrilled, however, when she ran with the club and knew she had plenty of talent to do well in the 10-miler.
“I told her ‘I think you’ve got what it takes,’” Mohler said. “‘But I don’t want you to just jog. Go into it thinking you can win a trophy.’ She said ‘okay, I’ll try.’ And the rest is history.”
Scharfenberg said she entered the 10-miler “on a whim. I signed up over the winter and the race was in April. Mr. Mohler organizes it and runs in it, too. I’d never done 10 miles before and I was just excited to do it.”
The Foxcroft girls left campus at 5 a.m., drove to the Vienna Metro station and took the train into Washington. Conditions at the 7:30 a.m. start were challenging—temperatures in the 30s and a stiff breeze—but Scharfenberg said she hardly noticed.
“The whole thing was so cool,” she said. “There were so many people, and so much energy. My goal was to run the whole thing and feel like I pushed myself. I wasn’t thinking competitively at all.”
All 17 Foxcroft girls started together, not far from the front. Over the first mile, Scharfenberg stayed with a few classmates until “I just decided I wanted to break off. If they went with me, fine. We did the first mile in about eight minutes, and then I pushed out. There weren’t a lot of mile markers because the wind pretty much blew them away.”
Scharfenberg has an App on her cell phone that gives her the distance and pace and she tried to maintain that 7:20 per mile level. She was comfortable the whole way, even on “a bit of a hill up to the finish,” she said. “I tried to push it a little at the end, and I felt great. I had the runner’s high. It was just so much fun to be there.”
Scharfenberg honestly hasn’t thought much about joining the Virginia track or cross country teams. Her next goal: entering, and finishing, a marathon (26.2 miles). Mohler believes she could excel at those distances, as well.
“I’m sure I’ll keep running at UVA,” she said, adding that it would not necessarily mean trying out for a Division I team. “I just enjoy doing it.”