Feature Friday: Barna Is Ready To Burn Up The Trails

Jackson Barna, who combined a huge motor and an iron will to come up with a monster junior year, heads into this XC season as NJ's No. 1 ranked runner on the state's No. 1 ranked team.

Barna's junior year was simply sizzling!

Check out these stats.

In the pandemic-shortened XC season that limited racing opportunities, Barna broke the course record at Oak Ridge Park when he ran 15:17 to win the North Jersey, Section 2 Group 4 race, and he dropped his Holmdel Park PR down to 15:48 when he finished third at the Holmdel Invitational.

On the track, Barrna displayed his remarkable range with huge PR's from 800 through 5,000m.

Last October, Barna blasted a 14:35.76 5K on the track, which is No. 7 in state history, and then last spring he ran a 8:52.00, No. 10 in state history, when he pulled off a stunning victory in the 3,2000 at the Meet of Champions over favored Jackson Braddock of Southern. Barna also dropped his mile PR down to 4:14.22.

Barna, who always puts team goals ahead of his own, put a huge exclamation point on his campaign with a dazzling distance double at the Outdoor National Championships in July at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

Barna split 1:53.62 on his carry to help Ridge repeat as champion in the 4x800 in 7:39.06, No. 5 in state history, and the next day he came back and threw down a 4:09.64 anchor carry to bring Ridge across second in the DMR in 10:02.46, No. 10 in state history. 

With a resume like that, it's pretty easy to see why Barna is the preseason pick to win the NJ XC Meet of Champions title, and is ranked No. 19 in the nation to start the season.

While Barna has some big individual goals for his senior season, his primary focus is helping his loaded Ridge squad, which is ranked No. 10 in the nation, try to win its first M of C team title, and earn a spot on the podium at the National Team Championships.    

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Barna between recruiting visits for an in depth Q and A. Barna talked about his unforgettable M of C victory in the 3,200, his summer training, Ridge's stacked pack, his quest to go sub 15 on the trails, and a whole lot more. So lean back in your recliner and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Jackson Barna of Ridge, one of the top distance running recruits in the country. 

NJM: You proved that anyone can win on any given day by winning the 3,200 at the Meet of Champions in your epic win over Jackson Braddock. What are your thoughts as you look back on that race? What did you learn about yourself in that race?

That anything is possible. I also learned that running to win, rather than focusing on time or pace, really pays off in a championship race. My mind was focused on getting the win, and I just went for it.

In what ways has that victory in the 3200 changed your outlook heading into this cross-country season? I have to assume that your victory has really increased your confidence? 

Absolutely. It was great to finish the season on such a high note and I'm excited to build on that momentum headed into XC.

After running 15:48 at Holmdel, 4:09.64 (DMR split), and 14:35 and 8:52.00 on the track, you come into this season as the favorite to win the Meet of Champions title and you are ranked No 19 in the country. I know how big of a goal winning the Meet of Champs is for you, so tell me how motivated you are to win that race and what it would mean to you?  

Winning MOC's would be a dream come true and a great finish to my High School career. But, I'm even more excited and focused on the team title.  Sharing a state championship with my team and coach would be even more rewarding.

How about Nike Nationals, Jackson? What is your personal goal for that race? 

It will be an honor to have the opportunity to go against the best runners in the country. I think if I'm running at my peak with my teammates around me, anything is possible. I'd love to be on the podium with my team.

How would you describe your junior year? Was it everything you hoped it would be with your huge PR's on the track, and that great 4x800/DMR double at Nike Nationals-winning the 4x800 in 8:39.06 (NJ#5 all-time) and getting second in the DMR in 10:02.46 (NJ #10 all-time). It doesn't get much better than that!  

Running at iconic Hayward field was a dream, and to win a national championship was just the icing on the cake. It was amazing to share that success with my teammates and coach on a national stage.  I hope we get an opportunity to go back next year.  I think we have a great shot.

What are your biggest goals as far as times you'd like to run at Holmdel, Pleasant Valley, Phillipsburg, Oak Ridge, Bowdoin and some of the other courses you'll race on?  I'd really like to break 15 on a XC course this year - I was able to clock that 14:35 5K on the track last year and I'm focused on going sub 15 on the trails this year. 

Let's get into how loaded your team is. What does it mean to you and your teammates to be ranked NJ#1 and US#10? How do you feel about your chances of winning the Meet of Champions team title and what would that mean to you guys? 

The team side of the sport has always been the most rewarding for me. Working together to get better and better each year, from not even being ranked in the state my freshman year to where we are today has been so exciting.  We all worked really hard to finally get recognized and we don't want to let anyone down, especially ourselves. Sharing a MOC victory with my coach and teammates would mean everything to me.

And what are your thoughts on trying to win the Nike Northeast team title and contending with the top teams at Nike Nationals? What is your team capable of, what is the biggest goal for Nike Nationals? 

I think we have the ability to make the podium at NXN. It's going to take a total team effort but I think we are putting in the work to make it happen.

Who are your top 7 guys right now and how fit and fired up are they for this season? 

We have a great top 7, we are just undecided at the moment of who will take which spots, but in our top 5 we have Andrew McCabe, James Kisker, Hudson Yu, and Patrick Doran.

Take me through what summer training has been like for you? How many miles a week have you been running, where have you been doing your long runs, who have you been running with, and did you go to any XC camps etc? 

I've been running mostly in the high 50s for mile been running mostly in the high 50s for mileage, I've been going to a different spot every time for my long runs, I run with a group of around 8 guys and we all went to the Briarwood Running camp in Pennsylvania.

What's been the biggest difference in your training this summer compared to last summer? Increased mileage? More quality stuff in terms of faster pace?

I've been running more mileage as well as cross-training more and doing more supplemental activities such as lifting, balance, core, etc. I have been doing my workouts at a faster pace although they remain very similar.

What is your favorite long run  (distance, place, and time) during the summer, and what is your favorite workout during the XC season? 

My favorite long run is the Columbia trail long run because I always end up "ripping" it with my teammates and it makes for a fun time. My favorite workout during XC season is the big track workout we do before championship season, and it revolves around doing a lot of faster-paced short distances, which is odd for cross country, but it's a killer workout.

When is your first race of the season, and what's your goal for that race? 

The Battle at Ocean County Park (Sept. 17). I would like to go sub 15!

How do you feel heading into this season? Is this the most fit you've ever been heading into an XC season? 

Coach has been careful to not train us too hard too soon this year. We are looking to peak in the second half of the season, so we have been training to do just that. I'm feeling good and excited to start the season next week.

What are your thoughts on how loaded NJ is with distance running talent? How much does the amount of talent in the state push you to work even harder? 

It's great to have some of the best runners in the U.S. right here in NJ. It keeps me sharp and always working hard to be my best.

What do you love the most about running XC?

I love running through woods, up hills and enjoying the outdoors.  We have a couple of awesome long runs we do and when the weather is nice, and I am running with my friends, it doesn't get any better.  I also like that each course is different and is a lot more unpredictable than track, it keeps things interesting.

How about your plans for the future, Jackson. Which college did you visit this past weekend and how did that go?

I had a great visit with one of the top schools in the US. I really enjoyed meeting the guys on the team and getting a feel for what it will be like to run in college.

Where else have you visited and what other official visits do you plan to take? 

I've visited some really great schools, mostly in the eastern half of the US, and met with some of the best coaches and teams in the country this Summer.  I'm getting very close to making a decision and look forward to sharing my choice with MileSplit soon.

What are you looking for in a college and what do you plan to major in? 

A good team culture and an opportunity to compete for a national championship. I would like a good balance between athletics and academics. I am planning on majoring in business and finance.

If you could go for a long run with any four pro runners (past or present) who would it be and why? 

Of course Steve Prefontaine, then also Cole Hocker, and Matt Centrowitz, I'd really like to find out what going to the Olympics is like and Joe Rosa, he's a local NJ guy I really admire, to ask him about his running experience in college.

What is the most impressive NJ XC/T&F accomplishment you've ever witnessed, and what made it stand out so much to you? 

My freshman year at Indoor MOC's, Liam Murphy, a junior, came out of nowhere to beat senior Devin Hart in the 3200m.  The crowd went insane because he was pretty far back and it looked like Devin was easily going to win it as everyone expected. You could see Liam just decide it was his day, and he just turned it on in the last 200m. It was a great moment for the underdog. 

Favorite running season and why? 

Cross country, because I like running trails and hills. Each race is different and I love the outdoors.

Favorite subject in school and why? 

Math because I love solving problems and figuring things out.

If you weren't a runner, what sport would you be playing? 

Lacrosse or skiing.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

Working in business or finance, and possibly running marathons or who knows - maybe running as pro runner.

What advice would you give to younger runners who are first starting out in the sport. 

Be patient and don't train too hard too young.  Build toward peaking in your junior and senior years in high school. Don't let failure or injuries get you down. I've learned the most from my biggest failures. It's part of the process and makes you stronger.