Heart of a Champion: Hart Wins National Title
For more than two years, Devin Hart never lacked for confidence or championships, exactly why the two-week stretch that bridged February into March felt so foreign to the Point Pleasant Boro senior.
Hart has been the gold standard of distance running in New Jersey, a five-time Meet of Champions winner who’s dominated on the terrain of cross county as well as the track during both indoor and outdoor season as the king of the 3,200 meters. His astronomical times created quite a chasm between the Stanford-bound superstar and the exhausted competitors who failed to keep pace.
On February 23 at the Bennett Indoor Complex in Toms River, Liam Murphy of Allentown changed the narrative by springing the unthinkable, edging Hart at the tape by a mere two-tenths of a second to win the 3,200 at the MOC, an epic upset that rocked the track community, including Hart. The loss - though devastating - offered a runner who effortlessly lorded over the event the chance to reflect and rediscover exactly what launched him to such lofty status in the first place.
“At that point, when you’re such a favorite and get beat, it breaks your heart,” shared Hart. “I was leading in the last 20 meters and the roar of the crowd…I’d never heard The Bubble get so loud. At first, I beat myself up over it but then I started to think about what I could have done better.”
Over the next 14 days, Hart loyally stuck to his regimented training schedule, one that includes up to 80 miles of road work a week. He also spent some time revisiting the orgin of a trajectory that arched to such incredible heights.
Once upon a time, Hart was Liam Murphy, a sophomore tired of bowing to upperclassmen who seized his opportunity to breakthrough. He grabbed it by winning the 2017 outdoor Meet of Champions, beginning his reign in distance running, a term in which his only incentive was zapping seconds off his times. He ran sub-nine minutes routinely, including in 8:54.45 in his loss to Murphy, yet that setback re-ignited the competitive spark so invaluable to Hart.
“My competitiveness is probably my most defining characteristic,” said Hart, who revealed it in the spring of ’17 and has maintained it over the course of an acclaimed career. “I was angry about losing, but it’s important not to let it get the best of you but to channel it in a way that allows you to focus at a steady pace.”
The rage of defeat was harnessed for two weeks, fueling daily runs and finally unleashed on March 10 in the famed Armory in New York City at the New Balance Nationals. Despite falling to Murphy, Hart still qualified for the prestigious gathering and, running on desire and the incentive of redemption, posted a time of 8:56.59 to clip Ryan Oosting of Massachusetts to win the national championship.
The victory restoring Hart as the measuring stick in distance and adding yet another chapter to a fabled tale of a runner with few peers.
“When I got on the starting line, I was thinking about all the work I put in over the last four years,” noted Hart. “I was thinking about the loss and got angry about it. That emotion carried me through and kept me going. I put my heart into it.
“After the loss at MOC, I needed to redeem myself at Nationals. You’re not going to bring your time down dramatically in two weeks. The first week, I trained hard with a lot of workouts. The week prior, I prepared mentally. It was tough to come back moral wise. To run that fast (in the Meet of Champions) and not win was a huge motivator. Motivation changes all the time. It could be a tough loss or something personal, but there is always something lighting that fire. And, I’ll stay motivated through the spring.”
Hart began is track career in sixth grade, gravitating to it not purely for the running but due to the subtle nuances within it.
“I wouldn’t call it an instant passion. I love running in the sense that the sport shows who trains the hardest and who wants it more,” he said. “Who is the most competitive and wants to win…I found that appealing. It the closest sport to meet what you put in, you get out of it.”
Hart has gotten plenty in return. Championships, prestige as one of the state’s all-time premier runners and a chance to continue his ascent in Palo Alto, California at Standford, where he hopes to pursue a degree in perhaps bio-engineering with – what else - heady aspirations.
“I liked to run a bio-tech start up in Silicon Valley one day and work on research,” said Hart. “I love the culture of the school, everyone works as hard as they can to excel at the highest level and there is a standard of excellence.”
Sounds like the perfect fit for a student-athlete who built a storied career on a parallel foundation.