Maggie Walker’s Jim Holdren has led high school track and field teams for 54 years. He’s never coached a distance runner faster than sophomore Mary Caroline Heinen.

At the Class 2, Region A championships Wednesday, Heinen flew by her competition on the way to region titles in the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter races. Her wins helped the Green Dragons shine as a team, easily becoming region champions on the girls and boys sides.

Heinen dominated Wednesday, but she said the region meet was more of a tuneup that she used to test her endurance across multiple long races. Her times of 5:20.72 and 11:14 were far from her best.

The defining moments of Heinen’s young career came at the Dogwood Track Classic on May 5. The sophomore, who runs in Class 2 where formidable competition is hard to find, got the opportunity to race against some of Virginia’s top athletes. It lifted her to a new level.

Heinen shattered her personal record in the 1,600, finishing in 4:51.58. She beat her previous best by 16 seconds and became the fastest girls mile runner in Virginia this season.

“I was just shocked that I had run that fast,” Heinen said. “I was so excited because I didn’t know that was possible for me.”

Later the same day, Holdren instructed Heinen to take it easy in the 3,200. Already having run her fastest mile ever, it would benefit her to follow the pack rather than lead it, he told her.

Heinen listened to her coach for the first half of the race before her newfound confidence took control. She charged ahead of her competitors and ran to another personal record, finishing in 10:44. The race knocked eight seconds off of her previous best.

Though physically gifted, the ultrasuccessful start to Heinen’s career is more a result of her mental strengths. Holdren said Maggie Walker, a governor’s school with no shortage of smart students, is a factory for distance runners because students who are gifted academically almost always excel in those events.

“The discipline, the commitment,” Holdren said. “It’s an uncanny correlation.”

Heinen also is intensely passionate about her sport. She knows the names and times of all of her top opponents across the nation. Her mother, Christy Heinen, said her daughter’s focus comes from a deep admiration of her fellow runners.

Mary Caroline tried volleyball, basketball and ballet earlier in life but didn’t excel in any of them, her mother said. Just when her parents were ready to accept that she didn’t have the athletic gene, she joined the cross country team as a freshman at Maggie Walker and found immediate success.

“It blows me away,” Christy Heinen said. “She’s so happy, so that’s what I care about.”

With her region titles collected, Heinen will look ahead to the state and national meets. She is the favorite to win Class 2 state championships in the 1,600 and 3,200. An impressive showing at New Balance Nationals Outdoor is her priority.

Holdren said his wife has urged him to retire — with more than five decades of experience and Maggie Walker’s track named after him, he has done his time. But runners such as Heinen, who has two more years of high school, make it hard for him to walk away, he said.

“You keep getting kids like M.C. … this is a joy ride,” Holdren said. “It’ll be a fun next two years, I can tell you that.”

cbroaddus@timesdispatch.com 804-649-6891 @CharlieBroaddus

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