Born To Run: Book Inspired Bella Longo To Love Distance

As a junior, Bella Longo placed third in the Division III race at the CIF-State Cross Country Championships in 2019. (Photos: above by Patrick Corsinita; cover by DeAnna Turner)

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VISTA -- Most runners can't name a particular time when running suddenly started to make sense.

Bella Longo can.

"I used to hate long runs," said the Mission Vista High senior. "Then I read the book "Born to Run,"  which was about marathoners and ultra-marathoners, about the science of running, and I became more of a distance runner.

"When I start to question my distance running, I just remember the book."

"My goal is now to be an ultra-marathoner," said Longo, who last week announced she will be signing with the University of Colorado at Boulder on Nov. 11.

"I just like to run. I'm able to run for hours and I'd love to run one of those 24-hour races. They're all part of the running experience -- it's super relaxing."

Kind of like Forrest Gump, which she admits produced a connection, but not as much as the book.

Mind you, Longo isn't bad at the 'shorter' distances.

She dominated the San Diego Section Division III cross country championships last season with a 35-second victory at 17:39.9 for 3-miles at challenging Balboa Park. She then placed third in the state over 5K at Woodward Park at 17:46.8 despite being caught in no-man's land.

She was 24 seconds behind Palos Verdes' Savannah Scriven (17:22.5) and 11 seconds in front of Yorba Linda's Siena Palicke (17:57.3) as Del Oro's Riley Chamberlain won in 17:16.0.


As a sophomore on the track, Longo qualified for the state by running 4:55.94 for 1600 meters as well as posting a 3200-meter time of 10:49.73. Her goals for last spring were to run in the low 4:50s for the shorter race and low 10:40s in the longer one.

Those goals, like every runner's, were short-circuited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That sucked," said Longo. "Your junior year is really important, and my plan was to qualify for the Nationals in North Carolina. It was a big mental barrier because you kept training without really knowing what was going to happen."

So, she turned to training on her own, maintaining a 4.3 GPA while distance-learning. She plans to major in computer science because he loves math.

At least now she's part of the 50 percent of the Vista school's enrollment that is on-campus, which to her is a huge thing.

"I'm a social person," said Longo, who said she missed the camaraderie both on the trails and on the track.

"During track, I miss cross country and during cross country I miss track. I guess I like track a little more because I enjoy running fast and you get to meet and race with different people.

"But cross country also is fun. In truth, I prefer Mt. SAC cross country over, say, the Arcadia Invitational in track. That's because I struggle at night meets for some reason. I also like running up hills but sometimes I get scared running down.

"That's one of the things I really missed this summer -- going altitude training with my team at Mammoth."

Longo says she is putting in heavy miles in training and is practicing social distancing, which means she's not going to meets outside the state.

Her goal before the fall season was to qualify for the team cross country nationals in Portland, which have been cancelled. But her overall goals haven't changed at all.

"Winning state is always the goal," Longo said, "but with Riley Chamberlain in my division, a first or second would be fine as long as I run in the 17:20s. Riley is crazy good but my goal is still to beat her.

"I'm really antsy to run, to compete. I know it's going to feel weird for the first few races but I'm eager to compete again. It will have been more than a year."

Longo ran one race on the track early last year and said her coach wanted to work on her finish, so she went out slower than usual and felt good finishing strong. Little did she or anyone else know it would be her last race.

So Longo, who played youth soccer and rode horseback until the seventh grade when she discovered running, is especially anxious to face the likes of Rancho Bernardo's Jayce Farmer, who is one of her favorite opponents.

"She's tall and so strong and she has a great finish," said Longo, who turns 18 in a week. "You can just hear her coming with her breathing."

Eventually, though, she can't wait for the longer college races. Like in "Born to Run."

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Inserted photo, from left: Bella Longo, Whitney Valenti, Riley Chamberlain, Siena Palicke run up front during the Division III girls state championship race in 2019. (Credit: DeAnna Turner)