THE people of Elmore barely raise an eyebrow at the sight of a ponytailed teen pounding the pavement around town.
Nor do local landowners look twice when Teleah Hayes cuts through their rural properties during one of her cross-country training runs.
Instead, the 15-year-old middle distance champion enjoys enormous encouragement from her home community as she continues her rise up through Victoria’s junior athletics ranks.
“Heaps of people support me and always want to know how I’m doing,” says the young talent who was named Rochester and the Campaspe Shire’s junior sportsperson of the year for 2013.
“When I’m out training around town, they all sit there and watch and ask how it’s going.”
Farmers on the outskirts of Elmore have even given her permission to use their paddocks, giving her access to a variety of training venues to test her legs.
Teleah heads to Launceston next week to represent Athletics Victoria in the under-18 3km event at the national cross-country championships.
It is the latest in a long line of state teams she has made since taking up competitive running as a nine-year-old.
The year 10 student has donned the Big V uniform every year since 2010, for both winter cross-country and summer track meets run by School Sport Australia and Athletics Australia.
“It’s a pretty good way to get to travel across Australia,” she says.
“I’ve competed in Sydney a few times, as well as Adelaide, Tasmania and Perth.”
Teleah was also one of the front-runners in this year’s Gold Coast Marathon 10km race where, as a bottom-age entrant, she finished a highly credible fourth in the under-18 division.
She has won her age category of the Bendigo Bank Dragon Mile six years in a row and was the first female to cross the finish line in this year’s 8km Mother’s Day Classic in Bendigo.
Other recent successes include winning the Elmore charity fun run event in January and last year’s Bendigo Bank Fun Run, both over a 5km course.
Despite such success, mum Vicki and dad Kevin say their daughter is her own harshest critic when it comes to analysing performances.
Even after securing gold in the School Sport Victoria state cross country championships last month, when she led the field for most of the 3km race, Teleah was searching for answers.
“She was happy to win, but she probably wasn’t happy with her time because she knows she could go faster,” Vicki says with a wry laugh.
Teleah agrees, and says being super-critical is just part of her nature.
“Yes, it’s got to be a pretty good run for me to be happy with it,” she admits.
“I get frustrated with my time, or the way I ran, and I’m always thinking about what I could have done even better.”
Teleah caught the running bug almost by accident.
When she was in grade three, she came to Bendigo to compete in an interschool zone cross country race and was extremely surprised to win it.
“I decided then that I really liked running – and it was pretty good, winning it my first time,” she recalls. “So I started going out for jogs after that and Mum joined me up to do little athletics in Rochester. I enjoyed it, wanted to give it a go and just hoped to do my best.”
Teleah’s endurance and relaxed style caught the eye of Bendigo coach Paul Rance, who noticed her during a regional little athletics meeting and invited her to join his training group.
“I can’t remember exactly what he said to me, but I do know I didn’t go straight away the week after he first asked,” she says.
“Eventually I ended up going along to my first real training session.”
Teleah, a member of the South Bendigo Athletics Club, has blossomed under Rance’s guidance into one of the leading middle-distance runners of her age in Victoria.
She has collected state titles over 800m, 1500m and 3km on the track, as well as on a 3km cross-country course, and has been a regular competitor at Australian junior championships.
Winning the gold medal in the under-15 1500m at last year’s Victorian little athletics state finals rates as her favourite performance so far.
“I had just come back from the national junior championships in Sydney and was tired,” she says.
“I was racing against a long-time rival and I made my move at just the right time and got away from her. The way I ran that race makes it a highlight.”
Teleah hits the roads around Elmore five days a week as part of her training regime, covering about 8km in each session.
She usually finds time after school, but sometimes has to rise early and head off at 6.30am to squeeze a run in before catching the 8am school bus to Rochester Secondary College.
Most of the time, she flies solo. But she is occasionally joined by older brother Harley or younger sisters Zahra and Yazmin, who all share her love of running.
In no mean feat, all four Hayes siblings qualified for the recent state cross-country finals.
Zahra is also a member of the Victorian racewalking team and will join her big sister this month in Tasmania, host state of the national road walking and cross-country running titles.
Asked if her parents also enjoy pulling on their runners and going jogging, Teleah laughs: “I think they both used to love running.... but now they just run us around a lot!”
She says her family and her coach always travel with her to big meetings, whether across the country in Perth or just down the road in Melbourne.
“Having people there helps motivate me to do well.
“If I am a bit tired towards the end of a race, having Paul or my family there to cheer me on always makes me feel better.
“It also motivates me when I’m training and getting ready to race if they are there with me.”
Perhaps Teleah’s strongest motivating factor is her never-ending drive to keep improving.
“It’s really hard to explain what I love about running – but there are probably very few people who like it as much as I do,” she says.
“I just love getting out there and I love training with other people.
“I don’t like sitting around very much... and I definitely like knowing I am that one step ahead of those people who are just sitting around.
“When I’m out running, I think about other stuff, but a lot about the times I am trying to get.”
Teleah will turn her attention to the track in coming months, hoping to make the Victorian team for national school titles late in the year and the Australian junior carnival in early 2014.
She’d ultimately love to compete on an international stage, but is content to take things “one step at a time” for now.
That means she is likely to be a familiar sight running – step by step – around Elmore for many years to come.