Some people learn to run long distances on a track. Others learn on forest trails or in suburban neighborhoods.
Addison Dempsey learned on the Deira Corniche, a waterfront promenade in Dubai.
Dempsey lived in Dubai for seven years after being born in New Jersey. She grew up there, and still has lots of friends there.
She was there during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. That's when she learned to run, after previously playing soccer.
Her parents, Patrick and Jennifer Dempsey, would run in the mornings; Addison followed in their footsteps on the waterfront. It was how she explored that part of town, Dempsey said.
Sometimes she'd go left at the end of the way; other times she'd go right. She ran around palaces and she ran around fish markets, and she did it all in Dubai's sweltering heat.
To give an example of what she faced, Dempsey checked Dubai's temperature at 3:15 p.m. local time — or 11:15 p.m. in Dubai. It was 106 degrees, with the "feels like" temperature at 115 degrees. The days, Dempsey said, got even hotter and more humid.
So coming to Sarasota in 2021 was no sweat.
That's when Dempsey, then a sophomore, decided to put her training to the test and join Cardinal Mooney High's cross-country and track and field teams.
In the time since, Dempsey, a senior, has become one of the top runners in the state. She knew she could reach this level at her first-ever meet, when she found herself running in front of not just Mooney's girls runners, but Mooney's boys runners.
"I was like, 'I kinda like that,'" Dempsey said with a smile.
Last fall, Dempsey finished second (17:54.00) in Class 2A at the Florida High School Athletic Association state meet, held at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. The winner of that race, Jillian Candelino, is now running for the University of Tennessee. That means Dempsey is the top returnee and the favorite to take home gold at states come Nov. 17.
Dempsey is trying not to think about that.
"It puts a lot of pressure on me, and I don't always do well with pressure," Dempsey said. "I'm trying to go in there feeling like everybody else. I'm just some average runner."
If nothing else, Dempsey's running experience is different than almost anyone else's. She misses Dubai sometimes, she said. The people there, but also the comfort.
Dempsey said she would often go to the mall by herself or with a friend while in Dubai, and people could leave their phones at a table out in public while using the restroom without fear of them being stolen. In America, that isn't the case – though she has much fondness for her birth country too, she said.
Dempsey's current schedule is also different than most. She has a "study hall" as her first period class at Mooney, and the school allows her to use that time as she sees fit, which usually means getting in her main runs for the day to beat the heat. Sometimes she runs on the Mooney track, but she has occasionally run at nearby Nathan Benderson Park for variety.
"I don't have to actually be in school until about 9 a.m., which is nice," Dempsey said. "Maybe I should use that time for studying, but running is my thing, so… "
State champions do what they have to do. That's evidenced by the rest of her routine: every few days, Dempsey will cross-train by swimming for 45 minutes, then "aqua-jogging" for another 45 minutes, which means running back and forth in her family's backyard pool.
The swimming helps with her breathing, she said, while the aqua-jogging relaxes her muscles. Dempsey said her family made fun of her for aqua-jogging until recent visits to colleges have revealed that their athletes also use aqua-jogging in their programs, which gave her vindication.
For someone of Dempsey's capabilities, the cross-country regular season is more about getting properly prepared for the state meet than winning every meet in between. Still, Dempsey has shown why she's the favorite. She's won three of the four races she's run with ease, and though she finished second at the Seffner Christian Invitational on Sept. 9 at Holloway Park in Lakeland, she was the runner-up to IMG Academy sophomore Eliana Black — someone she will not face at states.
Even so, Dempsey was not satisfied with her finish, and is going to alter her training as a result.
"That was a learning experience," Dempsey said. "I wasn't happy with my outcome. I learned that mileage (in training) isn't going to get you far. Who cares how well you can run a 6K? You have to run a 5K (at states) and you have to run it fast. I'm going to start cutting down my miles and go for quality over quantity."
At the same time, Dempsey is starting to think about her future.
Some of the schools she's talked to or visited include the University of Tampa, Florida State University, North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee. Dempsey said she's looking for a medium-sized school — 30,000 to 40,000 students — as well as a program that prioritizes distance, and a program that has separate coaches for their men's and women's programs, to ensure that both groups get equal attention.
In the meantime, Dempsey runs for Mooney with a metaphorical target on her back. On Sept. 16, Dempsey will compete in the Adidas XC Challenge in Cary, North Carolina. The championship-level event will show Dempsey how she stacks up against other states' top talent, and she'll bring back even more experience to use in November.
Dempsey may not want to think about the pressure of being the top returnee. But though the pressure may give her pause if she thinks about it too long, she also likes the idea of living up to everyone's expectations.
"It's a good feeling when everyone looks at you, worried," Dempsey said. "At the same time, I'm going to go in there with a clear mindset and run my race."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.