COLUMBIA — Hayden Legg is grimy.
It’s not because of the logger beard he has been growing. The rest of his teammates have beards this season, too.
When: Friday (women's race at noon, men's race at 1:15 p.m.)
Where: Missouri State Cross Country Course in Springfield
Or that before his sophomore year in high school, he thinks he outran a “mama bear” while backpacking in New Mexico.
It’s not even because of his weird fascination with peanut butter that his teammates are quick to point out.
Actually, Legg doesn’t really know why his teammates on the Missouri cross country team refer to him by that term.
Junior Merid Seleshi originated it, but senior Max Storms was emphatic about it.
“Hayden is a really grimy guy, I don’t think I need to add anything,” Storms said.
Legg finds it hard to explain.
“It’s a joke, but it really hurts me sometimes,” he said with a laugh.
Legg could be considered grimy because he likes the great outdoors, which is why he competes in a sport that allows him to “run around in the woods sometimes.”
Legg, a junior, and the Tigers are coming off a third-place finish at the Southeastern Conference Championships two weeks ago in Nashville, Tenn. The women's team finished 13th overall.
“I think, like, on a perfect day — if we didn’t have any hiccups — we could’ve gone out and gotten (runner-up) Georgia and gotten second,” Storms said.
Legg was Missouri's first male runner to cross the finish line at the SEC Championships, finishing eighth with Storms right behind him in ninth.
Legg has been a nature buff since joining the Cub Scouts back in kindergarten in Mexico, Mo. His father is in the Missouri National Guard and was a Boy Scout during his youth. Later, Legg became a Boy Scout, too, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout on Jan. 3, 2008, when he was 17.
He learned leadership, how to cook outdoors, backpack and how to survive in the woods.
“Stay calm, stay where you are, and find food, shelter, fire,” the 22-year-old said. “Warmth, water, food.”
Legg explained that what he learned from Troop 57 could be applied to cross country as well.
“Hydrate, have energy and don’t get hypothermia,” he said.
Legg has been competing in the sport since the third grade but really started to enjoy it in the seventh grade at Mexico Middle School. He was a three-time all-state runner at Mexico High School and earned All-Midwest Region honors at Missouri last season.
He also competes for the track and field team in the spring, and, though he doesn't want coach Joe Lynn to find out, Legg has some disdain for the indoor portion of track season.
“I don’t know if I will get in trouble for saying my answer,” he said about indoor competition. “Secretly, I hate it.”
Instead, Legg likes the openness and scenery of running outside during the fall. He appreciates the trees and nature, a contrast to the constraints of an oval running track.
Nature and trees apply to more than Legg’s preference for running space though.
“I want to live in a cabin in the woods some day and live off the land,” he said.
While living in the woods, he would have time to revert to his younger years.
“I secretly wish I was still in the fourth grade,” he said. “So I could still play Pokémon games and watch Dragon Ball Z and no one would judge me.”
Or he would have ample time to work on his inner-Forrest Gump.
“I secretly want to be an Olympic pingpong player,” said Legg, while assuming a pingpong stance. “I could stand there like this, instead of having to run 100 miles a week.
“I just love pingpong.”
But before all that happens, Legg wants to finish well at this weekend’s NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. Hopefully the Tigers qualify as a team and he will advance as an individual to NCAA National Championships the following weekend.
“We may win, we may get seventh, I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to come out guns blazin’.”