Mother Nature allowed us to race on Tuesday after two weeks of weather weirdness. That is not to say that the weather was perfect. While it was better than the last two Tuesdays, it was also hot, and a tad moreso than when Stevenson hit the line after us. To be close to your Lake Zurich time (a day with near perfect racing temps) shows consistency and focus.
I felt better about our energy at the start of the race. We looked focused and determined. When I darted across the street to see our progress by the duck pond, I have to admit that I was disappointed with the body language I saw. When we raced Lake Zurich, I saw a spark in everyone's eyes, not to mention tall posture and aggressive turns. To be fair, you guys didn't look bad...you just did not have the same zestiness that I was hoping for. Thankfully, by the last 800, we bounced back a bit, and the final 400 looked solid.
There were definitely some stand outs today. First of all, shout out to Marleth for running her first race. She ran a solid time for her first race ever, and I was proud of her for keeping a positive mindset and for challenging herself. :) We also had two lifetime PRs in this race: Belen and Mia. After the race, Belen and I had a great talk, where she explained that she wanted to redeem herself after feeling disappointed about her performance at Grant. She did that for sure, looking assertive for the whole race, and closing with a fantastic kick. Congrats on dropping 13 seconds for a new LPR! Mia keeps destroying her previous bests, seemingly every meet! She did a great job of working with her teammates today and attacking late in the race. I loved watching her work in the final mile. She dropped a whopping 29 seconds for a new LPR. I am confident that she will hit the 25s in the next race and not look back! Awesome work, freshie! :) We also had three SPRs: Bianca, Melanie, and Karen. Bianca looked stronger in this race, her second of the season. She dropped nearly a minute from Grant, relying on her experience and starting to feel her fitness return. Proud of her grit in this race--she looked great! Mel also looked much improved over Grant, dropping 19 seconds over Saturday. Like Bianca, she was more focused today, putting into action what she promised to the team post-race on Saturday. Nice work, Mel! Finally, Karen told me she didn't know what to think about her race, but she dropped 15 seconds from a week ago, despite the warmer conditions. I think Karen is ready for a big drop--each race she looks more and more fit, and her confidence is growing, too! Nice work, Karen!
There were several of you who looked consistent compared to LZ: Delilah, Riley, Maya, Marisa, Audrey, Jenna, Julien, and Illyana were all within 20 seconds of their performances against LZ. "Sticking" like that is important--it shows that your mindset is staying strong, and it proves that you are ready for a big performance given improved conditions. Nice work, peeps!
As far as kicks go, Jenna had the kick of the day. Not only did she gear up at the 400, but her final straightaway was as Coach Franklin put it, "The fastest I've ever seen her move!" It was fun to watch, and I want to see that from all of you. When it comes to that last stretch, please remember that you do NOT need to save anything for that moment. Your training and pride will allow you to take care of business in that final drive. Let's make that our hallmark this year--aggressiveness!
One final thought about this race, which I already mentioned in person: despite having a smaller team this year, we are stronger than ever. I want that reflected in our performances in the team points, too. So I am issuing a challenge to you all--who will be the one to step up to fix the gap after Marisa? Who will step up to drive our JV scorers? Those improvements will require second-half strength, and our Saturday workout will push you to believe what I already know--that you are READY for a breakthrough. I cannot wait to see it happen!
On Saturday morning, all of you were checked in and huddled under the overhangs in an attempt to stay dry before climbing on the busses. I was doing the same under the hatch of my car while asking Coach Franklin if we had everyone here. When I felt my phone buzz in my pocket, I assumed it was one of you pleading for mercy over a failed alarm or a pokey ride. Instead, I saw a message pop up from the girls' coach at Warren. I didn't have to read the message to know its content, but I opened it anyway: Coach Dawson--the boys' coach from Warren--died on Friday. He was only 64.
I first met Coach Dawson back in 1998 when I started coaching track at ZB. At the time, I was coaching both the boys and girls distance crew. And at that time, I was the only female coach of boys in our conference, and only one of three on the girls' side. Most of the other coaches assumed I was a manager, if they even acknowledged me at all. They certainly did not think I could be the coach of Steve Cross, a kid who had a killer racing instinct and a will of steel. In every dual meet of the season, he anchored the 4X800 and 4X400, and he ran the open 800 and 400. In EVERY dual meet that season, he won the open events, and in almost every case, he helped our relay win. It was a beautiful thing to witness. The only coach who actually spoke to me (other than our awesome coaching staff) that season was Dawson. He genuinely loved track and cross country, and he wanted every kid to find success. At meets, he would always check in with me to see what kind of workouts I was having our crew do and to share ideas that might help Steve make it to State and the others improve. In what was definitely an old boys' club, Dawson made me feel welcome. At State that May, he helped me feel worthy of being there. And when Steve did not perform well in the finals, he and Coach Meyers (also one of the great mentors of my life) were the ones who made it so simple to accept when they proclaimed, "State is a tricky place. You got him here, and he had an amazing experience. That's all that matters."
When I became a ZB cross country coach the following fall, he was the first to come congratulate me; he told me that I was the energy needed to help reinvigorate the ZB team (at the time, we only had 7 girls--two of whom walked during races). He had this gentle way of making me feel seen and valued; I soon realized that he made everyone feel that way. Over the years, I would witness his love of the sport and his sense of justice. In our end-of-season meetings for the conference, he would always stand up to the other coaches who tried to make changes that only benefited the big and rich schools, despite the fact that he would have benefited from the change, too. We talked about why he loved the Blue Devil Invite (which as of two years ago, was named after him): the course and competition gave kids a chance to run super-fast times, and that is just fun. During track season, we would always spend at least an hour talking at the Carthage Invite, comparing notes from indoor training and marvelling at the performances. And his athletes? He was always in awe of them and treated them like his own children. He bragged about what great humans they were, how well they scored on the ACT, and which colleges were calling for them. He taught me so much about keeping perspective, too. At one point, he had over 100 boys out for the team. He had the option of implementing cuts so that the team would be easier to manage, but he didn't. He wanted as many boys as possible to have the chance to fall in love with running and our sport. So instead, he started riding his bike to be able to better supervise the giant team.
When Dawson told me he was sick in the summer of 2019, I was not too worried. Like every difficulty in his life, he met his cancer diagnosis with optimism, so I assumed that everything would be ok. In the fall, I could see that he had lost weight, but I chalked it up to the treatment. He joked that he had some weight to give, and he focused on his team instead of the fact that the treatments were not working. All fall, I watched his boys run incredibly well. Not only were they fast, but in his words, "they are incredible kids." Dawson revelled in their performances. He was giddy that THIS might be the team that finally made it to State. At the Lake Forest Regional, his 1-5 had a 56 second split, and they won the team title. He was over the moon when his boys walked up to get the plaque. When they started taking pictures, the boys called him over to be included, and he had to practically be dragged into the frame; he wanted them to have the spotlight--it was never about him. So of course when we went to the Sectional the following week, I tried to pour all of me energy into Eric and all of the Warren boys. It just seemed right that this team should make it to State--not only for those boys, but also for a coach who helped runners improve for 40 years. His boys ran well--with only a 48 second split, and impressive feat at the speedy and crowded Busse Woods course, but they just missed their team goal by one place. Sixth place was a gut punch...only 14 points away from one more week of cross country. When finishers' times are separated by less than a second, 14 points is really nothing. But Coach Dawson took it in stride like he always did. When I found him after the results were posted, he simply said, "It would have been nice to make it, especially for all the seniors-they wanted this so bad."
So when we arrived at Deerfield this fall, I was hoping to see another strong Warren team. I knew that Dawson was not doing well, and I wanted him to have a great season to buoy his spirits. He had warned me that he was struggling physically, but when I saw his gaunt frame sitting in a chair near the starting line, I almost did a double-take: he did not look like himself anymore. We talked for a while like we always do, and he revealed that this race would be his last; he was stepping down for the season in order to get his affairs in order. Hearing that phrase put chills through me, but I hoped against hope that some miracle would happen. His boys ran really well, with his top runner nearly breaking 15. After the girls race, I headed back over to talk about the race with Dawson, but he had already left to go home and rest. When my text to him the next day went unanswered, I knew on some level that I would not see him again.
So when we finished up our team talk at the conclusion of the meet on Saturday, and I said that I needed this day, I really meant it. I needed to see teammates care about one another. I needed to see aggressive starts. I needed to see impressive kicks. Each of your races was a balm to the bad news. Thank you.
Varsity Women's Race:
These women enjoyed the best course conditions of the day, yet the rainiest weather. In the pre-race huddle, I was a little worried about the energy level, but I brushed it off as nerves. When the gun sounded, I was pleased to see our crew get out so strong. When I saw them emerge from the first loop, I was elated at our placement: all six got out strong and were close to one another. I figured that with the visual contact, they would be able to run strong in the middle mile. When they headed into the woods for the second time, we were still in solid shape, but I was concerned about the looks on most of their faces. Bee after bee was looking down and looked, for lack of a better word, flat. The two exceptions were Riley and Jenna. Riley was moving up in the pack, and Jenna had her signature smile. ;) When our bees emerged again to start the final loop, we had lost some ground to Vernon Hills. In the final 400, most of our crew either lost a spot or stuck, with the exception of Riley. When she popped out of the woods, she had a focused look in her eyes, and she willingly took my advice to gear up on the two runners ahead of her. She ran an exceptional last 400, reeling in a girl from Mundelein. With each turn, she pulled closer, and in the final stretch, she finally caught the girl just a step before the line. That kick represented her whole race: she was tuned in and challenging herself the entire way. That mindset earned her a new LPR of 22:19, a drop of 42 seconds over her great race at Deerfield. This stat is significant: Riley's best performances have been in true head-to-head races. Obviously, our season is primarily comprised of time trials, but I want you all to take a lesson from Riley--that competition can help you show your true potential! Congrats on an inspiring race, Riley!
Even though the second half of the race did not go how we had hoped, there are some other bright spots. First, Audrey got out hard like she usually does. To paraphrase her own reflection, she was close to Grant's #1 Aly. That kind of mindset--to not be intimidated by the Sectional champ of 2019, is the kind of swagger I want to hear about! And Maya responded to Audrey's aggressive start; she was proud of the fact that she was close to Audrey after the first loop. I am proud of her goal to stick to Audrey! And it continued down the line--Marisa had Maya in her sight lines; Riley could see Marisa; Katelin was ahead of her goal to stick with Jenna; and Jenna was pulling on Katelin. The sum of this is a group that is willing to pull on the energy of their teammates. This mindset is what we need to keep building upon as the season continues! The other highlight is that post-race, I could see that each of the girls immediately knew what they should work on for Tuesday. After a thoughtful conversation, I felt like we were on the right track. In looking at the results, I was pleased that we were so close to a very talented Vernon Hills team in the point total. If you put Kelsey back in the mix, we win easily. And if you add Natalie, we dominate. We have a chance to do some great things as a team this season, and I am proud of the honesty and gutsiness of this group. I look forward to seeing them race on Tuesday!
In an attempt to make the races more competitive, the Grant coach collapsed the two JV races, and I was excited to see that opportunity for our bees! The rain let up for this race, but the course was more torn up. This crew did not care about the course. In the pre-meet breakdown, the energy felt different. The group was inspired by Riley's awesome kick, and they were ready to race. Our group got out really well, and I was stoked to see Julien and Karen so near the front of the race. Our next pack of Delilah, Illyana, and Mia were way up too, which was awesome to see! Our remaining bees were working well together in packs and looking focused and strong. Heading into the woods for the second loop, I was OVER THE MOON to watch so many of you charge around the flag and use the rolling downhill as a way to catch someone. I was about to list people who stood out here, but I realized that it was the whole crew. You women really used the features of the course to counteract your mid-race fatigue, and it made me smile! The part of the race I'd really like to focus on is the last hill. At this point, the hill can be a game changer. You are about to hit the two-mile marker, you are fatigued from the slippery, wet ground, and you have to face what feels like a monster. I was stationed at the hill, and I was so happy with how many of you responded. In particular, Delilah attacked the hill with power. She shortened her stride and looked at the top of the hill as she drove her arms with pride. Delilah has always been a strong hill runner, and she leaned into that title. Julien also had her sprinter-perfect form as she drove up the hill--outstanding! Ashley was also impressive by gaining momentum on the flat in order to help her attack. Belen attacked aggressively and briefly slipped; rather than giving up or looking defeated, she redoubled her efforts and looked fantastic overcoming the hill. And Mia did a great job of keeping her momentum after she turned the corner; rather than backing off, she kept driving past the baseball diamonds. Heading into the woods the last time, Nataly, Aubrianna and Blanca did a fantastic job using that little downhill. They seemed to come alive at this point in the race, and I was literally jumping with joy watching it happen!
The finishes from this group were impressive. Illyana pushed through the entire 400, looking sharper with each turn and outkicking a girl in the last stretch. Ashley and Jenny both reacted so well on that long stretch before the tricky turn, looking assertive and picking up their turn over. Karen took a risk and tried to catch a runner from Vernon Hills. Although she came up a second short, her grit in the pursuit is what we need every single race! Every single one of you looked strong and tuned-in during the last 400, and I'm proud of you! Shout out to Mel, Joceline, and Bianca for getting their first races of the season under their belts. They each admitted some nerves pre-race, but once the gun sounded, they relied on their experience to guide them throughout. Proud of you all! :)
Post-race, Keeley and I had a short talk about her disappointment in her race. It was then that I first pointed out how special you all are, and I later echoed this point to the whole group. You women have created an elite crew of rebels. 26 strong, caring women. 26 out of some 1,300 possibilities. You are the only 26 who were brave enough to battle the heat and the cold and the wind and the rain. You are the only 26 who sought out an opportunity to grow both mentally and physically. You are the only 26 who agreed to run mile after mile, deal with blister after blister, stretch tight muscle after tight muscle. That decision alone makes you one tough cookie. And if you keep leaning into the lessons this sport provides...if you keep treating each practice and each race as the gift that they are...if you keep learning from one another's strengths...if you keep working on your internal dialogue...we will bee the difference.
So when I said that I needed today, I needed it because running has always been a refuge for me when life was and is difficult. And watching you support one another brought me strength on a day of sadness. Thank you for that.
As we head into this next week, let's refocus our minds on the gift of each day. Let's do it in Coach Dawson's memory. And please keep his family, athletes, and friends in your thoughts. Rest in power, Coach!
This week provided a dose of deja vu: just like last week, our race was postponed due to weather, and just like last week, we combined with the men for a Wednesday race. I was so optimistic about this race due to the breakthrough workout on Saturday and the magic of the Darwin Run on Tuesday (thanks for that brilliant idea, Anderson), yet the deep puddles I found on the course curtailed my enthusiasm about particularly fast times. Like last Wednesday, the hecticness of managing multiple races and teams left me unable to view as much of this race as I hoped. Thankfully, you guys really don't need me. The conditions of this season have made you all laser focused during races, and your efforts today proved it. Here's what I loved:
You embraced the conditions. While I watched MANY athletes from LZ run around the water challenges on our course, especially in the last 400, I was elated to witness you all run the tangents and charge through the puddles. That mindset will serve us well at Grant, which will definitely be a wet and muddy challenge. You also leaned into the absolutely fantastic racing weather. The cool temperatures and light mist felt refreshing, and you all took advantage of the difference in the thermometer this week! Finally, I saw you exploit your deep knowledge of the course. While our course is relatively flat, the turns can be a disadvantage if you do not use them wisely. I was thrilled to watch you all lean into the last 800 turn going into the little loop by the football field. Every one of you whipped around that corner and attacked the little hill. More impressively, as you came down the other side, I was so happy to watch you open up, using the slight downhill to help you gear up for the last 400. I'm proud of you all for owning our home course. Remember that feeling when we host Stevenson next week!
You used the order to your advantage. I made a few small adjustments to the line up, and you all adapted well, feeding off the energy of your teammates. In particular, Audrey, Katelin, Illyana, and Julien stood out in this respect. I enjoyed watching these four pull on teammates and challenge themselves to move up in the race. It seems like this order was a winner, but I don't know how each of you felt individually. If there is a placement that might help you more, please let me know, and I will try to accommodate your preference. :)
You looked CONFIDENT. Last season, I smiled non-stop. We made huge gains as a group, and watching you race was just plain fun. At this race, we built upon that progress because so many of you are owning your fitness and greatness. I noticed on the starting line just how loose and yet focused you all looked. As you stepped to the line and waited for your individual "go," I listened to you encourage one another, and I watched your eyes as you toed the line. Your faces said, "I've got this," and then you let your race illustrate that belief. As I said at Deerfield, there is nothing more satisfying to watch than a group of athletes that know their worth. From Keeley and Belen who faced their first races ever with faith in their eyes, to 4-year veterans like Karen and Ashley who showed off their wisdom, you all just looked READY. On the course, I was particularly impressed by a few of you in this respect. Audrey. At Deerfield, you looked confident when you took the lead, but I could see the concern on your face as the race came down to the last 800 (let's be real--I was concerned, too). Not Wednesday. Wednesday, you owned every inch of the course, leaning into turns, pushing the straights, and kicking like crazy to the finish. Your mindset was all in, and it was so fun to watch. It was even more fun to move your name to the #2 spot. Marisa. When I saw you in the last 800, and you were still in contact with Maya, I was elated. You looked like you knew you belonged there: that you weren't intimidated by Maya's stoic attack or her killer kick. Your mind is in a new place this season, and I'm here for every second of it. Lesly. Early in the summer, you were putting together some strong efforts during the solo part of e-camp. When we started in person, I was so disappointed that you were not able to join us to capitalize upon the gains you had made. I knew that when you were finally able in August, it would take a bit for you to adjust to racing. To see you make such a breakthrough so quickly was just a joy to witness. Your focus was evident: not only were you locked in mentally, but you also looked smooth. That combination of intensity and flow created such a great race! I'm so proud of your progress, and I know that you will be able to help us fix the gap between our top three and our second half of our varsity. :) Illyana. Man is it cool to see you shine. From the moment you joined track, you were all-in in terms of attendance, dedication, and team mindset. But to see you connect all that base and hard work with such an awareness of your strength is just plain fun. Keep leaning into this power, and you will be in the 24s in no time. ;)
You let yourselves have breakthroughs. Real talk, you guys are FIT, as exemplified by Saturday's workout. But during the race, ALL OF YOU got out of your own way and allowed yourself to have a breakthrough performance. Audrey broke 19 for the first time this season and only second time in her career, earning herself the #2 spot on The Board. Maya, although I can tell she was not satisfied with her performance, did not overthink the race like she has in the past. She looked smooth as she finished sub-20, something she has never done on our course, and something that bumped her up to #5 on The Board. Her performance also helped us get one step closer to one of my team goals: to eliminate all the 20s on The Board. ;) In adverse conditions, Marisa ran a 15 second LPR, and looked fantastic doing so. Lesly also ran an LPR by nearly 30 seconds; unlike last year, she let herself simply race today. Natalie, after struggling the previous week to manage the time trial format, looked infinitely better today, working with her teammates and competing in a way that would make Kaila proud. Jenna, smiling the whole way, continues to have a breakthrough season. She peeled another 7 seconds off her time, earning a new LPR and helping our Varsity pack. Katelin looked fantastic today! Gone is the negativity and self-doubt; they have been replaced with her killer competitive spirit and a quiet confidence that earned her an SPR and a truly impressive race where she caught SO many people. Only a second behind her, Riley showed that not all sprinters have soft mindsets. Despite dealing with a stomach issue, she battled through the race, finishing with her iconic kick! Karen looked fantastic, earning a SPR and looking much more fit. The interesting twist here is that last year, her fitness was much further along, but her mindset wasn't quite complete; now her mind is ready, and she will be an x-factor for Varsity once the physical effects of her gritty Saturday workout set in. Delilah's confidence is through the roof this year, and it showed in this race. I could see she was ready for it on Saturday, and she did not disappoint, earning a new SPR. Julien and I had a short, frank, and productive conversation on Tuesday after the Darwin Run. Wednesday, she showed that she gets it. Not only did she earn an SPR, but she also had a fantastic kick that capped a great race. It's nice to see you back, Julien! Last year at this time, Illyana ran 31:04 at home. Today, she ran a huge LPR, dropping 24 seconds from last week. She "gets" it now, and I cannot wait to watch her continue to peel away time. ;) Last year at this time, Jenni ran 31:15 at home. Although she worked hard last year, she stayed comfortable in the 28s most of the season. Today (Friday), as we pulled out of the parking lot and onto 21st, I watched her form. Gone is the wasted sideways movement. Gone is the short stride. She looked smooth, strong, and confident as she made the turn. She is the real deal now, and she earned a huge LPR by nearly a minute over an impressive performance at Deerfield. She. Has. Arrived. And I love to see it! Her energy is contagious, and Mia is definitely infected. Mia keeps pulling on Jenni, Blanca, and Illyana and improving each week. I am so glad that she took the risk to try something new this season because watching her improve is a treat! She earned a new LPR by 50 seconds! Congrats, freshie! :) Belen looked amazing in her debut today. Not only did she embrace this new experience, but her time was fantastic. I know that she will continue to improve! Ashley also looked amazing today, earning a new SPR and coming closer to her LPR. Her last 800 was fantastic, and her confidence at practice has been growing each day. I know that the 27s will happen soon, and I cannot wait to watch her smash her LPR. Ixa's energy is everything right now. Despite EVERYTHING being sore, she battled through Saturday's workout, and it showed in this race. She looked so confident on the starting line, and she earned a new SPR today. When that Saturday workout sets in, she is going to drop some serious time--I just know it! Speaking of Saturday, Aubrianna had such a great day. In particular, her 400s were fire, and I could see her gaining confidence with each interval. It showed in the race on Wednesday; not only did she do a fantastic job of racing, she also looked like her real self--confident and fit! Nice work earning an SPR, Aubri! Nataly also earned an SPR today, looking so much stronger than last week. Nat is learning to work through hot weather, so she was wise to make the most of the cool conditions on Wednesday. She dropped nearly 3 minutes from Warren, and she did it by opening her stride and believing in her strength! Finally, Keeley ran her first race ever on Wednesday. Compared to four weeks ago, Keeley is a different runner. On her first day, she could barely make it 800 before she needed a break. Today, she raced 3 miles, and she looked fantastic. I cannot wait to watch her start peeling off time as her confidence and fitness grow. Finally, I need to talk about Blanca. She texted me mid-day with a concern over a family member possibly being in contact with someone with Covid. She could have just said, "It's race day--I'm not going to say anything." Instead, she was honest with me and accommodating when I asked her to quarantine until her family member got her test results. Thankfully, her family member is clear and healthy. More impressively, Blanca went to the course before our race and ran an individual time trial without the energy of the team. She ran an impressive 28:50--a nice bounce back after a tough race last week in the heat. The most important part of this story is her selflessness. It is that mindset that has kept our team safe all summer and season, and it is that character that makes me proud to be her coach! Honestly, so many of you have handled these surreal conditions with grace and integrity--far better than many adults! I honestly feel blessed and proud to work with you all.
Overall, I was so stoked about our energy and purpose. I cannot wait to see us race at Grant. Let's seize the opportunity to race head-to-head by taking the lessons from Wednesday to heart: Embrace the conditions; Bee confident; Get out of your own way. :)
Shout outs to Joceline, Melanie, and Marleth for timing at the meet. Thanks to Kelsey, Durran, Zac, Chase, and Collin for helping direct LZ runners on the course. It takes a village to make a meet happen, and I'm thankful for everyone's willingness to pitch in!
One last point to ponder: LZ beat us on both the Varsity and JV levels. They did it by being tightly packed time-wise. We need to take a close look at our gap after Maya and the rest of varsity. We also need to tighten the gap between our Varsity and JV. I know that we are moving in that direction, but I want you to be mindful of that point in order to provide a bit more "why" to your racing. I've included a pic of the top of the results and the scoring to help you see what I mean. You can see the full results at athletic.net. If you make a free account, you can see results without annoying ads. This website is a great resource to be able to see your progress as well as that of your teammates and other runners in the state. Bee a student of your sport!
What a weird period of weather. From heat-induced ROYOs the week before, to the threat of storms this week, we have been tested to stay on course. After being cancelled on Tuesday (which, I still argue was for the best...it would have been difficult to make it to the course due to the traffic and street closures created by the president flying in and out of Waukegan).
Our race against Lake Forest was tricky. The weather was significantly warmer than the day before (Blanca summed up the loss of those great conditions with "... the weather really played us..."), and we raced during the warmest part of the evening. That being said, many of you stepped up to the challenge. Unfortunately, I was not able to watch as much of the race as normally would; that should be fixed for our next meet vs. Lake Zurich. Here's what I did see:
1. GREAT first miles: Katelin, Karen, Illyana, Lesly, and Mia. You guys got out hard, and the splits show it. These bees definitely took risks in the first mile; that mindset is going to pay off. By going out hard, that stimulus is now in their systems. Their bodies are adapting to that work as we speak. Now the next time they get out at that pace, they will be able to "stick" for longer. Many of you had solid first miles, but I need you to reflect on your workout on Saturday. Your first mile in your race should be faster than the dessert mile; you can handle it, so trust your fitness!
2. Mile two grit: Kelsey, Audrey, Maya, Marisa, and Jenna either "stuck" or got faster in the second mile. This stat is particularly important--it means that when the adrenaline wore off and the fatigue set in, they pushed through the discomfort despite the heat. That kind of grit is what we need in order to make our goals come to fruition. If your second mile split was not what you hoped for, then that needs to be your focus on Tuesday. We specifically did work in the Twilight Loop on Saturday for this reason. You all SLAYED that workout! You OWN the second mile of the course. Remember that when you pass that corner on Tuesday. And as for Kelsey, Maya, Marisa, and Jenna? You four need to lean in even more--make that second mile the centerpiece of your races. :)
3. Fantastic kicks: Riley, Ashley, Jenni, Illyana, Karen. I'm know that there were more, but these are the five that stood out to me. Each of these women used the course to their advantage; they surged at the 400, and used the final turn and downhill to kick hard to the finish. I know that the last stretch is tough--the sun is in your eyes, and the finish line does not come fast enough. But these women? They looked fantastic coming into the finish. If the 400s from Saturday's workout taught you anything, they should have taught you that YOU HAVE SPEED, even when you are tired. Let's make the list of great kicks include every single one of you on Tuesday!
Overall, Lake Forest beat our varsity and JV squads. I need you to study the results for me--check out the pics below. You can see that LF beat varsity by 10 points. In our new format, time is everything. Since we cannot race for place head-to-head, finish times dictate the place order. Remember, I said that our first five people and LF's first five count for the score. You can see that LF's depth after their third runner is what did us in. Do you see all those LF runners who ran between 21:43 and 22:39? That strength is what made it impossible for us to win. Their depth in the 22s and 23s allowed them to sweep us in JV (their score of 15 is perfect, and the fact that we had a 50 shows that they went 1-7 before one of us finished). This kind of depth is what we should be moving towards. I know that we have a team that is capable, but we need to step up in the time trial format. You all looked sharp and competitive at Deerfield when we were racing head-to-head. I need that same intensity at Tuesday meets. If there is something I can do to help--whether it is a certain workout or race order--please let me know. In the meantime, study the results from Tuesday, and be ready to run in cooler weather this week. Let's seize the opportunity!
Lastly, I need you to know just how impressed I am by the work you ALL put in on Saturday. The sprints were fantastic. I was thankful to see you rise to the competitive challenge. Even though there were only two, they gave you the chance to do two things: tap into your max speed and develop that competitive drive. Both of these skills are needed to make you a well-rounded racer. The fact that there were so many races that Franklin had to call ties shows that you were fighting through the finish line. That mindset will help shave seconds off your times. When we moved to the 800s, most did not hit the target times. I honestly have not figured out what happened at that point in the workout. Were you still a bit gassed from the sprints? Were you not attacking as aggressively as needed? Was the loop a tad long? The second 800 was better, and most of you got faster or stayed consistent, which is good. That part of the workout demanded focus and consistency--both of which I saw. The 400s were definitely impressive. The fact that you were able to hit the last one faster than the second, while going uphill, shows that you were mentally strong despite being tired. And then the dessert? Honestly, I did not know what to think at first because you all looked shocked and a little deflated as we walked to the starting line. By the time you lined up, though, you all looked ready. Coming off the volleyball courts, you took the turn aggressively and pushed to the finish. The times were impressive. They show that you are stronger than you have been giving yourselves credit for so far. When you hit the 2-mile mark, remember how hard you worked on Saturday. Remember how tired you were when we lined up for the mile. Remember how you pushed through that fatigue...how you demanded more of yourself...how you finished with pride. Make that last mile a message. :) I cannot wait to see you race!
WHAT A DAY! :)
After a strong debut at Warren and weird week of rude heat and ROYOs, I was glad to see everyone at morning practice on Friday. Friday was sneaky-hot: the temperature was not bad that early in the day, but the humidity was ridiculous. It was good to reunite, though, and the energy of the team was fantastic. I was optimistic that the vibe would continue into Saturday. Mission accomplished! As I checked everyone in, I had a good feeling from everyone, but I had no idea that it would be such a great day.
Our Varsity boys were first, and I was hyped after watching so many of them shine, especially Alex and Tony. What a great start! :) When our 11 bees got ready for the varsity race, I could tell from the breakdown that we were ready. At the gun, Audrey got out hard in her typical style, pressing to the front of the pack. Maya was well up there with Warren's strong pack, and Marisa was only steps behind. Natalie had the best start of the group for sure, looking like a woman on a mission to stick on Maya. Jenna and Riley also were looking great in that front group. In our second group, Delilah was also out strong, and Jenni was playing NO games with her aggressive start. Illyana was a little more conservative with Blanca and Mia within steps. After the first loop, I was already fist-pumping and smiling hard through my mask.
On the other side of the creek, I could see that Audrey was continuing to gap the pack, assertively chasing the lead vehicle. She amazed me today with her tenacity. Not only did she start and end as the leader, but her demeanor screamed power. Her splits were impressive: 6:29, 6:14 (woot woot), 6:31. That even race allowed her to put a hurting on Warren's pack, and made it hard for them to close the gap in the final part of the race. When their top runner made one last attempt in the final 400, Audrey responded with an amazing kick, going to her arms and defending her lead. Last year at this course, Audrey ran 20:57, and today she popped a 19:14. What? She did not beat 20 last year until Sterling, so she is WAY ahead of her freshman self. Now I need her to remember that this race is who she really is, and she needs to give herself credit for a gutsy win! :)
Maya also had a great breakthrough today. She was not satisfied with her performance on Tuesday, and she made up for it today. She stuck in Warren's pack for the entire race, looking smooth and easy as they did the work. Although that can be intimidating to sit alone with another team (and their pack was TOUGH), she looked effortless! Like Audrey, she ran incredibly even splits: 6:38, 6:26, 6:37. She also closed with a really nice kick, picking off one of Warren's pack. Last year, Maya ran in the two-mile at Deerfield, finishing in 13:34 (which was great!). This year, her two-mile split was 13:03. Whew! Last year, she didn't hit the 19s until Conference at Lake Forest. Not this year. She is a woman on a mission, and I'm here for it. ALL DAY. What a great performance!
Marisa was our third bee today, and she looked sharp. Her splits were super-even, too: 7:02, 7:04, 7:12. That kind of consistency shows that she is FIT. Last fall, she ran 25:01 on this course. Today? A new LIFETIME PR of 21:18. She smashed her previous PR (from Lake Forest's speedy course at Conference) by 1:20. And it is still August! :) The other exciting part of Marisa's race was her kick. With 400 to go, she looked up and decided that she was going to get the runner from Warren, and get her she did, sneaking into the chute one second ahead of her. Over the summer, I could see that Marisa was a different runner. Tuesday, she looked strong, but today, she seized the gift. Congrats on a great day, Marisa! :)
Natalie is back. Real talk, her Tuesday performance looked a bit flat, but today's was sharp and focused. After getting out hard, she raced hard, working to keep the gap between her and Marisa the same. Her splits were solid, but clearly her third mile needs to be the focus in the next race: 7:03, 7:27, 7:48. She finished in 22:18, a full minute faster than last year's race on the same course. The times are sweet, but her last 400 showed that she is a real junior. I yelled that she needed to decide that she was going to catch the girl ahead of her from Deerfield (who was a good 20 meters ahead). She looked me dead in the eye, nodded, and got to work. It was so fun to see her feeling strong and confident. This kick was exactly what I know she can do, and I cannot wait to see her continue to grow into this more mature role on the team. Proud of you, Nat!
Riley was our 5th bee to round out our team scoring. She had a great day, working with Jenna smartly to drop over two minutes from her debut on Tuesday. :) It was good to see Riley in true race conditions; I figured she would be a gamer, and I was not wrong. She responded well to other racers, and her splits show it: 7:25, 7:44 7:50. I know that with a little more experience and strength, she will be able to get the second and third mile to match the first. Her speed is definitely her strength; she had a beautiful kick that dispatched a runner from Deerfield and a runner from Warren. She looked powerfully graceful as she opened up her full stride for the last stretch. What a great race from start to finish, Riley! Proud of your growth today!
Jenna was our sixth bee, and like Nat, she got out strong, pulling Riley with her. From start to finish, she was smiling and leaning into her work. Her splits reveal her strength: 7:35, 7:36, 8:06. That fast start got her in the last mile, but I know that she will get that fixed as she gains more confidence and experience. Last year, she ran almost four minutes slower and was frustrated with a comment (albeit an on-point and honest one) made to her by one of the coaches. This year, she ran a LIFETIME PR by 50 seconds by simply deciding to let her hard work of the summer shine. What a joy to watch that transformation! :) My goal for Jenna is for her to work on her kick. She has the gutsy start and smart mid-race moves; a strong kick will make her even more lethal in our top 7. So proud of her big performance today!
Delilah rounded out our top seven today. Only two weeks ago, she had her wisdom teeth out, which kept her out of practice for 7 days. Today, you'd never know that. After making the wise choice to run in the varsity race, she got out well and battled with herself when she was stuck in limbo without any racers nearby to draw upon. Her splits reveal that she needs to work on her last mile: 7:54, 8:28, 8:44. That being said, she ran nearly a minute faster than last year on this course, and she did it by herself in the second half. With 400 to go, she listened to my advice and made as strong move on the long straightaway. Her final kick was strong, and her post-race speech was simply lovely. It was good to see this senior race again, and I'm proud of her for being so far ahead of schedule!
Illyana was our 8th finisher, looking really strong in the second half. She got out well (8:09), worked so well with her pack in the mid-race (8:43) and had a strong kick at the end (9:11). Last year, she admitted that she was super nervous about racing. This year, she was a different woman, looking assertive and proud of her fitness, and dropping nearly 4:00 from her Deerfield time last year. What?! That time drop highlights just how hard Illyana has been working this summer. She made a strong move in the last mile that put her in the position to set a new LIFETIME PR by a whole minute! Whew! Awesome work, Ily!
Jenni had a tremendous start today, getting out harder than usual for herself: 8:09, 9:13, 9:26. Her courage pulled her teammates along, which is important! I know that with a better back, Jenni will be able to bring those second two miles down. Today she looked like woman on a mission, shaking out her arms and focusing a head with laser-like focus. This confidence helped her knock almost 2.5 minutes off of her time at Deerfield last year. It also helped her earn a huge LIFETIME PR. She dropped over a minute from her previous PR (that came in October last year). She is fit. She is strong. She is ready to make an impact this season! Nice work, Jenni! So proud of you!
Blanca ran a tremendous race today, too. She pulled on her pack to help her run solid splits: 8:24, 9:02, 9:25. What is most important is that Blanca is not afraid to take the lead. She earned a new LIFETIME PR today, too. Last year, she ran 32:25 on this course, so her 26:51 today is a testament to her growth. She is 12 seconds ahead of schedule from last year, and it is only August. :) I'm really proud of how Blanca is growing into a true runner--awesome work today, Blanca!
Our final runner in this race was our brave freshie Mia, who chose to run with her teammates in the varsity. She got out really well, pulling on Jenni's aggressive lead. Mid-race, she smartly worked with Jenni and Blanca, trading leads and putting in surges. By the end, she earned herself a nearly two minute PR from her time on Tuesday. Awesome work on the new LIFETIME PR, Mia! :) Her splits reveal her need for some more strength in the latter half of the race, which WILL come sooner than later thanks to her impressive work ethic: 8:17, 9:08, 9:55. Like Riley, Mia has that gamer mindset and is not afraid to challenge herself. I cannot wait to see her keep peeling time off week to week!
Overall, this group took the stank off of 2020. Not only did they celebrate each other's greatness, but they also sounded hungry for more after our debrief. Seven lifetime PRS and four season PRs from this group. Not a bad way to start a Saturday! :)
Our 2-mile group was smaller but just as focused. At the gun, Lesly got out HARD, challenging the group and the lead cart. She looked confident and smooth through the first mile. Due to my silliness, the splits are not exact (my bad everyone), but we think she rolled through in 7:14, with her second mile at 7:40. When the Deerfield girl came up on her, they battled along the creek for sometime before the Deerfield runner bested her somewhere near the bridge. I love that Lesly took a risk in that first mile today. That zesty start is now in her, and it will help her feel more comfortable at that pace for the next race. As she came in for a smooth kick, the Warren coach commented on her athleticism. It was so good to see her run well, and I'm stoked to see her run three miles on Tuesday at home!
Katelin was our second bee today, and I am equally happy to see her race. After a spring in a boot and a summer of being conservative, she is finally back to running. She responded to Lesly's aggressive start, running in tandem at first, then pulling off Lesly's energy. As her teammates noted, Katelin looked locked in the entire race; she took feedback and used it to adjust her form and work on other runners. Her splits were solid (7:28, 8:36), and I know that she will pull that second mile down as she gets more fitness. Post-race, she was typical Katelin--hard on herself, but I want her to know that I am proud of her gutsiness and mindset. It was really fun to see her out there again, and I look forward to what she can do on Tuesday.
Karen was not too far behind, pulling on Katelin's leadership and energy. She had a strong first mile, and she worked the second loop well, surging to make contact with other Deerfield runners. Her senior experience served her well with this last minute addition. I know that as she gains fitness, she will get that second mile to match the first: 7:54, 8:44. Her post race leadership was important for our team, and I look forward to seeing her grow into that role even more. In the meantime, her voice has been helping her younger teammates; we missed her dearly this summer!
With the best kick of the race, Aubrianna became our fourth bee in the 2-mile. She raced well in the second loop, but her last 400 was clutch. She started accelerating in that back straightaway. With every turn, she gained more momentum and confidence. In the final stretch, she was fully open and challenging a rather erratic Deerfield runner, who kept weaving to block Aubrianna from passing in the final steps. What I loved most about this kick was the fact that after the race, she admitted that it was fun to feel that open, free, and fast. I love that Aubri loves racing, and I know that as her fitness returns, she will continue to drop big chunks of time thanks to her competitiveness. Congrats on an incredible effort in that kick!
Aubrianna definitely played off Ixa's race, who had a strong first mile in 9:19. Much like Karen, Ixa's times are going to improve dramatically as she taps back into her years of base. In the meantime, if she keeps pushing like she did today, I am going to be a joyful coach! She worked hard to challenge Deerfield runners, and she pushed through a challenging last mile like a champ. It's good to have your energy back with the team, Ixa!
Finally, Nataly rounded out our 2-mile group today. What struck me most about her race was her open stride today. Sometimes known as "tall" Nataly, she does not always use her gift of long legs. Not today, though. Today, she looked open and strong and focused for the whole race. Her first mile was a great testament to her hard work this summer. I cannot wait to see what she does in a 3-mile in cooler conditions on Tuesday!
Overall, this group looked STRONG. They used each other's energy and really made us smile at the finish!
I was beaming on the bus ride home as I posted pictures and looked back on the times. Pending your feedback about safety and comfort levels, we will look into adding another invite-style meet to our schedule this season. While the racing was so fun, I am really impressed by the way the character of this team is shaping up. Illyana summed it up when she talked about her confidence shift this year. I feel it across the team, and it is exciting to take in. Let's keep leaning into that feeling...that knowing of our worth and power. It is where joy lives! Thank you all for an amazing day!
For Tuesday, we race first against Lake Forest. They are always strong, so we need to be thinking about strategy for our line up. Please put some thought into what order you would like to run, and prepare mentally to defend our house. I cannot wait to see you race again!
Tuesday, August 25th @ Warren
**Note: It was my intention to have this up sooner, but I have been battling internet issues this week. Thank you for your patience!**
At the start of March, I remember pausing before walking into Rockford's beautiful, new indoor track. I looked around at all the people and thought, "We probably shouldn't be inside with all these people..." And despite the foreboding feeling in the back of my mind, we had an incredible day with outstanding performances. We seized the gift! By the following week, I knew that we would not see each other for a bit. I had no idea it would last this long, though.
I need to give you all kudos for what you managed between March and this first meet. When it felt like the world was upside down, you kept running and posting and supporting. When you were not able to be in that mindset, you admitted it with honesty. You have navigated one of the most difficult periods in recent American history with grace and courage; from an out of control pandemic that forced us into eLearning to the repeated trauma of our country's original racist sins, you all kept putting one foot in front of the other. And like any good distance runner, you will keep doing so...one step, one breath at a time. Take a moment to own your toughness; although this year is not traditional, the lessons you are learning are not traditional either. You are going to be some tough cookies!
This week, when Coach Anderson talked about the tragic death of Jacob Blake and the ensuing protests and unrest, I made a comment that was not fair: I said that I was counting on your generation to get it right. And while I still believe that your generation already is and will continue to move us forward when it comes to healing our country, it was not ok for me to put all of that pressure on you. All of us--from great grannies to babies--all of us must do our parts to keep our country's promises true. All of us must strive to find the humanity in one another. All of us must speak up so that everyone may feel safe, heard, valued, and loved. That needs to happen in our homes, on our team, in our classes, and out in public. So please accept my humble apology for passing off such an important job to your generation. I promise to do my part too. :) If any aspect of our current landscape makes you feel overwhelmed, my door is always open. Shoot me a remind message or text. Ask to talk at practice or after. Sometimes just getting the words out helps. Bueno?
When we had our first day of practice a few weeks back, I did not know what to expect. Would we get any newbees? (Lookin' at you, Mia, Riley, and Keeley!). Would the vets of XC all return? By the end of that first official practice, I reminded myself of the two lessons I always preach: that being nervous is good--it means you care; and that beeing in the moment matters. That first practice was a delight. It felt good that we were moving forward into the real season. It felt good that newbees trusted us and wanted to try this XC thing we love. It felt good to see everyone together.
So as we climbed off the busses on Tuesday, I tried to remind myself not to worry about the new "racing" format. I tried to remind myself to ignore the rude heat that tried to stifle us in the stadium. And when I saw the boys' coach from Warren--Coach Dawson--I tried to remind myself that despite his uphill battle with cancer, he was out there doing what he loves. What a great reminder to bee in the moment!
It felt surreal to watch Warren "race" without us, and even more bizarre to look at our line of bees in a spaced-out line waiting to approach the start. But once Maya was on her way and you each had your moment at the line, I felt like I was home. Watching you all shine despite the heat and "racing" conditions made my heart sing.
When I saw Maya emerge from the woods, I could feel the right energy! She looked smooth and determined with Audrey and Kelsey not far behind. On each loop, I was thrilled to watch them within eyesight of each other. They accomplished what I had hoped: they helped each other run great races. Kelsey finished with a speedy 19:18, about 30 seconds ahead of where she started the season last year on Deerfield's course. Whew! Audrey was our second finisher, and she was also 30+ seconds ahead of last year's debut! :) Maya rounded out our top three with a great finish. Last year, she ran the 2-mile race at Deerfield, and her 2-mile split was only seconds away to that finish time! Overall, these three looked fantastic, and I am excited to see how they improve over the season. :)
Our next group of runners also looked beautiful today. I intentionally put Marisa at a later start in this group, knowing that she would have the chance to work up to her teammates and then pull them along. She did this perfectly, running about 3 minutes faster than her Deerfield debut last fall and seconds away from her lifetime PR. I loved watching her confidence and control! The "surprise" (although not really if you have watched her work this summer) of the race was Jenna. Not only did she hold off Marisa for quite some time, but she shared the same confidence and strength. She ran nearly 3 minutes faster than her Deerfield race last fall, and she did it with a smile nearly the whole way. So proud of the growth out of this duo! Not far behind was Riley in her ZBXC premier. :) It was so exciting to watch her challenge herself in this much longer race (the last race I saw her run in track season was a 400), and then still kick like a true sprinter at the end. I know that Riley is going to keep improving dramatically as she figures out this sport, and I cannot wait to see her race on Saturday. Natalie was not far behind; these two definitely played off each other's energy. While the time is not quite where Nat or I would like it to be (yet), I was so encouraged to watch her race. Without Kaila at her side and Andrew in her ear, I was not sure what she would do today; so I was over the moon that every time I saw her, she was focused and pushing to keep in Riley's sight. This kind of growth is what we need as she steps into her role as an upperclasswoman on this team. :) Overall, this top seven looked so good. I cannot wait for the next group to challenge them!
I'm going to be honest, this next group has been pushing each other so well in practice, I did not know who would take the lead. Illyana definitely made a statement today, catching two of her teammates and pressing hard through the heat and the finish. She dropped over 2 minutes compared to her race at Deerfield last year; this fact is not shocking at all considering her growth during track, her dedication during the early phase of the stay-at-home orders, and her grit this summer. I'm going to say it here now--I know that Illy can get into the low 25s, and soon. Awesome work today! In her first race as a ZBXCer, Mia took second in this pack, finishing in a strong 28:07. Her splits were pretty even, especially considering it was her first race. Like Riley, she is just going to get stronger as she learns more about the sport, and I cannot wait to see it! In an interesting twist for this format, Jenni and Blanca ended up with the same finish times despite starting three people apart. I was worried about all of you in this heat, but Jenni and the toastiness are just not friends :) She did a fantastic job of resetting at each mile and working through the stadium section, which helped her cut a minute from her Deerfield time last fall. Mindset matters! Blanca had the same grit, catching peeps ahead of her and working the go-zones hard. This constant push helped her improve by 4 MINUTES over her debut last year. What?! Just like Illyana and Jenni, Blanca worked her butt off all summer, and it is showing--proud of you! Julien was our next finisher. Her time does not reflect her grit today. After a tricky summer that required her to be away from the team for a bit, she is starting to look more like herself in practices now. This race was an anomaly for her, and I know she will bounce back even stronger. What impressed me most was that despite the fact that the heat was definitely TRYING to get to her, she kept her impeccable form and finished strong. Proud of you, Julien! Aubrianna was our next finisher. While she was making great progress in the winter/spring during track, some time away this summer is reflected in her time. That being said, Aubrianna has made incredible progress over the last two-plus weeks! From a rocky first day to this race, her fitness is coming back quickly. That's why it's important to never forget that your base is in you...you just have to wake it up! :) I know that she will look even sharper at Deerfield this Saturday. Our final bee for the day was Nataly. Like Jenni, I was on the lookout for heat-related distress with Nat. She had the right mindset, though, and she looked strong throughout the race, including a nice kick! With some cooler temps this Saturday, I anticipate that she will be able to destroy her Deerfield record. Overall, this pack was impressive today!
Although we did not compete directly,the meet is still scored like a real race. You can click here to see the doc and compare how you did versus Warren. You'll see on the third tab that they nabbed us in a score of 23-38 for Varsity (first 7 runners) and 15-50 for JV (next 7 runners). If you want to get better as a runner, it's important to see how race scoring works, so I invite you to look it over and think about how we could improve as a team. I also invite you to start setting some goals for the race at Deerfield this Saturday. Like Warren's course, Deerfield's is flat and fast. You will also have the advantage of direct competition rather than the staggered start. Here are two keys I would like to work on: 1. Using go-zones more consistently. I felt like you were solid on this today, but I would like to see a more marked shift at Deerfield (we can pick where they will be together); 2. Treating this race as the gift that it is. Now that you know how staggered races will feel (and let's be honest--it was made slightly easier by a repeated mile loop...we won't always have that same connected feel in upcoming races), we have to embrace the beauty and fun that is real racing.
Hydrate, think fast thoughts, and I'll see you Friday morning!
Quick notes about Friday morning practice and Saturday's Meet:
9:00 AM Girls Varsity 3 miles
9:35 AM Boys Fr/So 3 miles
10:10 AM Girls JV 3 miles (I may put a few of you here...we can talk about this)
10:50 AM Boys JV 3 miles
11:20 AM Girls Open 2 miles
11:55 AM Boys Open 2 miles