After a week of quarantine, it felt so good to be back to practice! And what an effort at that practice on Wednesday. Whew! Paavo 400s are no joke, and you all rose to the occasion. Not only was I impressed by the consistency (which was the goal), but also the mindset of each of you. The only conclusion that you can draw from that workout is that you are all FIT and ready to race! I wish I could have brought more people to the meet on Friday, and I'm bummed we missed the chance to race at Highland Park. But I also know that the concept of being linked is not limited to our team. We are connected to the community, too. That connection requires responsibility, and our team showed that responsibility in the last week. If you learn nothing else from cross-country (of course I hope that you will learn ALL of running's lessons), I hope that you remember how connected we all are. :)
On Friday night, we headed over to Lakes to check out their flighted race. What a great evening! The course was cool (despite Audrey's hatred of repeat loops), filled with lots of different view and moguls to help runners stay focused and gain momentum. The format was fun, too: there were three co-ed flights with three men and women from each team. All nine bees contributed to the team score, rather than the traditional five plus two pushers.
The first heat featured the 7-8-9 runners--Katelin, Jenna, and Karen. At the gun, they all got out hard, taking advantage of the gradual downhill in the first 800. When they emerged from the back fields loop, I was impressed by how assertive our women looked. Katelin was our leader, looking fantastic coming off the first "mogul." She was positioned near the front, and she looked like she was having fun! Jenna, forever with a smile on her face, looked awesome not far behind Kate. Karen was only a few seconds back, looking much more like her real racing self. All three had great first miles: Katelin broke 7 in 6:54; Jenna played no games with her 7:13; and Karen was not far behind in 7:22. Thinking back to the Paavo 400s--these opening miles are spot on for these women. In the second loop, the whole field slowed up a bit, including our bees. Despite the pace change, Katelin was able to move up in the race place-wise; she had a 7:30 for her second mile. She was able to bring down her last mile a smidge to 7:26, and she finished in 4th for us in the heat. This race was a huge SPR for Katelin, and nearly a LPR (she missed by one second); she has been running in the 23s and 24s, but today she pushed herself to where she really belongs (for now--I honestly think she will be in the 20s very soon): the 21s. More importantly, this is the first race this season where she looked like her real competitive self the whole three miles. She has been looking fantastic in workouts lately, and I knew she was ready to pop a great race. I'm proud of her for working through some sore shins and some mindset blocks to get to this race. It is so much fun to watch her grit and challenge other teams. THIS is who she really is, and THIS is what made her so clutch at Sterling, Conference, and Regional last year. Honestly, I think the format benefitted Katelin a lot. She is a gamer who likes to compete, and she also did not have any of our bees in front of her to compare herself to. Now that she KNOWS that she can do it, and she can take that confidence back to our course on Tuesday.
Jenna also had a big breakthrough today, and if you have been paying attention AT ALL in practice, you knew this one was coming, too. Her second mile was solid in 7:41, and she was definitely engaged in the race at this point, too. She finished by bringing her last lap down to 7:38 to earn herself a new LPF of 22:32 (shaving off 39 seconds from her previous best). She has definitely been working on her kick, and today's was fabulous too. She pulled away from a girl from Carmel, and she looked strong through the line. Jenna's constant and dramatic improvement this season can be summed up by two principles: consistent hard work and a big mindset shift. I am so proud of her for seizing her senior season despite all the unknowns of the year. She has definitely been embracing our motto of "bee the difference."
Karen was our final racer in this flight, and she, too, had a great breakthrough today. She joined us later than she usually would this summer, not joining us until August. While it took her a few weeks to wake up her fitness, she--like Jenna--has been consistently working to improve. I first saw her looking more like her real self when we ran the 1000s at Shiloh a few Saturdays back. She looked aggressive and consistent in that workout, and I knew it would start paying off in meets soon. Today was definitely her day. Although her splits are not quite where she wants them to be for the second and third miles (8:05, 8:03), I know she will be able to bring those down to the 7s on Tuesday. More importantly, she raced hard today, putting in work to catch the girl ahead of her. She finished in 23:30, dropping a whole minute from her previous season best. I think that Tuesday will prove to be even better for her, as she was in no-man's land for the last mile of her race today. Tuesday will provide her with more girls to catch, and I look forward to seeing it happen! In the meantime, she should definitely bask in her big improvement; it was great to see her racing more like we both know she is capable of!
After such an exciting first heat, I was pumped to see what our next flight would do. Riley, Lesly, and Natalie took off at the gun, and they stuck with each other for some great pack work throughout. When looking back at the pictures, there were moments where the pack nearly dissolved: in the first loop, Lesly fell off a bit, then scraped her way back to her girls; and later, Nat lost her pack, and then worked her way back to them. This energy, led by Riley's gutsiness, was fantastic. These three women worked to go after other teams, and I was so happy to watch them truly compete. Their splits reflect how tightly packed they were. Mile one: 6:59 (first time sub 7 in a race for Riley), 7:00, 7:01. Mile two: 7:27, 7:28, 7:29. I love pack work, so long as no one is being complacent. Today, these three were anything but that. Every time they ran by, I yelled that they had to take a risk, and every time, Riley would surge, pulling her teammates with her. They finished incredibly strong with some impressive PRs.
I was not sure what Riley would be able to do today after a weird week of travel and sleeplessness on Tuesday night. She looked a bit off in her first 400 on Wednesday, and I was going to pull her out of the workout and have her just get some miles in. I'm glad I waited; she simply needed to warm up! She put together an impressive set of 400s, looking stronger at the end than at the beginning. Her race reflected her hard work this season--she looked confident and aggressive throughout. Riley is definitely a gamer, rising to the occasion of race day. Her competitiveness rewarded her with a huge LPR: 21:47. She dropped a huge 32 seconds from our last head-to-head competition at Grant. She also dipped into the 21s--a good sign of things to come for this rookie!
Lesly was not far behind with a huge PR, too. She has started to see what she is really capable of this season. She looked competitive from start to finish, pulling on the power of her pack and passing other teams with grit. Her finish was the highlight of the race, though. Coming down the final stretch, she battled a girl from Lake Forest. They ran step for step for 20 meters, and Lesly appeared to edge her, but the Lake Forest runner put in one last surge, and Lesly countered, finding one last ounce in the last step to edge the competitor by tenths of a second. This gritty finish was by far the best of the day. Not only was it thrilling to watch, it also showed Lesly's mindset right now. She was not going to give up on herself or her team. I am here for this energy! Lesly dropped 53 huge seconds from her previous LPR to join 21 club: 21:57. Congrats on an incredibly race and a fun to watch finish, Lesly!
Finally, Natalie made a big breakthrough for herself today, too. To understand it, it's important to have Wednesday as context. Natalie came to me after the 4th or 5th 400 because she was having trouble breathing. Her time was not quite where it should have been, and she had a panicked look on her face as she struggled to regain her composure. I got her to start breathing into her belly, pulling her out of that bad pattern. She did a great job of acknowledging that she was struggling and dealing with that discomfort. As a freshman, she would have just dissolved into a puddle of tears and doubt. Last year, she would have leaned on Kaila to pull her through. This time, she found the strength in herself to work through it. When talking with her on Sunday about the workout, she acknowledged that she was struggling to balance dealing with breathing cold air with the mental game of trying to get the right time for each split. That combo can lead to that panicked breathing pattern where you are not getting enough CO2 out and not enough O2 in. We have had other girls on the team get into this hyperventilating pattern in the past--Maya as a freshie at Sterling and Kaila at Sectionals last year--and if left uninterrupted, the consequences are tricky for trying to race fast. Natalie proved that with minimal cueing, she could pull herself out of that pattern. I got her to breathe right for 20 seconds or so, and then I had her walk across the infield to rejoin her group. I didn't know if it would work at the time, and I worried she would struggle to finish the workout. Instead, she bounced back and finished strong. The same is true of her race on Friday: she struggled to stay with the pack, but she reset and pulled herself back to her girls. This kind of mental toughness is a journey, and I was proud of her for working on it in the race. She was rewarded with a SPR of 22:00, a 20 second drop from Deerfield. I know that much like Wednesday's workout, she will be able to use this reset moment to finish the season strong! Like I told her on Saturday, I never expect her or any of you to be perfect; I simply want you to work on being consistently growing. Natalie showed that on Wednesday and Friday!
After watching the awesome packwork of flight two, I could NOT wait to see what flight three would do! Our pack of Audrey, Kelsey, and Marisa got out hard and looked awesome in the first loop. Audrey ran sub-6 for the first mile, and I knew she was in for a great race. Wednesday was a great hint at that because she showed off her fitness for sure that day, running most of her Paavos in the upper 70s, only touching the 80s two times if my memory serves right. She used that confidence to fuel her race today. Coming into the second loop, she had passed all the girls in the field with the exception of the flight winner--Brooke Stromsland from Lakes (the 2A State Champion from last year). I loved several things about Audrey's race. Not only did she get out aggressively, but she also held on to her pace well (5:59, 6:16, 6:23). More importantly, she had THAT look in her eye. It's the same one she had at our home meet when she ran 19:06 and took the second spot on the Top Ten Board. What does THAT look look like? Her eyes have a confident intensity. Her posture is assertive. And as she runs past, she looks like a woman on a mission. It is so fun to watch! On the second loop, I knew that she was going to do something special today, and I was not wrong. She didn't earn any cake, but man did she give everything trying! When she finished, I know she was finally happy with a race because she did not get into that self-deprecating talk of how the race was "just a tempo run." Instead, she looked satisfied, which is what I want her to feel more often! She earned a new LPR--beating her best from last year's Lake Forest Regional (which we know was a bit short) by 5 seconds. She is way ahead of last year's fitness, and I am really proud of her for her new PR of 18:37. As she gains confidence, I know she will keep chipping away at that time. Proud of you, Audrey! Great effort and mindset!
Kelsey was our second runner for the day, and I cannot explain how happy I am with her performance. (I'll give it my best shot here. ;)). As you all know, Kelsey has been working through a lower leg injury. What you probably do not realize, due to her grit and selflessness, is that this injury could have ended her season. She was diagnosed with a stress reaction--the last step before a stress fracture. Luckily, she spoke up before it was too late. The comeback for an injury like this is tricky; it requires patience, persistence, and positivity. While you have all been enjoying long runs and recovery runs and intervals, she has been patiently replicating workouts on the bike. That Saturday at Shiloh when you all ran 1000s on the Twilight Loop, she was biking the same around the CCC circle, pushing herself to get that cardio stimulus she needed to stay fit. She has been getting treatments to stimulate healing, and she has been working on staying focused while she watched you all get faster. She planned outings for the team, took pictures and cheered, and asked questions about your training and splits while also planning her comeback. When you are injured, it is hard to feel connected to the team, but she has stayed linked, focusing on you all rather than regressing into a pity party. (Side note, but not of less importance, Keeley has been doing the same. Sidelined by her doctor, she has kept coming to practice, despite the fact that she is not even allowed to bike until she gets her MRI on Wednesday. That kind of mindset does not come along every day, and it is important to recognize it when it happens. I see you, Keeley!). So when Anderson announced who would be racing, I was just as joyous as Kelsey when she heard her name. She smiled ear to ear and exclaimed, "Yay! I'm racing!" Kelsey has steadily improved as a runner over the last three plus years. So I knew that this race would be a big challenge for her. She is used to being fit and being able to go when she wants to. This race would be a rust-buster: a chance to give her body a good stimulus while running rather than biking the workout. I knew that her mind was ready based on her performance in the Paavo workout on Wednesday. I also knew that her mind matching her body would be a battle. She has done a phenomenal job staying fit, but doing a bike workout is not the same as having feet on the ground. Kelsey got out well, pulling from her experience and grit to start in 6:10. That zesty start will help her in future races because it is now in her. She struggled to keep that aggressive pace in her second and third miles (6:42 and 6:49). That's ok right now, thought. What is most important is that she raced hard, she got a chance to test her leg (which felt good!). The other important part is that she got great mental stimulus--she had to work through discomfort and fatigue in the second half. She did so very well, finishing in an impressive 19:41. I know that this race will help her get faster on Tuesday and for the championship part of our season. Proud of your grit today, Kels!
The final runner in this pack was Marisa. I was so excited that she had the chance to run with this top group because I know she is ready to make a big jump. Not only has she had a different mindset this year, she has also been putting in the work. She looked PHENOMENAL on Wednesday in the Paavo workout, so I was anxious to watch her run. Marisa stepped up to the challenge, getting out hard in 6:40, her best first mile by far! She held on to run 6:56 and close in 7:00. That aggressive start allowed her to be in the mix with people who would pull her along. She did a fantastic job of racing the people around her, pulling away from the runners from Antioch and Lake Forest in the final half mile. She earned a speedy new LPR of 20:36. She has been one of the most consistent racers for us this season, not prone to the big swings in time that some others have experienced as they dealt with time trials vs. real racing. Marisa's consistency has helped her steadily gain confidence to create today's performance. She dropped nearly a half minute--much of that thanks to her early risk in the first mile. Now that she knows she can go out that fast, I encourage her to focus on hammering mile two on Tuesday. Like all of you, Marisa should have the confidence to really push during the Twilight section; we have done a ton of work in those woods, so embrace that knowledge! Congrats on an exceptional race, Marisa!
Overall, this group SEIZED THE DAY. The course was quick, the cool temps were fantastic, and the sunset was beautiful. Not one of you squandered the opportunity, and I could not be more proud of your efforts. We ended up 2nd behind a very strong Lakes team, and I am smiling ear-to-ear typing that. The placing is great, but the vibe from this pack was what was really everything. Seeing you so happy for one another is what really makes me proud.
It felt great to be at Van Patten on Saturday. EVERYONE looked sharp on the hills, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone race at home on Tuesday! Let's have a great week, bees! :)
PS--If you have not watched Sara Hall's finish in the London Marathon, CHECK IT OUT HERE. This highlight clip doesn't do it justice, but the important lesson to learn is that the race is not over until the finish line! :)