When I was in high school, my coach would preach that it is one thing to dream big about running, but it is another to stay awake and achieve it. Of course I understood the literal meaning of these words, but I never understood how time sensitive they were until I was a senior. The summer before my senior year, time suddenly felt more precious, more fleeting. And as I have gotten older, I realize just how fluid time feels. As a child, the month leading up to Christmas felt like an eternity. Waiting and hoping for Santa's bounty made each day feel like forever. Now, and even more poignantly during 2020, time feels faster. Days and weeks fly by, and suddenly, it's the day before November, and we are at the starting line of Sectionals.
Why do I bring up time? Because this group of seven today simultaneously cared about and disregarded time. After tracking PRs all season and taking splits in workouts and worrying about minutes and seconds every day, today, this group simply raced. It was a gorgeous thing to watch. For those of you who did not get a chance to witness it, here's some quick set up. Since individuals AND teams advance from the regional to the sectional, the host had to figure out a safe and fair set up for the flights. As a result, the flights from last week were blown up. The first three runners each had their own flights, and the individual qualifiers (like Grant's Aly Negovetich) were mixed in across these three flights according to their times from the regionals. What did that mean for us? Our top three would toe the line solo for each of their races.
Audrey was in the first flight, and I'd like to offer some context for that decision. Audrey has been running REALLY well in the last few weeks (I'm sure you all know this). I debated about whether Kelsey or Audrey should take on that first flight, and based on their recent performances, I landed on Audrey. What I did not think through--not until I watched the race unfold--was their racing styles. Even though Audrey has been ahead of Kelsey recently, she also has a very aggressive style, especially in the first mile. I love that about her. She looks fearless as she attacks the race, and I don't want to reel in that competitive edge too much because it is--frankly--very hard to teach. The problem is that I also knew that this was the last stop of the season, and the leaders of her heat would not hold back at all; the title of Sectional Champ was an important one for many of the top girls in that flight, and with no State Meet this year (stupid 2020), they, too, would be aggressive from the gun. These two truths collided, and Audrey's second half of her race suffered as a result. I was not at the mile marker, but the LZ coach told me that the front of the pack was around 5:25 for the first mile. Whew! That is incredible! Now let's look at how training works and can affect you in a race. Audrey's current mile PR is 5:34 I believe. She was not right on the leader's shoulder, but she was definitely within 10 seconds of Negovetich. If she starts her 3 mile race at the same pace as her mile PR, that's a problem. Logically, she is not going to be able to hang onto that pace for the remaining two miles. And there my mistake lies. I should have talked with Audrey about backing off for that first mile. She did a great job of that at Grant the week before, and she was able to attack mile 2 & 3 feeling confident. Instead, she went with the pack this week, and then suffered in the second half. Audrey--I'm so sorry I didn't coach you right for that race! Let's focus on the good stuff now, though. First, that courage that Audrey has building all season showed itself in that first mile. She was running with every other team's number one runner, plus all the fastest individuals. She did not let those facts intimidate her (well, at least that I could see). She believed in herself, and went and made a race of it. :) Second, even though she was in trouble pace-wise, I never saw her quit mentally. Every time she went by, Audrey looked locked in and was pushing to use the energy of the racers around her. Finally, she definitely heeded my advice about beginning her kick at the 400, and she pushed hard in the final stretch. This race is going to be a great teaching tool as she gets stronger this spring, and by next fall, I know that she will be ready to hang with those girls at the sectional. Until then, my other thought about Audrey is that I know that she is hard on herself. She did not let herself pout after the race; instead, she went to the corner of the course where it was quieter, and cheered for Kelsey. That says a lot about her character and about the future of our team. I'm proud of you for a great season and for your day from start to finish on Saturday. :)
I try not to get fooled twice, so I was ready to help Kelsey as she prepared for her race. Kelsey much prefers a more conservative start and to "grow" into the race, and we agreed that that strategy would definitely be wise today. As her flight made the first turn to the back stretch, I could see her pink sleeves near the back of the pack. With only 20 people in each flight, she was not far from the leaders, but she was playing it smart, starting in 19th place. In each successive loop, Kelsey reeled in girls with a smile on her face. It was so much fun to watch her just eat. Each time she passed (the course was 4 loops), I counted her place, and watched her move up: 17th, 15th, 10th. This woman has been working so hard for four years; she has learned strategy, overcome injuries, faced a whole pandemic, and has done it all with a growth mindset. This race embodied all of those experiences for sure. By the last 400, I was going out of my mind--could she crack the top 10 of her flight? In past weeks, Kelsey's one weakness was that she just did not have much of a kick after her injury layoff. Not today. At the 400, I saw her dig in and start shifting. By the time she whipped off the final turn, she was gunning for one more girl to finish the race in 9th place. As she cleared the finish corral, she just smiled about what she knew was a great race. I was SO pumped to see the next race!
Maya has been "stuck" racing-wise. She has looked solid for weeks, helping our team place well at Conference as well as at Regionals. But I know she was not satisfied with her recent races; more than anything, I wanted her to feel proud when she crossed the line today. We talked about Kelsey's strategy, and Maya was on board. When the gun sounded, she was looking strong and ready near the back of the pack. I don't want to say that she copied Kelsey's race, but...yeah, she did. Lap after lap, Maya hunted runners down and looked so incredibly strong as she passed each one. This is by far Maya's best race of the season. Not only did she pass a mess of people (I'm going to be honest--I was SO hyped by this point in the meet, that I couldn't count accurately. I'm pretty sure she caught at least 7 girls), but she looked confident and proud as she did it. Whew! You know that THAT is what I want: for each of you to run your race while knowing your POWER. Maya's race summed that up, from start to finish. What a great way to wrap up a 4-year career! So proud of you, Maya!
The next flight no longer featured individuals, so we were able to have some bees race together. Marisa and Riley were up to round out our scoring 5. By the time they arrived at the line, my smile could not be contained by my mask. ;) Between my cheesy self and the positive energy from Kelsey, Maya, and Audrey, these girls had no choice but to rise to the occasion. And like all season, they did. At the gun, our two took off looking strong and wise. On the back of the first loop, they were working in tandem, ready to start making moves. By the next loop, Marisa had made a big move, pushing up to the next pack. Unlike the previous races, this flight really spread out fast, so Marisa had some work to do to catch people. She did a great job of using the wind at her back along the school section to challenge other runners. Riley was doing the same, battling a girl from Libertyville and working to close the gap to Marissa. By the last loop, I could see that both Marisa and Riley were having incredible races like their teammates before them. In the final 400, Marisa looked amazing as she shifted gears. She nearly matched her time from the week before (although different in their challenges, these courses are similar time-wise), underscoring her awesome effort. With about 600 to go, Riley pointed to her abs, and I knew that she was cramping a bit. I reminded her that she was almost to the 400, and that she knew she could go to her kick no matter how she was feeling. In a moment of BA awesomeness, she simply nodded her head and pushed through the pain. Like Marisa, her time was within seconds of her Regional performance. These two have just been rock solid all season. That kind of consistency makes me so optimistic about next season!
Our final race of the day featured Lesly and Jenna. If you were paying attention, you know that Katelin raced for us last week, helping us advance to Sectionals. Unfortunately, her knee/shin kept getting worse all week, despite her efforts to get it to calm down. In a unselfish and mature move, Katelin talked with me Friday morning, telling me that she thought it would be better for Jenna to get the chance to race. This sophomore sacrificed her chance to race in order to put someone else (specifically, a senior) into that spot to give our team the best chance to do well. Whew. Again--that kind of mindset makes me wildly excited about next year's team. ;) Ok, so to Lesly and Jenna's races. These two felt the joy of their teammates and, despite a 10 minute race delay, were ready to compete when the gun sounded. Like their sisters before them, the went out smart, and then got to work competing. This race was the most spread out of the day, so these two had to be mentally tough to catch their competitors, but they did just that. Despite dealing with the windiest conditions of the day, Lesly got out well and battled a tough girl from Rolling Meadows. Jenna, able to see Lesly's sleeves, kept working to move up throughout the race. By the final loop, each bee had caught at least four girls, following the trend of the day of second-half strength. In the final 400, Lesly started gearing up in a final attempt at the Rolling Meadows girl. Her kick was strong, but Jenna's was definitely the stand out of the day. She shifted at each turn, and nearly caught Lesly in the final steps of the race. After they left the corral, I was all smiles. Lesly seemed to doubt what she had just accomplished, but now that I look at the stats, it's important to note that she is the only bee who dropped significant time compared to her performance at Grant's course (nearly 20 seconds). That is saying something on this course. Sure, it's not hilly like Grant's course, but it is really twisty, making momentum a difficult thing to find. Awesome work on this course, Lesly!
Overall, our team was courageous, wise, and strong today. That combination put us in 12th place in the team standings, moving us up two places over last year's 14th place. Nice work, team! More importantly, this group finished the season with grit. Whether any of these women ever run another step after graduation, that grit will serve them well in our difficult world. After we ate, laughed at the park, and then boarded the bus, I had the same feeling I have had ALL SEASON: contentedness. That is a great feeling to have as a coach; it means that the workouts and lessons and all the in between clicked...it means that the team found a way to make lemonade despite some sour ingredients (looking at you, 2020)...and really, that's all I ever want.
A few other notes about the day:
Special thanks to the Luell family for bringing us post-lunch sweets. They were delicious, and they allowed us to properly celebrate the day! Thank you for thinking of us and for your generosity! Special thanks also to the Hamilton family for the great idea to have a picnic at the park post-race. It was a welcome moment to breathe in the greatness of the day and just smile. Thanks for also setting up the hand-washing station and for bringing the beautiful flowers for the seniors and me. It was such a thoughtful and much appreciated gesture. They are brightening my counter right now!
And speaking of brightening--I have to give shout outs to Jenni, Ixa, Keeley, Julien, Illyana, Zac, and Marcos for making the trip down to Hoffman Estates to cheer on their bees. After the race, I was talking with Fray about that crew, and he said, "I was near them a lot during the day, so I really got a chance to talk with them...more than at a regular practice or meet. It was just so refreshing and pure to see how they talk about one another. They genuinely love each other, and it's so pure." (I'm not crying; you're crying). I think that's why I have felt so content this season. All that you have done all season has been grounded in love, and that is a mighty powerful position. A virus cannot stop love. An injury cannot stop love. A bad race cannot stop love. So I'll end with a conversation I had with the Lake Zurich girls' coach at the meet. He was telling me how much he likes our conference (he coached at Deerfield for a long time, and just switched to LZ during track in the spring) and his team, but that he was shocked by the pay drop. I gave him the "Poor me" look and invited him to check out Zion's pay scale. And then I stopped myself. I was participating in a discussion that I didn't believe in at all. This season was all the payment I needed. I cannot tell you how many times I came home this fall and said to my husband, "I cannot believe I get paid to coach these kids." Honestly, this season has been a joy, and I cannot thank you all enough for beelieving. ;)
I am READY for winter goals and spring fun! LET'S GO!