Saturday, October 22nd--IHSA Regional @ Adler Park (Libertyville):
To be a great runner, it is imperative to invest time and energy and faith. It requires physical and mental and emotional growth. And the difficult part is that it doesn't always pay off the way we want.
Back in June, we started a journey together. We had a small but dedicated group of summer runners. And as the group's fitness started to show, we started to get excited. The size of our group didn't matter...the fight and the focus did. In PPM workouts, the power of the pack was evident. Together, we were achieving far more in the summer than we did all season last fall. By the time Oshkosh rolled around, we were breaking more boundaries: the previous records for Garbage Hill and the DMR weren't just broken--they were decimated by multiple teams. The previous long run was now replaced with a 13.1. The positive energy between the men's and women's teams was evident in our work. And we started to dream big.
At the first race at Deerfield, I simply could not contain my joy as I watched the pack work. We looked like real racers because we looked confident and strong. And as the season progressed, we kept tearing up negative workouts and growing as a team in races. At home, we looked like a team on a mission. Elsewhere, we dropped time and kept looking for ways to improve.
And at the Regional, I was proud to see the way you all raced. Even though it was clear that the outcome was not the one we wanted, not a single one of you gave up. Julia clearly had the race of the day; not only did she work well with Jo in the first mile, but she also kept her aggression throughout, which resulted in an impressive 40 second drop over her time from just the week before. Jo had a great start and a great finish. Jacqueline, Mary, and Lainey worked well together in the first part of the race, and Jack and Mar kept that energy for most of the race. And although Lainey lost those two, I watched her keep trying to pick off runners in the latter stages of the race. Shayla and Taylor started strong together, and Shayla moved up to help as our 5th runner. While it hurts to have the team effort cut short, we were simply beaten by faster teams. And while these next few days will continue to sting, we can rejoice in the progress of the season; we can celebrate the fact that Julia will represent our team at the Sectional; and we can take pride in the fact that we were willing to dream big dreams.
The sting is the risk. If in June and July, we were satisfied with people showing up when they could...if in August we said we didn't care how the race at Deerfield went...if all season we were satisfied with good enough...then this Regional would have been more of the same. But this season we were different: we set high expectations for the season, and we chased the dream with all of our energy.
So what do we do with this hurt and frustration? Alfred Tennyson wrote "In Memoriam A.H.H." to sort out his pain from the sudden death of his dear friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. And while we have not lost each other, the dedication of a season creates an important relationship. The line that helps me most is, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," or as I said on Saturday..."I'd rather go out swinging." I take solace in the fact that you were all willing to give it a shot. That your character is such that you believe in beeing linked. That your work ethic is such that you kept each other accountable to a higher standard than last year. That your pride is such that this ending does sting...but that you will use it to fuel you in track and future endeavors.
Let's take our energy and put it into Julia this week. Let's show her that our dedication to our goals is still real, and that we want her to have a great sectional race. We will do it by pushing her on the sharpening workout this week. We will do it by surrounding her in the power of the pack during CT days. We will do it by being in every corner of the course on Saturday. We will do it by being what we have been all season long.
I'd like to give a shout out to Kaila and Alexia for getting splits and supporting our runners. I'd also like to thank Victoria, Ashley, Karyn, Janelle, Steff, Naya, Meghan, and Tianna for making the course feel like home with their positivity and enthusiasm for our runners. All of you could have stayed in bed, but your willingness to be there for your teammates speaks volumes about your dedication and your true linkedness. (Yes, that's a word). :) I really appreciate all of you!
I'll just close by saying what is so true this season: I am proud to be your coach. Thank you for restoring the tradition of greatness of this team, and thanks for all the fun in between. It has been a great season!
Saturday @ Conference--Libertyville's Adler Park:
The last time we raced at this course, the weather was ridiculously hot, and the course intimidated us a bit. Since then, we have run hills at Beulah, Wadsworth, Sunset and more. We have race courses with more hills. We have strengthened that weakness. This week, I was pleased with our work on the track, too; you looked speedy and light on your feet--two traits of peaking at the right time. And when I entered the weightroom on Saturday, I felt a calm across our team that I thought would be a sign of great things to come. After Kristen Whiteside's wise words about patience and growth over time, I was ready to see you all race well.
Our Varsity boys started things off right with two All-Conference finishes by Collin (4th) and Michael (16th) and a solid team race. After seeing their success, I hoped our Varsity women would take inspiration. At the gun, I was pleased to see an aggressive start and good use of the hill. Coming off the first loop, Jocelyn was in great position in the top pack of the race, and Julia was right with her. Mary had a great start, too, as did Jacqueline. Lainey, Taylor, and Shayla were a little further back than I would prefer, but I knew that they had each other to help move up in the race. Karyn and Steff were not far off this pack, and Tianna--although with a conservative start--was working hard to pass people. The highlight of the race was Jo. She has raced well all season, but the look in her eye today was something different. She was feeding off the other racers, and she was determined to be in the top pack. With about a half mile to go, Jo was in All-Conference position (about 18th place) and looking aggressive. While the remainder of our runners had solid races, I am concerned about the gaps. You have all run the same workouts this season, so I KNOW that you are capable of being closer together. The magic and power of our opening race at Deerfield is still in you. The confidence you exhibited at home just last week is still in you. Our focus this coming week is to work with each other...to focus on WE. To recommit to what we established as goals this summer. To energize ourselves with the power of the pack. I know that we can tighten up each position and eliminate "enemy" jerseys in between our pack members. I know that we can finish with more power because we have stayed committed to the long run all season, and we have run negative splits in nearly every workout. I know that we can beat Warren again (nice job, by the way!), take out Mundelein, and defeat Deerfield. I know that we can advance to the Waukegan Sectional as a team.
Here's how we will do it.
On Monday, we are going to run a mile time trial. I need you to mentally prepare to feel fast. It starts with taking care of yourselves today. Get your homework out of the way, eat great meals, and get a good night's rest. When you wake up, think about how far you have come as a TEAM this season. During passing periods at school, use the crowded hallways as a mental boost...imagine that each unsuspecting student is a Mundelein, Warren, and Deerfield runner. As we warm up at practice, feed your teammates positivity. Talk about how much hard work we have done. Complement each other about something good that happened at Conference. Feel the great energy of a pack of women on a mission. At the starting line, remind yourself: "we are strong," "we work hard," "we don't make excuses." Once the trial is off, use the boys to help you go beyond what you have done before. When you feel tiredness, remind yourself that you must take the next step to make US stronger. Remind yourself that you must push through to make OUR goals come true. Remind yourself of what Kristen said: that she PRd at the Chicago marathon by trusting her training and trying something new--going out hard. And at the finish, feel fast, drive your arms, and find that extra boost for your girls.
All week, our practices will be focused on unifying the team to WE.
And on race day? That's your job. Do some research this week. Look at the race results from Conference. Look at how we can dismantle Mundelein. Look at how we can ensure another win over Warren. Look at Deerfield's times on a fast course for their Conference Meet. Plan for how we will succeed.
I'm not sure why the Open Women raced second, but the why doesn't matter. On the starting line, Takyra's positive words fed the already focused group. Ashley had the most aggressive start, but all of our open women looked strong after the first loop. As I headed to the woods to watch the passing, I was happy to see our bees working to pass sleepy runners who were way too happy to stay on the line (and sometimes walk?). What impressed me most about this group was that while there were three falls (Takyra, Alyssa, and Naya), there were zero excuses or pity parties. I watched each of you (whether you literally fell or not) work to "get back up" throughout the race. Ashley was by far our most consistent racer of the day, earning a season PR of 23:37, while Naya, Alyssa, and Kristina did a great job of each bringing down their third mile times to finish strong. I was also happy to hear several of you ask to continue practicing in the following week, and possibly race again after the Regional. I love that hunger! Overall, I felt really satisfied with the fight of this group--nice work!
Before the Frosh/Soph race, the girls had a moment with Alexia that I can only describe as transformative. These women came to the line with purpose and focus, and their starts showed it! Kaila had her most aggressive start of the season, looking amazing as she used the downhill to stick with the top pack. The remainder of our group had the same mindset coming down the hill, with Victoria nearly running me over as I tried to snap pictures! As I moved to other sections of the course, I was amazed by the aggressiveness of each member of this group. Not only did everyone take coaching and put it into action (passing packs or individuals on demand), they used Jo's advice of "free speed" on the downhills to their advantage. Kaila took the biggest risk of the day, and it paid off by her ending as our first bee. Emily ran the best all-around race of the day by running very even splits and bringing her third mile back down to the same time as her first; her consistency earned her a new LPR by 28 seconds (over her previous best at Warren--that's an impressive feat!). Way to go, Emily! Victoria also looked incredibly strong by running even splits as well and passing on command. Daz, as always, passed with authority and focus, while Diana had the bravest race of the day; she ran her first almost-post-plague race with courage and determination. Carmen worked on her consistency, too, passing several other runners right after her two-mile so that she could bring her last mile time down. Angie gets the biggest kudos of this group, as she continues to drop amazing amounts of time in each race of the season. She worked hard throughout the race, even after running a LPR at the mile of 9:37, in order to run an overall LPR of 31:08. She dropped 2:04 from her previous race--outstanding!
The positive feeling from all of our races fed into our link session after the awards. I felt great getting on the bus, and I can't wait to see you all beast the time trial on Monday! Nice work, bees!
Please bee thinking about our two awards that we will vote for on Monday. You can vote for both men and women, and you can only vote for people who have been on the team for at least two seasons. Check out the definitions below to get yourself thinking!
The MVP award is a very serious honor. Most valuable signifies that the runner contributes in every way: he/she leads through words and actions year round; he/she encourages positive attitudes; he/she strives to keep practices and meets challenging, competitive and fun. His/her hard work and speed set him/her apart at meets and at practice. Essentially, this person defines dedication to Cross-Country.
Outsiders view Cross-Country as an individual sport: the times are individually taken and a runner can compete in the State Meet without his/her team. True Cross-Country runners know that the spirit of the sport is embodied by the team concept…that no one individual is more important than another. Every successful team can attribute its success to a leader who stepped up, who sacrificed, who united everyone in order to help the team grow. A true leader possesses the heart and compassion to help the team become LINKED.
Tuesday @ Home against Lake Forest:
Our teamwork and speed to set up the course fed into our actual race for the day. I was really pleased with our start: not only did most of you get out in a smart but aggressive way, but you continued your work into the duck pond and twilight woods. What impressed me most was our kicks today. As I stood by the sectional loop, I could see each of you use that section--especially the downhill--to create momentum into the last 400. I was also able to see you come down the final hill and fight to the finish. Tianna certainly had the strongest kick of the day, looking like she was floating for the last 100 meters, but kicks were certainly the theme for all of you today. Nice work!
Jo had a very even race that allowed her to move up to #3 on the Top Ten Board with a lifetime best of 20:08. Julia ran next to her for most of the race to earn her own LPR of 20:31 and a spot on The Board at #9. Carmen earned a season PR for the day while looking very aggressive for most of the race; she chopped 39 seconds off her previous best to finish at 23:46. Nice work! Victoria looked amazing throughout her race, too. She dropped 23 seconds from her best to earn a new LPR of 23:48. Naya wore her signature race face and ran a ridiculously fast last mile to drop 50 seconds and earn a new LPR of 26:45. Finally, Daz had the biggest drop of the day: 1:00; she is finally under 26 minutes with a new LPR of 25:53. Like Naya, she ran a really strong last mile to make that drop happen. Overall, these individual time improvements came from consistency and then strength in the final mile. We need to continue to work on running aggressive yet even races in order to produce the times I know you are all capable of running.
In the team race, I am pleased to type that we beat Lake Forest for the first time in my tenure of coaching. Lake Forest is a powerhouse every year, so to win 25-34 is quite an accomplishment! Their coach did reveal to me that he had to sit three girls who have been dealing with nagging injuries. While I am sure that those three may have made a difference in the score, part of the "game" is to keep people healthy. Our top seven have been resilient (coughing aside) this summer and fall, which has allowed for consistent training and racing, so congratulations on that GRIT! This win came from a great team effort. Lake Forest had two front runners well ahead of us, but we packed 3-4-5-6-7 after them, which made our score great! The finishing blow was that our 6th and 7th runners (Taylor and Shayla) were able to beat their 4th and 5th runners. While Taylor and Shayla did not affect our score, they acted as a great defense; by finishing where they did, they "pushed" Lake Forest's score up higher and gave us more of a cushion to make up for Lake Forest's first two runners. At the start of the summer, I knew our strength would be in the tightness of the pack, and this race proved just that. We need to take inspiration from this race for the championship part of the season; keeping our pack as close as possible will be the key to success at Conference, Regionals, and beyond.
Saturday @ Wheeling Invite (Heritage Park):
While I was not able to witness the races at this course, I did have eyes and ears who reported the highlights and opportunities to me. First of all, I am glad to report that the mindset going into this meet was much improved over last year; gone was the intimidation from the hills and the lack of focus. They were replaced by positivity and support which have been the hallmark of this team this season. There were many of you who came very close to your season or lifetime PRs at this more challenging course, especially Lainey who placed 28th and earned a ribbon, Emily who had a great finish, Helen, and Kristina who had one of the most even races of the day. Angie deserves a special shout out for dropping nearly 2:30 from her previous best to earn a new LPR of 33:12--outstanding improvement! :)
Coach Hughes's assessment was that while there were many positives, we missed some opportunities to grow as racers. He felt that many of you fell asleep during certain parts of the race. While that may be due to a lack of teammate help (let's be honest, it helps to have teammates on the course to snap you back to the present, and with 9 people at Sterling and several others sick and/or injured, you likely did not have the course-support that you are used to), part of great racing is learning to stay disciplined and in the moments when no one is watching. Let's make that our goal moving forward--to keep mentally tuned in during the "quiet" parts of a race. Overall, this meet was still a vast improvement over last year, and I am thankful for that progress!
Saturday @ Sterling Invite:
Our race was similar to that of the crew at Wheeling in that it was MUCH improved over last year. It started with a positive practice on the course on Friday, followed by an entertaining dinner, and focused goal session before turning in for the evening. I felt a really positive vibe as we warmed up (kicked off by cute race shirts this year). On the line, I had a good feeling about the race, and I was not disappointed as our runners emerged from the woods. Jo and Julia were working smartly together; they got out hard and were in the mid 30s at the 800. Mary was a little further back than I would have prefered, but she was working hard after emerging from the woods to work back to her girls. Jacqueline fell victim to the narrow woods and was too far back as well; she looked focused on passing as she came up the hill, though. Shayla and Taylor looked strong at the start but would need to do some serious passing to make up for Lainey's absence. After the mile, we needed to stay focused in the woods, but our pack never got close enough together. Although the times were solid (Jo PRd by one second, and Julia was within seconds of her PR; Taylor and Shayla looked strong after toe and illness issues respectively), and parts of the races looked really good (Jo had a great kick, as did Mary), we need our pack to be much closer like it was at home earlier in the week. In a bigger race, we can't lose each other! Keeping close is what will keep our season going. That being said, I felt that the race was definitely a step in the right direction in terms of risk-taking and aggressive finishes.
In the Open Race, Karyn and Steff got out hard and raced well. Karyn was in the top group from the start, while Steff worked her way up and was aggressively passing throughout the race by responding well to coaching at different points on the course. The race of the day goes to Karyn, though. Not only did she stay awake for all three miles, but she responded in the final stretch. When she felt people passing her, and her chance at a medal starting to slip away, she reacted and dealt with the situation by kicking with purpose. Her finish was by far the best of the day because she caught at least six in the final straightaway. More importantly, this race was a big shift for her mindset-wise. Her efforts were rewarded with a medal in 22nd place!
Overall, I feel good about this trip. We have not had a team-positive Sterling trip in several years. I walked away from this one feeling like we are going in the right direction. Let's keep the momentum going!
Tuesday@Stevenson with Mundelein: For the second week in a row, we only had one meet, and it was on Stevenson's speedy, flat course at Half Day Forest Preserve. After walking part of the course and warming up on the rest, I felt confident that we would be ready to make the most of this course and cool weather. Our pre-race motto was to simply take a risk. In writing, that task sounds easy, but anyone who runs knows that it takes some mental gymnastics to convince the brain to go out faster than usual or to get out of the comfort zone. I was pleased to see that many of you were able to rise to the challenge. In the end, we were no match for Stevenson's speed and depth, but we nearly bested Mundelein--they edged by us by one point. Three of our Varsity racers--Lainey, Taylor, and Shayla--all beat their number five runner to keep the score close. This effort illustrates that every single racer matters, and that every place matters. We need to continue to live that mindset as we enter the final stage of our racing season.
There are plenty of highlights from this race. Of our 23 competitors, 15 earned either a season or a lifetime PR in this race. Julia slashed 42 seconds from her previous LPR to run 20:03; her splits were very consistent, and I know that she can break 20 at our home course Tuesday. Jacqueline was able to drop 31 seconds in order to earn a new LPR; like Julia, her splits were solid; if she works on her third mile, I know she will run the time she wants on our home course. Taylor ran a very even race, keeping two of her splits in the 6s in order to match her LPR; a more aggressive third mile will allow her to drop even more time from her LPR. Victoria had an outstanding day as well! She got out strong to shave 28 seconds from her LPR; her progress this season has been tremendous, and I know that she will continue to drop time in our remaining races. Takyra wasn't going to be left out of the LPR parade. She ran an aggressive, even race to drop an impressive 41 seconds from her previous LPR to land herself solidly in the 25s. She is showing her fitness now and will continue to drop time this season! Daz also had an outstanding race. Not only did she drop a whopping 1:24 from her previous best, she also ran an aggressive finish to put herself in the 26s for the first time! Kristina and Alyssa worked together through every mile to help each other to earn LPRs. Kristina dropped 15 seconds, and Alyssa dropped 10 in order to run in the very low 28s. If these two keep working together on our home course, I know they can break into the 27s! Odalis had an awakening today, too. She dropped 2:14 from her previous SPR, and 29 seconds from her LPR to move into the 31s for the first time! I know she can get into the 29s before the season ends! Finally, Angie earned the final LPR of the day by running a very focused race; she brought her third mile down; undoubtedly her overall time benefitted from her outstanding finish (which she is becoming known for). Great work from all of these LPR-earners!
We also had a nice crew of season PRs. Mary ran another even race to earn a SPR by 5 seconds. I know that she can bring that final mile down to get back to the 19s where she belongs. Lainey also earned an SPR by 6 seconds; more importantly, she fought hard in the final miles for her teammates. Shayla matched her SPR by getting out harder in the first mile--nice work! After a week of rest, Karyn ran a sharp race, earning a season PR and looking more like her real self. Carmen also earned an SPR with her Carmen-kick; if she is able to keep her last split closer to the others, she will be able to smash her LPR at home.
Although she was not able to earn a new PR, I'd like to give props to Ashley's final kick. Coming off the bridge in the final loop, Ashley was not afraid to challenge a runner from Mundelein; after numerous lead-changes, Ashley managed to best the other runner in the final step into the chute. This kind of prolonged grit is what we are looking for! Don't be afraid to challenge other runners AND yourself throughout the race!
Heading into our final dual meet of the season, I ask that we consider a few truths:
1. We had a tremendous week of racing and workouts. Saturday's workout on our home course should create an even deeper confidence for our race on Tuesday. In our first home meet, we looked crisp, focused, and aggressive. I want to see that same edge when we enjoy our homecoming race.
2. There has been A LOT of progress this season so far. If you look at our season progression (click here!), you will notice that there is A LOT of highlighting on the grid. Our workouts are designed to make you the fastest during the upcoming weeks. Have pride in how far you have come, and believe in how much more you can accomplish.
3. I am really proud of how you have picked each other up as a team. This part of the year can start to feel stressful academically--stay focused and continue to lean on one another. Let's keep the grades looking great, and let's keep elevating each other.
4. Finally, let's continue to work on honest racing. Accept the pain as the price of running, but focus on how you feel after you accomplish your racing goal!
Tuesday will be my final opportunity to evaluate our team to decide our Varsity line up for Sterling, our annual overnight trip. If Sterling is a goal of yours, then I need your race to tell me just that.
Also, we need to start thinking ahead to our Regional. There are ten teams, and we need to be in the top six in order to advance to the Sectional, which will be held at Waukegan's course. Here is our competition. Feel free to start scoping them out on athletic.net!
Libertyville Regional (10T)Date: Saturday, October 22
Adler Park--10:00 a.m.
Lake Forest (H.S.)