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!