What a weird three days! Warren was this year's host for Conference, and they attempted something new--to host the meet at the new course at CLC. There are many positives to this choice: CLC is a neutral site, so no school gains a "home course" advantage; we would be able to watch year-to-year growth because we could compare times on the same course each year; athletes would get a chance to race on a flat and fast college course; and we eliminate the problem of the costly and uncooperative forest preserves who do not seem to want us racing at their parks.
On Friday, Coach Anderson and I headed over to CLC to scout the course and watch our alums from the class of 2017 race at their own conference meet (Michael, Freddy, and Jackie). The weather was great--hardly any wind, and no rain to speak of. Our bee alums took advantage of the conditions and raced well for their respective teams, helping the men's and women's squads win conference for CLC! As we watched the races, a few course issues became apparent. First, the starting straight is short--perhaps 150 meters--before a tight turn. This was an important note; we knew our bees would need to get out hard to avoid being pinched on the first turn. CLC fixed the problem of a narrow path after that first turn (according to the Warren coaches, the CLC coaches were outstanding about revising the course to make it more race-friendly!). The course also requires runners to cross pavement twice; on either side of the pavement, the grass was not great, so longer spikes were likely needed to deal with the muddy conditions that would undoubtedly form in the predicted storms. Finally, much of the course was away from fans and coaches, so it would require mental fortitude from our runners, something that is hopefully developed by this point in the season. My only other concern about the course was that it is a full 5K--3.1 miles. A slightly longer course would make it more difficult--but not impossible--to PR at the end of the season. A PR would certainly mean more on a 3.1 course, but I knew it would be more difficult.
We knew that rain would be an issue on race day, but we were hoping to dodge the lightning. Unfortunately, during the warm up for the first race (girls varsity was switched to the first race to try to get the varsity the races in on the freshest course), we were sent to the fieldhouse to wait out the lightning and make a decision about racing. After some deliberation, the coaches decided it was best to move the meet to Monday. While I know you were all ready to race (THANK YOU for having the right mindset about the conditions--ALL WEATHER IS ZB WEATHER!), I was happy to hear that we would have a chance to race at Warren's home course instead. There was no way to close off the road where runners crossed during a busy Monday afternoon at CLC, so we were awarded the chance to run on a fast Warren course (assuming it handled all of Saturday's rain). I was really pleased with your flexibility that day--you were ready to race, but you were also ready to handle the delay--nice work!
When we arrived on Monday, we were stoked to feel the beautiful weather and see a very fast-looking course. I was excited to see our Varsity take the the line to see what they could do. The first 400 meters were FAST. Some coaches reported that the leaders went out in 70 or faster while the front pack came through in 74 seconds. The first mile and the finish times reflected the same: Manetsch and Chody both went sub-17 while the third and fourth finishers were in the mid 17s. This speedy start took me (and our pack) by surprise; while our girls followed our plan, it left them in the back portion of the smaller race (only 8 teams--much smaller than the recent Sterling and Wheeling Invites), and I could see a bit of panic on the faces of our runners. That being said, we still came through the mile quickly (Kelsey 6:18; Julia 6:27; Maya 6:43; Steff 6:54; Janelle 6:54; Taylor 7:04; and Vic 7:11), and our runners worked hard in the latter half of the race to catch some of the girls who paid the price for the fast start. What I was most happy about were the finishes in this race. We are finally finishing like we mean it, and I could not be happier! This groups ran well for each other, and the outcome was two LPRs and two SPRs. Steff finally put the physical and the mental together today. After several great workouts that predicted she was able to race faster, she dropped a big 1:03 to earn a new LPR of 21:17. Janelle reacted to a challenge I presented her; I told her that I knew she was battling through her leg injury as best she could, but that I had to put my fastest seven on the line for Regionals. Although that is a tough conversation, we needed to have it because Conference could have been her last race. Janelle reacted the way every coach hopes: she took that honesty as motivation, and fought for another week of racing by giving her team every ounce of her grit. Throughout the race, she worked to fix the split, and she was rewarded with a new LPR. Julia also stepped up for her girls today. Although her calf has been tolerable, it has certainly affected her ability to shift when she wanted to. She looked strong and smooth today, though, pushing past the pain and embracing her mindset of "don't be a baby" while fixing our split. That grit earned her a 34 second season PR. Taylor also looked incredibly strong today after a good conversation about her role on Varsity. She stepped by working that second mile and pushing to fix the split; she earned a 33 second SPR and helped our team tremendously! Our 1-5 split was 2:24, and our 1-7 split was 3:23. We looked solid as a unit, but we ended up 7th in a very competitive team race. Our conference continues to improve, and we must push to grow at the same rate that those around us are! I know that we will use this race as fuel for Regionals next week. I cannot wrap up this conversation without giving Kelsey a huge shout out for earning All-Conference honors by placing 21st. We have not had a woman earn All-Conference since Kimmy Figueroa took 10th place back in 2013; nice job ending the drought!
The women in the Open Race are the big story for the day. Of the 22 racers, 21 earned an LPR or SPR. Yes, you can argue that the course is slightly short (2.95 miles), but .05 does not account for the amount of time you all dropped. .05 of a mile is about 80 meters. During a 3-mile race, that accounts for, at most, 20 seconds. Before the race started, I could feel your confidence and energy, but I had no idea that you would tear it up the way you did. As a group, we got out hard with Cynthia leading the way. After having to miss our meet on Saturday due to her sister's quinceanera, I kept Cynthia in the Open Race. Her initial reaction to this choice was not a happy one, but much like Janelle, she used it as fuel to break out of her rut. When I saw her for the first time, she was sitting in the top ten of the race with a huge smile on her race. Every time I saw her, she was moving up in the race with a look on her face that said, "Never underestimate me. I am limitless!" I enjoyed watching every step. Not only did she prove to me that she deserved to be in the line-up for Regionals, but she also proved to herself that she was faster and stronger than she previously thought. Cynthia earned a 7th place medal and a new lifetime PR of 20:45, dropping 42 seconds from her previous best. It has been quite some time since we had a medalist in the Open Race; thanks for ending that drought! Carmen and Angie were not far behind her, running fast first miles and looking aggressive for the whole race. Carmen, despite recovering from being sick, ran an incredible race. She was our #2 runner the whole way, looking much more like Oshkosh-Carmen with that determined look on her face. She finished with a new LPR by dropping 29 seconds--her first time sub-23! With about 300 to go, Angie looked elated when I read her the time, and she took off for a great kick. She earned a new, sub 23 LPR by dropping an amazing 1:41 from her previous best. That kind of improvement makes a statement about her ability to contribute to Varsity next year. Naya also had a tremendous start, running a great first mile and looking aggressive in her passing throughout the race. She dropped a huge 1:24 because she was racing without regrets, looking much more like the Naya of early summer. Her new LPR of 23:25 is a huge accomplishment! Klyde was not far behind, inspired by Naya's moves. She keyed off of Naya's energy to earn a new LPR of 23:32; she dropped a tremendous 2:09 by staying awake for the entire race. Incredible! :) After not racing for a while, Noel made me smile with her gutsy race today. Not only did she pull on Naya and Klyde, but she also pushed through her doubts to earn a new LPR of 23:57. She dropped a whopping 3:13 today. I will not accept anything less than this level of effort from her in the future now that she and I BOTH know what she is really capable of. The same can be said of Aja, who had the biggest time drop of the day: 4:03. Aja was our last member to join the team, and the training and mental preparation have finally come together for her. She got out harder than she ever has, and she ran negative splits in order to run a new LPR of 24:03. I cannot wait to see what she can do this winter in basketball and this spring in track! Kate's race made me wish that I had met her earlier. Not only did she have a similar experience to Aja with training and mindset melding in one race, but she also had an incredibly gritty start. After a great time trial the week before, she knew she could get out hard, and she did by going sub-8. Her risk paid off with a drop of 1:30 and a new LPR of 24:37. Delilah ran a very different race to get to the same LPR time. She ran negative splits by passing people with authority and kicking hard at the end of the race to to drop a huge 2:55! I cannot wait to see what she can do with sustained training! Sarah M. was not far behind in a new LPR of 24:44, dropping a big 2:16 and beating her advisor's current PR! Like Kate, Sarah earned this time by taking a risk in the first mile and putting herself with people who would push her throughout the race--nice work! Diana rounded out our sub-25 group today with a gritty performance. Although her finish time does not reflect her hard work, Diana has had a tremendous season, starting with an impressive summer of increased mileage, and continuing through the season of continued growth.
Our pack in the 25s have never been there before. Elyssa led the charge with a gutsy first mile and an incredible kick. She dropped 2:11 to earn a new LPR of 25:28! Karen was not far behind with a big drop of 2:09 and finishing in 25:36. She did so in much the same manner of Delilah--she was passing like crazy in the woods, and she kicked hard with 300 remaining. Sarah D., after missing many meets due to injury, ran a strong rae with her teammates. She worked well with Delilah and Daz in the first mile and pushed in the final kick to earn a 24 second drop and a new LPR of 25:42. Crizaber, despite a season of battling arch issues, looked impressive today. Not only did she drop a ton of time (1:19 for a new LPR of 25:53), but she also passed people with passion. She looked like a woman on a mission for the entire race! Jayla, after missing several meets due to issues with her arch, looked like the Jayla of the early season. Not only did she get out hard, but she shared the same focus as her teammates, passing people in the last mile to earn a huge drop of 3:22--the third biggest of the day--and a new LPR of 25:54. Our upper classwomen did not want to be left out of the PR fest. Alexia ran her strongest race of the season when it counted; not only did she look focused and strong, but she also enjoyed her last XC race as a ZB, dropping 24 seconds to earn a new SPR of 26 flat. Daz was not far behind, looking powerful despite her sore hip, to drop 1:32 and earn a SPR of 26:12.
We had two women in the 27s--neither of whom had been their before, either. Charmaine and Lindsey pushed each other throughout the race. Not only did they work through some mental blocks, but they also showed what it means to be true runners today! Charmaine dropped a big 2:55 while Lindsey dropped an equally impressive 2:44 in order to earn LPRs within seconds of each other: 27:39 and 27:43 respectively. These ladies earned these new times by getting out harder than they ever had, and celebrating each breakthrough with more toughness. Addy was our next bee. Although her finish time was not a PR, she looked more like herself in this race after dealing with some knee issues. She looked aggressive from the start, and she keyed off of Charmaine and Lindsey to help herself push to a race more like what she envisioned. She finished without regrets, which is what I always want! Ashley was not far behind her, earning the second biggest time drop of the day: 3:30! She earned a new LPR of 30:17--impressive considering where she started in August!
Overall, there are some important trends to note from this race. Post-race, it was simply beautiful to watch you all celebrate each other. You all congregated back at the tent, hugging one another with joy over all of the successes. Without even looking at the clipboard, you knew that you had done something special TOGETHER. As a coach, there is nothing more I can ask than for you to work hard for each other, and then appreciate that achievement together. I did not want that moment to end! I am also so encouraged by the leadership of the juniors and seniors from this group--you showed the newbees how to bee great, and they responded to your example! I cannot help but feel the momentum of this young group; if you freshies and sophies can keep the energy that the juniors and seniors have shown you, this team is going to enjoy a reawakening! I simply cannot wait for Polar and Track to begin!
I also need to take a moment to talk about the Sportsmanship Award. The North Suburban Conference created this award six years ago to recognize individuals who truly understand our sport. Let's be honest--most runners are incredible people. You cannot be part of this sport without possessing some pretty impressive traits, right? But the purpose of the award is to recognize those who go above and beyond to exhibit kindness and act as ambassadors for the sport we love. When Anderson, Franklin, and I met to discuss this coach-awarded honor, we agreed that you all have the love of the sport and the team mindset. But when we thought about who looked out for you all...who selflessly offered rides, who checked in with each of you before and after races, who taught you about the sport...well, Alexia was the obvious choice. At first, Anderson and I were worried that it would seem weird to award Alexia two years in a row; we did not want it to seem like an insincere nomination. Upon further reflection, we realized that earning this award twice says a lot about Alexia's character. This was not a new awakening--her mindset has been in the making for some time. Despite the setback of her hip surgery, Alexia found ways to show her teammates what being a ZBXCer is all about, and I could not be more proud of her contributions to this team. Congratulations and thank you for your commitment to this family!