Saturday, October 27th--Hoffman Estates Sectional @ Busse Woods
After an outstanding week of practice, I knew that Vic and Kelsey were as ready as possible for the battle at Busse. Looking at the times from other Regionals as well as the good weather, I knew that this would be a fast Sectional. While a speedy race might intimidate some runners, I felt confident that Vic and Kelsey would rise to the occasion and roll with the competition--they had used speedier people all week (at practice at Busse as well as in their 400s ) to help propel them to faster work.
So why couldn't I sleep on Friday night? I mean, Friday morning was great--complete with the inspirational words from the only Zee-Bee woman to ever qualify for State in our history--Kim Johnson, class of 1992. (More on her in a blog to come!) I knew that the locker room was ready for them in the morning. I knew that there were letters from multiple people for the bus ride. I knew that our two runners had done the right things all week--soaked up the experience, pushed and rested when appropriate, made sleep and recovery a priority, ate like champs, and prepared mentally every day. I think it boiled down to the fact that I simply could not wait to watch them race!
In the morning, I was elated to see the hallway FULL of bees who had dedicated their Saturday morning to helping their fellow runners do great things. Our bus ride was further bolstered by letters from alums (shout out to Coach Wynn, c/2011, Bailey, c/o 2012, and Alex, c/o 2018) for putting to paper their support. And thanks to Janelle, Julia, and Alexia for texting in their encouragement. And thanks to Collin, c/o 2018 for making the drive down to the course to yell in person! I could see that our runners were focused and definitely feeling all the love.
When we arrived at the course, I was happy to see that our box was on the same side as last year. This is a course where the starting boxes really don't matter much, but I knew the familiarity would be a boost for Kelsey, who competed here last year. After getting chips and bibs all ready, Kelsey and Vic headed out for the warm up, flanked by Diana, Carmen, Kaila, and Steff. When I returned from the coaches' meeting, the restlessness I felt the night before was allayed; I could feel the calm coming from Vic and Kelsey, and it set me at ease. As they finished up dynamic and some strides, I knew they were ready for great races. And as they were surrounded by their teammates in the breakdown, I knew that everything was in their favor: they had fans who would be everywhere to keep them awake, the weather was, to use Kaila's word: PERFECT, the course was incredible shape, and their mindsets were in a great place. Before they started, I was dreaming big dreams, but my B goal for each woman was for Kelsey to run sub-18:30, and for Vic to run sub-20:30. I felt confident about both of those goals; little did I know that each woman would blow those expectations out of the water.
When the gun sounded, our bees got out great, and then I saw some sort of trouble about 75 meters out. I could tell that someone had stumbled, but I would not know until after the race that one of the Prospect girls had fallen, and Kelsey and Vic both had to hurdle/push through others to avoid trampling the runner. Our bees kept their poise, though, perhaps from their experience at Warren earlier in the season, or perhaps because their focus could not be interrupted.
As I headed up the hill, I could see the bright pink sleeves of Kelsey in good position, and then Vic's as well. I was excited about their excellent starts, and I was losing my mind when I saw their faces up close. Kelsey looked focused and comfortable despite her fast pace; Vic looked locked into the group she was trying to catch, and did not look like the pace was a struggle. When they rolled through the mile (thanks Mario and Brandon for getting splits!), they both were on a hot pace: Kelsey came through in 5:42, only seconds off her lifetime PR for the mile; Victoria was in the same situation with a 6:20. Post-race, they both reported that the times did not intimidate them; instead, it made them feel strong and excited about the prospects for their overall races.
Although each runner did slow for mile two, they did not lose their positions. Each time I saw Kelsey, she was battling with the Prospect pack as well as a Grant runner and Raina from Warren. Vic was passing girls from Stevenson and Mundelein, working to move up in the pack she was in. Each time they came down the hill, they both used the momentum to push along the lake. Kelsey came through the 2-mile in 11:57 (split 6:15)--a new lifetime 2-mile PR! And Vic? She was running a parallel race: she rolled through in 13:21 (split 7:01)--also a new lifetime 2-mile PR! With this kind of momentum, I knew that we were in for big PRs for overall times.
I saw the girls coming up the hill along the road for their last loops. Kelsey looked so strong and was working to pull back up to Raina from Warren. Her head and eyes were up, and she looked ready for a great last drive. Vic looked so strong, listening as I yelled for her to drive up the hill. I dashed across to the lake, and saw that each bee was pushing hard. When I yelled their times, I could see each perk up even more and drive to extend their kicks. When Kelsey came around with 300 to go, she was pushing hard, mirroring her great kick at Conference only two weeks before. Victoria did the same, driving her arms and pushing all the way to the finish.
I found Vic first in the thick crowd outside the finish. She looked happy, amazed, and spent all in the same moment. I was so proud of her gutsy race. She had exceeded my expectations, finishing with a LIFETIME PR of 20:09 (split 6:48--a nice refocus for that last mile), and finishing in 119th place at the speediest sectional I can remember in some time. Honestly, there is not a single point where I saw her unfocused--she ran an incredible race! Focused, strong races result in PRs...and hers was a 39 second drop. What an awesome way to conclude her three-year career as a ZBXCer! For some perspective, she started her career as a sophomore (some people take a year to see the light!). In her first race as a ZB on Deerfield's flat course, she ran 28:31. That first season, she finally dipped just under 24 on our home course, a great progression as a first year runner. And yes, she improved as a junior, helping our team in some Varsity races and running solidly in the 22s for most of the season. But this Sectional race...it showed her progression as a senior. She overcame some mental blocks in order to grow all season long. She pushed herself in workouts in order to make her recovery days faster, and she ended in 20:09. THIS is what I mean when I talk about staying uncomfortable and seeking growth. Congrats on an incredible season and career, Vic! I am so proud of your gutsy and intense race!
Kelsey's race was equally courageous. After missing over two weeks of running due to a foot injury, I knew that Kelsey's confidence was not the same as it had been post-LPR at Warren. But I also knew that Kelsey had done all the little things right--she pushed on the bike and in the pool, she was dedicated to her rehab routine, and she had put together two nice races at Conference and Regional. I also had seen the light in her eyes after Tuesday's workout on the course. She had run a fast time and recovered within 90 seconds. She looked effortless that day, so I knew she had more to give on race day. Most importantly, she has a knack for rising to racing expectations; she does not let competition intimidate her--instead, she uses what some may see as pressure as a way to create more energy for herself. So when I found her post-race, I was excited to celebrate her huge PR of 18:07 (split 6:09--a great drop for her final mile). For some perspective, Kelsey broke 19 only one time last year--at the speedy Lake Forest Regional--and one time this year--at the Warren Invite--before her injury. Additionally, this new PR was a MINUTE faster than her race at the same course the year before. We use times to measure what we see--and Kelsey's race LOOKED great. She battled the whole time, did not give way after getting out harder than she has all year, and finished with a great kick. Honestly, I am floored that she was able to run so fast, and it is a testament to her focus and flexibility to overcome injury.
Overall, I had SO much fun today. There is no greater gift to a coach than for her runners to rise beyond expectations and to make their most important race sing. This Sectional was a masterpiece--both women walked away feeling that they had given every ounce. Their times proved it. And every witness (and we had 29 of them, plus coaches) saw the beauty of it. When Kelsey and Vic were swarmed by their teammates at the finish, everyone was excited for what they had just seen!
Whenever a season comes to a close, I cannot help but evaluate what I can do better because I want our team to keep growing. So here are my thoughts for the future:
1. Now that our weight room is almost complete, we are going to refocus on strength. I did not do a good enough job of adapting to this obstacle this summer, and I believe many of our injuries were a result of strength issues. Plan to be lifting in Polar Club, track, and this summer.
2. Expand our work on flexibility and mindfulness. I have just finished reading two excellent books by Erin Taylor about yoga and mindfulness training. We will be working more of these elements into our training to make us more well-rounded, body and mind.
3. Recruiting and connecting. I said it during the season, and I'll say it again--we have never had this many people quit during a season before. It is my goal to keep our team numbers up. Those of you who love this sport and team--you are my best recruiters. You are the ones who need to reach out and find people who share our values. You are the ones who need to wrap your arms around the newbees who are scared and sore and out of shape. I need you to help keep our team strong!
4. We are on the edge of something great. We had SO many people grow this season and drop incredible amounts of time. And yes, we had quite a few people quit, but we also had a dedicated core who simply GET IT. Core, I need you. I need you to see the races from Sectionals and get hungry. I need you to look at the stats on Athletic.net and see all the growth from this season and get ready for more. I feel so satisfied with Kelsey and Vic's performances, but I am equally ready for more during track and next XC season!
See you all at Fall Awards Night--let's celebrate the greatness in you all! Wednesday, November 14th at 7:30. We will start in the main gym, and then we will finish the evening with our XC family in the Courtyard Cafeteria.