Saturday @ Lake Forest Regional:
Since 10:55 am Saturday, I have not stopped smiling. Truth be told, the smiles started months ago, and I think my face might be stuck like this. :) So after recapping the whole race to my husband and fielding texts from alums, I sat down to enjoy watching McFarland USA. Sure, it's a Disney-fied version of the truth, but after today's race, I need more cross-country. How could I need more after what seemed to be a perfect team race? After all, what else can a coach ask for after seven lifetime PRs? Well, I'm hungry now. Let's look at the race:
First, we had a great start. Coach Franklin (and Jenni) spotted Audrey leading the race in the first straightaway, which Kelsey said helped her to be more aggressive in the first mile. Once I made it to the first loop, I could see our bright pink sleeves popping across the field. Maya was close to Audrey with an aggressive start, too, but there was a big gap between Maya and our 4-5 punch of Kaila and Natalie. There was a smaller gap, and then our 6-7 duo of Karen and Katelin. As our bees headed into the second loop over the bridge, each woman had a positive look on her face and seemed ready to do work. Our mile splits were speedy (and as I mentioned last week, I suspect the first mile is a bit short due to the change by the pond): Kelsey 5:36, Audrey 5:46, Maya 5:48, Kaila 6:13, Natalie 6:15, Karen 6:45, and Katelin 6:47. Our top five were about 7 seconds faster than last week, despite the cooler temperatures and wind. In that middle loop, Kelsey tightened up her position on the lead pack (minus the Libertyville freshie who had already broken away), and the gaps between Kelsey, Audrey, and Maya were small. I was stoked! Kaila and Natalie moved up slightly, and Karen and Katelin were battling to move up, too. I was scared, though. Lake Forest and Stevenson were racing much better than the week before, putting their packs between our 3 and 5. And Deerfield had all five between our 3 and 5, too. How would the numbers shake out? I knew we were racing well, but were we racing well enough to break the drought of a team qualifier? At the two mile mark, we were still racing fast: Kelsey 6:12, Audrey 6:33 Maya 6:42, Kaila 7:04, Natalie 7:03, Karen 7:18, and Katelin 7:33.
On the back loop, it looked like there was not much movement in the race. Kelsey was steps away from Warren's #1, Audrey was by herself without anyone to push or pull her, but Maya was in a good spot for her deadly kick. Kaila and Natalie had see-sawed again, and Kaila was now #4. I urged these two to kick like mad to try to sneak a few points in the last 800. Karen and Katelin were on the path to PRs, but I knew that they would not be able to do much to push up other teams' scores based on their placement. I raced back to the finish to try to catch a few kicks. I missed our top three, but witnessed Kaila, Natalie, Karen and Katelin's strong finishes.
Just like pre-race, the post-race mood was beautiful. Teammates celebrated with one another, revelling in seven PRs and great finishes. Kelsey proudly acknowledged her kick. Audrey even allowed herself a smile over breaking 19. Maya confidently hugged her teammates, knowing that her placement was clutch in helping our score. Kaila proudly reported that she caught one in the final stretch. Natalie smiled at her new PR through the discomfort in her abdomen. Karen rejoiced over her minute drop from Sterling, her previous best. And Katelin actually let herself smile over her performance, too (what's with these freshies being so hard on themselves?).
But a funny thing happened as we walked over to the tent for some team pics. The talkers on this team started talking, and it began with Maya; she whispered to me, "We should all just run in the 16s next week...I'm just saying." I smiled and replied that I wouldn't turn that down. She later amended her statement to something more reasonable: "Ok, real talk. I think we can all be sub-20. We've done the work. My next stop is in the 18s." And moments later, I was by Kelsey as she told her dad that her new LPR "felt easy." And shortly after that, I went to talk to Kaila who asked if I thought we did enough to make it through. When I replied that I wasn't sure, she said, "I want another race. I finished close to empty, but I know I can do more." And then I started thinking about what is left for us to do. Once we confirmed that we had made it through as the 6th team, I started planning for the week--how can we continue to tap into that last 20%?
That evening, Kaila texted to ask what I thought of the race. Here is my response: Stoked and ready for more! I grade [this race] as a B. I know...7 lifetime PRs and not an A? I honestly think we have more to give.
Kaila's response was beautiful: I agree. Before this season I always thought running was this huge scary challenge and you had to be amazing (talent) to be able to be good. But I see that most of it is mental and the willingness to show up and work, and be smart about how you race.
So yes, I am smiling like mad, and I am thrilled to be coaching a full team this week. And I am so pumped that we broke that stupid streak of only qualifying individuals. We have had teams who were more talented in the past but were not able to come together to get it done. This team is different. The energy has been different all season, improving at Oshkosh, blooming as the regular season began, and refining in the last few weeks. There is a selflessness that I love--that is shown in Marisa, Julien, and Lesly as they warmed up as alternates, knowing that they would not be able to toe the line with their sisters, but putting all their energy into the race nonetheless. There is the positivity of Jenna and Jenni being at practice all week. There is the feeling of love that permeated the hallway before we even got on the bus to go to the meet, and the overwhelming feeling of joy from our crowd as our team did one final stride to do the breakdown. I'm telling you...that energy almost made me tear up. I had to pause a second and soak it in. All of this energy makes more possible.
So what do we do this week? We embrace the chance at a free race. We have already made our big team goal--to make it to the Sectional together. So what can we individually pledge to contribute to the beautiful story that is this team's legacy? Some food for thought:
Our best team finish at the Sectional was 15th...that was when the Sectional was much larger (25 teams) prior to moving to the three-class system (We now race in the class for the biggest schools--3A). Do we simply enjoy the race and soak up the moment ? Or somewhere in between? I encourage you to do some thinking today, and we will start tomorrow with goal setting.
In the meantime, know that I am incredibly proud of the growth of this team. You have worked through illness, aches and pains, and countless other obstacles to arrive at this moment. I applaud your efforts to grow together, to celebrate one another, and to challenge one another. So as I have all season, I look to you for where we go next.
Before I close, I want to say thanks again to the team for coming out to swarm the course with love. Your energy was priceless. And thanks to our managers, Lily and Maya B. for your timing skills. I appreciate you more than you know!
Saturday--NSC@Lake Forest West
After a strong week of practice, I was excited to see our final race as a full team. When I woke on Saturday, I felt nervous because of the delayed start time of the meet; it felt weird to be at home so late on a Saturday morning. My nerves were allayed when I arrived at school and saw the beauty that is our team. Juniors furiously recruiting teammates to sign posters for the seniors. Others asking how to help get the gear on the bus. Still others offering to grab the tent. This spirit is what has felt like home all season, and this has been the key to our continuous improvement this fall.
When we arrived at Lake Forest, the sunny skies and solid footing (well, everywhere except the woods) felt reassuring as we walked the course. As our varsity group warmed up, I had a feeling of deja vu: the group was reserved and pensive as they took the line for dynamic, just like the previous week at Sterling. And just like the previous week, the sound of the gun shifted our women from thoughts to actions. While it is likely that the first mile is a smidge short, especially with the ability to run the course flag to flag, we still got out very well. By the bridge heading into the second loop, Kelsey, Audrey, and Maya were all in the top 25, with Natalie and Kaila working well together in the 30s. Katelin, Karen, Marisa, Julien, and Lesly were further back but looking focused and ready to work the middle section of the race. Everyone's first mile splits were what I asked for--speedy and aggressive: Kelsey 5:39; Audrey 5:51; Maya 5:57; Natalie 6:20; Kaila 6:21; Katelin 6:34; Karen 6:43; Julien 6:44; Marisa 6:46; Lesly 6:48.
In the second loop, our bees worked on passing, each runner shrinking the gap between herself and her next teammate. We paid a bit for our quick start, and like I have been preaching all season, we need to do focused work on that middle mile next week. (Kelsey 6:30; Audrey 6:54; Maya 6:54; Natalie 7:11; Kaila 7:10; Katelin 7:55; Karen 8:12; Julien 8:15; Marisa 7:59; Lesly 8:47). Quick note: You can see that Nat and Kaila were able to make up a little ground on Maya in this loop, as did Maya toward Audrey. Additionally, Marisa started making a leadership move in this loop, working toward Katelin. Thankfully, our squad bounced back in the last mile, working the tangents well and pushing the last 800 hard. I was impressed to see Kelsey move up a spot in the last loop and start pressing at the 800. Audrey and Maya did some great work in this section as well, securing their spots in the top 22. And Kaila and Nat worked well together, switching leads and pushing to catch jerseys. I did not make it back to the final stretch to see all of the kicks, but my spotters reported that we looked strong across the board. :)
Our team effort resulted in some great stats. We placed 4th as a team--our best finish in my tenure as coach. That was delivered by three great performances up front by Kelsey, Audrey, and Maya, who each earned All-Conference honors...also a team first! They did it by running some great PRs; Kelsey ran a 22 second season PR despite catching a mini-plague this week; Audrey dropped 13 seconds from her gutsy performance last week at Sterling; and Maya dropped a whopping 30 seconds for a new LPR, too. Impressive work, women! A team score is not decided by three runners, though. Natalie and Kaila stepped up big today, each earning new PRs today, too: Nat dropped 28 seconds from Sterling, and Kaila dropped 39 from Sterling. This tandem fed off each other's energy, helping our team score significantly. Our remaining pushers had strong days, too. Katelin was our sixth runner again. followed by Marisa as our seventh with a huge PR. She dropped 25 seconds from her strong Sterling race. Nice work! Julien was not far behind with an impressive 42 second drop that was helped by a great kick. Lesly, who has bravely battled injuries all season, gritted through considerable pain to finish her race with pride.
Post-race, Agee and I were all smiles as we met up with this group. I knew we had raced well, but looking at the results was thrilling, too. Another fourth place finish--just like last week! By far, this was our best team finish at Conference, but much like last week, I know we have some more to give. This group's mission this week: get healthy and sharpen up what we have already been working on. I'm excited to see us race at Lake Forest again next week! We will be facing many of the same teams, plus a few others for the regional: from Conference--Lake Forest, Libertyville, Mundelein, Stevenson, Warren, Waukegan; and from elsewhere--Deerfield, Highland Park, and Wheeling. Our mission is to do what we have done the last few weeks: race for each other, enjoy the process, and take 4th place again. ;) Ok, seriously...we need to rank in the top six in order to have another week of XC. I don't know about you all, but I have really enjoyed this season, so I'd like to extended it as a team. Let's go! :)
I know that I was pumped after the Varsity race, but the Open women had even better energy than me. They arrived at the line looking confident and ready. Like their Varsity sisters, they too got out hard and raced with grit. Angie and Loula were our leaders, working with each other for much of the race. On the bus, Loula explained that Angie acted as an inspiration to her, offering leadership pace-wise, especially in the middle mile. Spotters tell me that Angie had her signature kick, earning a new season PR by 41 seconds (7:11, 8:18, 8:00), and running the kind of race she had been looking for in the last few weeks. She finished with a smile, and she kept that energy the entire afternoon, pumping up her teammates in the F/S race. Loula finished a few ticks after Angie with a new LPR by 49 seconds! What a way to finish her XC career (7:13, 8:17, 8:06). Delilah was our third runner with an incredible breakthrough. She ran a huge LPR, dropping 44 seconds and looking joyous with every step (7:20, 8:24, 8:18). Each time I saw Delilah, she was grinning ear to ear and pushing to pass someone new. All that positivity paid off with a great race! Congrats, Delilah! Jenna was not far behind, grinning just as wide. She keyed off Delilah for much of the race, pulling along to an LPR by 46 seconds (7:21, 8:27, 8:18). Awesome work, Jenna! Jayla, another senior with a great race today, was our fifth bee for the day. Not only did she get out strong, but she had a strong kick to run a big SPR by 35 seconds (7:37, 9:06, 8:32). Proud of you, Jayla! Elyssa was close to Jayla, running a gritty race like Lesly. Working through rehab the last few weeks, Elyssa warmed up with the intent to run this last race. She got out well in 7:14, and she fought through hip and quad pain the entire race, showing her team what it means to be tough. I know the time does not meet her expectations, but here positive mindset all season, not to mention her in-race grit are to be respected (9:02, 9:14). Proud of you, E! In a huge breakthrough, Ixa was in sight of Elyssa at the finish. I know you remember that Ixa had a big race last week at Wheeling, hitting the 26s for the first time in her career; apparently she did not want to stay there long because she ran a seedy 25:45 today, smashing her previous PR by 1:04 (7:47, 9:03, 8:55). What a great comeback after her frustrating race at Lake Forest earlier in the season! Great work, Ixa! Bianca followed Ixa's lead, looking strong and sneaking into the 25s by one second. She keyed off Ixa for much of the race (8:05, 9:05, 8:49) and closing hard with a great kick. Most of last season, Bianca struggled with injuries, but this season has been different. She has gotten so much stronger this season, and her racing reflects that strength--proud of you, Bianca! Ashley, Crizaber, and Jenni rounded out our squad today. Although none of them were able to set a new PR, I saw a lot of great things out of these three. On the bus, I watched Crizaber craft and hand out inspirational cards for each of her hive members. During the Varsity and JV races, I saw Jenni yell herself mute for her team. During the Varsity race, I asked Ashley to try to pull Lesly from the race after she refused to let me pull her. Ashley said sure, then ran to the woods and encouraged Lesly to finish, knowing that Lesly could and would. All of that beautiful teamwork aside, these women ran solid races; they were within 20 seconds of their PRs, and they looked gritty. Ashley got out hard and did a nice job of surging in the middle loop. Crizaber did a great job of using the slight downhills to gain momentum. And Jenni fought through her late-week illness in order to come within 19 seconds of her PR. Overall, this group looked awesome, and I am proud of their gritty races!
Our final racers of the day were the Frosh-Soph women. Much like racing in the afternoon, it was equally weird to have this group race last. We are used to watching their energy set the tone for the day, but they were happy to act as a great conclusion to the day. This group seemed a bit nervous pre-race, but the gun changed everything, especially for Mel. As she confessed on the bus, she was not in the right headspace pre-race, but she ended up being our #1 racer today with a huge PR. She dropped 2:28 from her previous best, showing what she has really been capable of all along. She hit the 23s for the first time in her life, and she looked awesome doing it. Normally, Mel has a grimace on her face and looks tight; today, she looked happy and free. Her splits were sweet: 7:14, 8:11, 8:10. Congrats on a great race, Melanie! Kelly was not far behind, running a strong race and dropping 8 seconds from her previous best too finish in 23:50. Kelly has been bravely battling hip tightness and pain, not to mention a relentless cough. Her gritty mindset earned her a trip to Sterling last week, and a new LPR this week(7:21, 8:21, 7:58). Proud of you, Kell! Joceline had a huge breakthrough like Mel today. She got out strong, finished with a great kick, and dropped a crazy 2:16 for her final race as a sophomore (7:26, 8:29, 8:09). I'm glad you raced today, Jocy (you know what that means), and I'm proud that you took the opportunity to show your teammates what this season means to you through your actions. Our fourth finisher, much like Kelly, has been bravely battling hip issues for the last several weeks. She ran a tough race, getting out strong and finishing well (7:36, 8:47, 8:20). I know with some rest and strength, she will come back to track in the spring ready to race hard (hint!) I was proud of her honest speech on the bus, as well as her gutsy racing all season. Aubrianna had a stellar race today, breaking through some boundaries. She got out hard in 7:32, and finished with a huge LPR, dropping 1:35 from her previous best. (8:48, 8:36). I'm so excited that Aubrianna came out for XC; I know it will help her times in the spring to have such a strong base, and she was an important part of the fresh-soph squad. Proud of your progress this season, Aubri! Naiomi was not far behind, running a gutsy race today. She got out much harder than usual, running a PR in the mile and setting a new LPR overall by 1:11! Im proud of her growth this season, and I can't wait to see her race during track (7:34, 9:14, 8:40). Sam was our next racer with a huge breakthrough. She looked amazing, dropping a whopping 2:02 for a new LPR of 25:57 (7:56, 9:19, 8:42). Beautiful work, Sammy! :) Stacy was not far behind, looking gritty, working through sore shins to run an equally impressive PR drop of 1:53. She finished with a new LPR of 26:32--proud of you, Stacy! Blanca was not to be outdone. With speed-braids on her head and a great pre-race mindset, Blanca was on a mission. She dropped a crazy 2:32, earning a new LPR of 26:39 (8:18, 9:26, 8:55). Blanca is officially a runner now! :) Illyana was on the same wavelength. She has been ready to pop a good race, and today was the day. She looked awesome, dropping 1:36 to run 27:09 (8:06, 9:44, 9:19). Way to, go, Illy! :) Sarah learned to lean into the race today. She ran a beautiful race, dropping the most time out of this whole group: 2:51. She finished in 28: 47 (8:16, 10:40, 9:51). Proud of you, Sarah! :) Nataly was only a second beyond Sarah in terms of PR drops. She shaved 2:50 off her previous best to reach her season goal--to get out of the 30s. She finished in 29:05, well beyond her goal. So proud of you, Nat! Finally, Zowie finished out her XC career with a strong race. Surrounded by her teammates all over the course, she shaved 16 seconds from her previous best, running 39:18. Proud of you Zowie--for your race and your insights on the bus ride home.
Overall, we had TWENTY THREE lifetime PRs and THREE season PRs. More importantly, the busride home made my heart and soul sing. We are on the brink of a new era in ZBXC. Your shared love of this sport and this team is clear. We need to keep striving for that elite status. We need to keep supporting one another. We need to keep on this trajectory of growth. It starts with Monday. Let's slay the time trial, recognize one another's greatness during the link ceremony, and vote for our 2019 MVP and Leadership Awards. Please be thinking hard about where you want your vote to go.
In the meantime, get your laundry done. :) I can't wait to see you all tomorrow!
Monday @ Home vs. Mundelein & Warren:
We closed out our dual/triangular season with two wins and some gritty racing on our home course. While working out at Shiloh Saturday (well, near Shiloh!), we knew our course would be soggy for race day; there was standing water in several spots, and we knew more rain was on the way. Sure enough, we had to alter one section of the course on the first 400/post-second mile due to calf-high water. The change made our course a hair long, making today's PRs all the more special. Pre-race, the Mundelein coach disclosed that her #1 runner was out, and the Warren coach conceded that his squad was not racing all out. After an invite-free Saturday, we were racing all-out regardless of the competition's intentions.
It's hard to single out race highlights from this meet. In the last blog, I asked you to tap into that 20, and to let your actions roar. You did all of that and then some! Honestly, the vibe pre-race was great, and from the gun, I could see that we were ready to prove some things. By the 800, Kelsey and Audrey had established a nice lead that they would not give up. Without any competition, I was excited about Kelsey's strong effort. She finished feeling proud, and shared that with some competition, she knew she could be much faster. Having a win under her belt is a nice confidence booster, too. Although she wanted to move up on the Top Ten Board, I am proud of her effort from gun to chute today! Audrey had an outstanding race. Not only did she earn a new LPR, but she just looked awesome throughout the race. After the volleyball courts, she attacked the woods, responding to my cheers. And in the last mile, she attacked the downhills and turns, finishing with a strong kick and holding off the surging Warren duo. After several races that left her unsatisfied, I hope she is proud of this one. Her efforts earned her a new spot on the Top Ten Board: she is now #5 all-time on our course. Congrats, freshie! :)
Other stand out performances at home included Katelin's huge race. Despite some sore shins this week, she persevered to earn a big new LPR of 22:25. She looked focused for the whole race, and she finished with a great kick. Katelin keeps racing with that serious face and focus, and her grit is paying off! Julien had her second race in the 23s, proving that her strong race at Lake Forest was not a fluke! Julien is really starting to figure out how to tap into that 20%, and it is fun to watch! Marisa was right behind her, earning a new SPR by racing with purpose. She has been battling some shin pain like Katelin, but she blocked it out and ran hard for her team tonight. Nice work, Marisa! :) On Marisa's heels was Kelly with a breakout race this season! Not only did she dip into the 23s for the first time, but she also looked like a woman on a mission from start to finish. Her outstanding performance earned her a trip to Sterling this Saturday. She skipped the 24s completely and simply raced hard. So proud of you, Kelly!
Our next PR earner was Loula, dropping 5 seconds to earn a new LPR. Loula has been consistent all season, but she has not looked as sharp as she did at Lake County; today was different! She worked the woods hard, and had a great finishing kick. Kudos on the new LPR, Loula! Lesly wasn't far behind Loula. Although her last mile was not what she hoped for, I have to comment on her first two miles. She got out hard and worked the woods by surging on the turns. I hope that she will take that kind of risk again because I know that she can hold on for the 3rd mile in the future.
Another great moment in the race was Elyssa's grit. On the racing bench for a few meets due to a rude hip, Elyssa felt confident to race after just one PT session. The warm up went well, and at the 800, she gave me the thumbs up, and her form looked great. Even through the Shiloh side, she looked fantastic, engaged in the race and passing to make up for lost time. Elyssa gritted through the last mile to finish with pride; I know that mile three was tough for her, but I am so impressed by her will to finish strong for her team. Nice work, E! Jenna was close behind Elyssa, and came close to a new LPR, running another tough race like she did at Lake Forest. I know if she keeps up this type of racing, a new LPR, but in the 24s, is in her future.
Aubrianna had a huge race today, dropping a ton of time to earn a new LPR in the 26s. Every time I saw her, she was surging around turns and using the few downhills to her advantage. She also had a killer kick! Proud of your race, Aubrianna! :) After a rough race at Lake Forest, Ixa had a huge comeback today. Not only did she earn a new LPR, but she also looked great doing so. This was an honest race from her...no excuses and no hiding, and I'm so proud of her! Great job, Ixa! Bianca was not far behind, earning a new SPR, and creeping closer to her lifetime. Nice work, B! Joceline used Bianca's lead to help her earn a new SPR. It was great to see her race so strong after some quad issues slowed her down last week. Nice work, Joceline! Ashley worked through some knee pain to join Joceline with a sweet SPR. Post-race, she reported that she felt god through the second mile, but started to feel the knee act up again. She gritted through, pushing to a great finish with a great season breakthrough. Great job, Ash! :) Jenni had another solid race, showing that her huge gains at Lake Forest were not just a blip. Proud of her consistency,, and I look forward to seeing her race again! One of the other LPR earners at this meet was Stacy. Although she has been dealing with some sore shins, she set that aside to earn a big LPR, dropping nearly 30 seconds on our sloppy course. She did it by using her teammates to push her in the difficult moments--great job, Stacy! After a brief racing hiatus, Blanca was ready to join her teammates in dropping time. She earned a new LPR, looking more like an athlete in every race. Proud of your grit, Blanca! :)
Jamaya deserves her own paragraph. After a racing hiatus, she came back with avengence, dropping a whole 2:10 to earn a new LPR. I am so impressed by her grit in this race. Every time I saw her, she was working to push around turns and use the downhills. Sh had a great kick, and she deserves to enjoy this big improvement all week! Proud of you, Jamaya!
Overall, our team earned a ton of great times because we were willing to go beyond tired and empty the tank. I could not be more proud! While times are nice measure, our score was impressive today. We are working on fixing our split, and it showed. We bested Mundelein and Warren, improving our record to 3-4. More importantly, I could feel our confidence grow today, which matters as we head into our last invite and championship season. I am proud of this group today, and I could not stop smiling my whole drive home. Nice work, bees! :)
Split Squad Saturday--Varsity @ Sterling and JV @ Wheeling:
This week was a busy one: home meet on Monday, Bee Pink hype all week, and Sterling trip on Friday. It was great to see so many ZBXCers dressed in pink to support our school-wide fundraising efforts. Thank you for joining in a cause that means so much to me! I had my mind on Sterling all week, but it was reinforced by a text from Vic--2018 Captain and Sectional Qualifier. She was checking in to see who would be making the trip to Sterling and wishing us luck. By the time we left on Friday, I was in a great mood, and we had fun telling stories on the bus ride. When we rolled up to the course, I warned our crew that it was chilly, but they still did not expect the briskness of the windy afternoon; we knew it would be even colder the next morning. As we made our way around the course, we realized that cold would not be the only obstacle. The course was in the muckiest shape I have ever seen, but it was not surprising considering the amount of rain we have endured this fall. I was glad to see our crew take the mud pockets in stride, revelling in how fast the first mile felt, and enjoying the beauty of the woods and our traditions. Watching our crew practice some starts and finishes made my heart sing, and Coach Agee said this was her favorite course of the season by far. She said she hoped the team would simply enjoy the day. Little did she know how much our bees would embrace that idea.
After a funny and delicious dinner, we got down to the business of lifting each other up. Although some writers were slower than others, the process of recognizing each others' greatness was a fine way to get ready for some restorative sleep. In the morning, I awoke to a text from another alum, Sectional Qualifier and Captain Julia! She shared that Kipchoge had indeed broken 2:00 while we slept, and predicted that today was a day for PRs! I was all smiles as we convened for breakfast, and I was pleased to see that the women had pushed tables together so that they could eat as one. It was another good omen for the day. As we headed to the course, the energy felt good, but it quickly deflated as we exited the bus and felt the whip of the wind. Truth be told, I was worried about everyone cloaked in blankets, multiple layers of clothes, and cloudy demeanors: would we step up to deal with the conditions, or would we give in to the mud and cold?
Thankfully, a transformation occured when it was time to take the sweats off and tighten laces. I felt a calm watching our bees organize themselves in box 24, wearing our traditional black and pink. After a VERY quick gun, our bees were off, running a perfect tangent for the first 400. After the beginning woods loop, the racers emerged, and Kelsey and Audrey were tucked in with the lead pack. Coach Agee and I cheered like mad, excited to see these two get out so aggressively. Maya was more conservative, but looking sharp, with Kaila and Natalie close by. Karen and Katelin were working in tandem within sight, and I was over the moon! As Coach and I raced to the mile, we were stoked because everyone seemed to be confident and calm in their positions. After the mile, we watched bee after bee smile, seemingly in love with the race. Our opening miles were fantastic, despite the sloppy course: Kelsey 6:04; Audrey 6:09; Maya 6:39; Natalie 6:43; Kaila 6:46; Katelin 6:54; and Karen 6:57. A 53 second split at the first mile is what I want to see! Heading into the woods, Kelsey kept working on the top pack, Audrey stretched on the downhill to catch sleepers, Maya zoned in on the top 30, Nat and Kaila worked with purpose, as did Katelin and Karen. Everyone was leaning into the race. Everyone nodded when I said we had a great team racing going. Emerging from the woods toward mile two, I was proud to see Kelsey working on the top two runners, smiling broadly, and that energy is what I saw in the remaining six bees! The mile two splits were solid: Kelsey 6:12; Audrey 6:45; Maya 6:51; Natalie 7:04; Kaila 7:12; Katelin 7:33; Karen 7:30. As Agee and I kept counting places, I realized we could have three racers in medal contention. We were going nuts as our racers headed into the woods for the last time. As they popped out in great position, we watched with pride as runner after runner turned on the heat for the last 400. Kicks looked outstanding, and so did the finish times. Kelsey dipped into the 18s for the first time this season and beat her previous best on this course. Audrey smashed into the 19s for the first time this season, earning a new LPR by 25 seconds! Maya ran a huge SPR by 30 seconds, and showed this course that SHE was boss! Natalie had an outstanding race, earning a new LPR and showing her team that she is serious! Kaila was right behind, matching her SPR and looking great! Katelin smashed her LPR by 25 seconds and said goodbye to the 22s. :) And Karen ran a new LPR as well, dropping 28 seconds and looking TOUGH.
I was all smiles as I ran to the finish to find our pack embracing one another and revelling in a well-executed team race. As the open women prepared for their race, I sneaked a peek at the results--our efforts had earned us a 4th place finish, our best at this meet ever! We also had three medalists: Kelsey, Audrey, and Maya. The team trophy happened because each women did her job: she ran selflessly and with purpose. It was a beautiful sight to see, and it left me hungry for more. All the post-race talk pointed to the fact that you are ready, too. Kelsey shared that there was a point where she held back, but she won't next time. Audrey brooded over her performance, believing that she has more to give. Maya revealed that she is ready to get out harder and keep contact with our 1-2 punch. Kaila and Nat promised that they could be closer to Maya. And Katelin and Karen, proud of their PRs, talked about what they could do the next week. A coach's dream!
Our women in the Open were pumped up by Varsity's success, and looked BA in black on the line. They enjoyed warmer temps for their race, but the course was more chewed up. Like Varsity, they got out well with Lesly taking the lead, Julien and Marisa working in tandem, and Kelly close behind. Emerging from the woods, I saw the same focus and grit as the previous race. Unfortunately, the timing mat at mile one was not working for this race, so I do not have mile splits. Our order was the same at that point, with Lesly looking strong heading into the woods, Marisa moving up smartly to catch her, Julien working the downhill with perfect form, and Kelly making moves once she passed Agee and me. By the time they re-emerged, Marisa had worked her way to Lesly, and the two were only seconds apart at the two mile (Marisa 15:12; Lesly 15:15), while Julien was within shouting distance (15:26) and Kelly was looking sharper and working hard (16:20). The absolute best part of this race was the last loop. Marisa was just outside of a medal, and when I informed her of this, she made some moves and worked the woods like a champ. Emerging for the final 400, Marisa kicked like mad, working to catch several sleepy runners and looking strong. She finished with a huge season PR, dropping 43 seconds despite a sloppy course. Her 27th place finish earned her some bling, too! :) Lesly was not far behind and within seconds of her LPR. This race was a great comeback after a frustrating last mile at our home course earlier in the week. Her kick looked fantastic, and her aggressiveness all race was more like the Oshkosh version of herself that we all know and love! Julien was only a few seconds behind Lesly after what had to be the kick of the day. Clearing the woods and mud pit, Julien was on fire, arms driving and face focused on catching as many runners as possible! Her kick helped her earn a new LPR by 7 seconds--congrats, Julien! :) Kelly rounded out our four with a strong kick, hunting down one Sterling racer and nearly catching a second at the line. As a freshman at her first "varsity experience," Kelly really embraced the trip. Not only did she blend with our team, offering some funny, sarcastic moments, but she also worked through a sore hip and unrelenting cough for a strong performance. Overall, this group looked outstanding, just like the previous race. I arrived at the finish breathless, excited to see the smiles on their faces and to talk about the race.
From start to finish, this was by far the most successful trip to Sterling we have had. The vibe felt right, the racing was on fire from every single woman, and the post-race fun at the park was safe. ;) What makes me most happy was that each racer seemed pleased with the collective effort, but by no means satisfied for the season. I heard a lot of talk about what we could accomplish in the coming weeks, and I cannot wait to see it unfold. What really warmed my heart was that on the bus ride home, they were seeking information about their teammates in Wheeling, and future teammates from St. Pat's. While it may seem small, that genuine curiosity about their team means everything to me. As we waited for lunch, a new alumni text from Steff, 2018 Captain, warmed my heart. She was so excited to see the growth from last year until now, and she was overcome with joy at our success. Although she was not in Sterling in person to see the product of her leadership, her (and countless others') foundation helped this season become a reality. Click here if you'd like to nerd out on the numbers from Sterling!
Open @ Wheeling:
As we drove reports started rolling in about our girls stepping up at Wheeling, and I could not wait to see the stats! From Franklin and Ashley's explanations, the race of the day goes to Angie and Ixa. Angie had a huge day, dropping 35 seconds to earn a new SPR AND a medal for her speedy 17th place finish! I'd like to note that Angie, along with Delilah, Loula, Jenna, and Elyssa all originally elected to run in the Varsity race. Unfortunately, due to wet conditions on the course, the Wheeling coaches changed the race order, putting Varsity first for the best possible footing. Since we had moved the bus time to later, it was impossible for the women to get there in time to warm up and race that early. It seems that Angie, a wiley veteran, did not let that change affect her. Instead, she made the best of the situation by posting an impressive race--congrats, senior! Looks like Jenna had a great outing, too, only seconds away from her season PR. I have seen reports that the course is long (click here to check it out), so on a true 3-mile, Jenna's performance would have been a PR for sure. Nice work, woman! :) Jayla had a big season best-a big 26 second drop to hit the 25s for the first time this season. Way to go, Jayla! :) Speaking of true PRs, Melanie had quite a day, posting a 17 second LPR and racing well beyond her previous limits. Way to tap into 20, Mel! :) Joceline took Mel's lead and dropped a whopping 43 seconds for a new LPR, too. This is Joceline's first time in the 26s--way to go Jocy! :) The PRs just keep coming: Naiomi dropped 9 seconds to earn a new LPR, too. Awesome work, Naiomi! ;) After Ixa's awesome performance at home on Monday, it's impressive that she dropped even more time (12 seconds to be exact) to make it into the 26 club, too. So sweet, Ixa! :) Crizaber was not far behind, posting an impressive SPR by slashing a huge 1:27 from her JT performance--holy cow! Gritty work, Crizaber! :) The PR fest doesn't stop there. Sarah had an outstanding race, slicing away 57 seconds to earn a new LPR. Proud of your, Sarah! :) And Nataly rounded out our PR performances for the day, dropping 15 seconds for a new LPR. Way to get after it, Nataly!
Overall, I am so stoked to hear about these performances. Historically, our Wheeling squad does not perform as well as expected. Who knows what usually causes this dip, but I am elated to see that it did not happen this year with this group. I DO know why they performed so well: this group is hungry for growth and trusts the process and themselves. We had a great week of work between the home meet and the training, and I am proud that they let it shine on race day! What a glorious weekend to have so many PRs and strong performances! It makes me reflect on that first big meet at Lake County; the energy was so powerful, and we have maintained it all season. You have worked through the valleys and found a way to the 20 percent--I am so proud of you all. I cannot wait to see you all shine at Conference next weekend. In the meantime, we need to take care of business this week, the same things we have been preaching all season: sleep, nutrition, and mindset. Let's continue to lift each other to greatness!
Looking for some inspiration? Check out this week's edition of Fast Women. It discusses the Chicago Marathon, Kipchoge's sub-2:00 success, and some shorter races from this week. Bee a student of your sport! Also, I want to shout out three ZBXC alums for their tremendous success at the Chicago Marathon Sunday. Jocelyn Barajas--class of 2016--finished her first marathon with an outstanding time of 3:54. Anything under 4 for a first attempt is impressive. Nice work, Jo! :) Mary Baxter Reid--class of 2003--ran a huge PR in her second marathon ever, in 3:51. Congrats on your huge drop, Mary! Finally, Kristen Whiteside--class of 2009--(some of you met her at Bee Linked; she was the women's overall winner!) made a big marathon comeback after a 2-year hiatus due to injury. She dropped 3 minutes from her previous best to run a scorching 3:13. That's 7:21 pace! What a great weekend for ZBXC--this is one proud coach! :)
Tuesday @ Lake Forest:
After a strong performance at the JT Invite, I was hoping that we would not have a flat race; thankfully, everyone looked sharp at Lake Forest, despite soggy conditions. Our pack got out well, with directions to work with one another and lean into the reality of racing in the second half: it hurts.
Kelsey was our first finisher, looking comfortable in the early pace and catching several girls in the second half. When she finished, she reported that the solid time felt easy, and that she knew she could and would go faster in the next race. Audrey was our next finisher. Her task was to stick on Kelsey's hip through mile two. Post-race, she explained that her stomach bug has been persisting, and that it made it difficult to fulfill her goal for the day. She did promise that she would work on getting well and would attack the goal in the next race, which I cannot wait to see! :) Maya was our third finisher for the day. Prior to race day, we had a good talk about her goal to "lean into" her races more. She knows that despite her shin pain, she has more to give her teammates. I appreciate that she wants to do more for the team (and herself) as well as her honesty. Honest evaluations are the first step to true racing! I promised that I would video her race to see if we could improve her form to help reduce her shin pain. The good news is that the video reveals that she is overstriding just a bit. Overstriding is when your foot lands in front of your body rather than under your your center. When you overstride, it puts stress on your lower body because that action (pulling your body rather than pushing it) is not an efficient way of moving. Multiply that problem over the course of 3 miles, and you end up with unhappy shins, achilles tendons, and/or hamstrings. At a glance, Maya's form looks amazing: she certainly has the best arm-swing on our team, and from the front, she looks very symmetrical. From the side though, I could see that she was reaching a bit, especially on her left side. That unevenness explains what she has been reporting--that she feels off-kilter as she runs.
Overstriding cannot be fixed overnight, but there are several things we can do (because she is not the only one with this problem). Here are two drills you can use to start becoming more body-aware: 1. Overhead arms while running. We did a bit of this over the summer, and I want to go back to it. During a warm up or on a run, this is a good reset to force yourself to be more mindful of your lower body. Simply extend both arms over your head for 20 seconds to reset your upper body and force your lower body to keep you upright. 2. Check out this pre-run drill to help you feel your foot under your center of gravity. Click here to watch. Make sure you take your time with each step to get the pattern right!
After Maya, we had two breakthroughs. Natalie and Kaila worked well in tandem for the whole race, switching lead and working on Lake Forest runners. Natalie broke away with a great kick, catching a few girls in the last straight and earning a new LPR. Kaila was close behind, coming within one second of her LPR--territory she hasn't seen since before her knee surgery. These racers show that when we work together, we can do great things! Karen was only steps away from a lifetime PR, too. She really embraced the race, working hard in the last loop and kick to show off her fitness. I was excited to see her race well, and I know she still has more to give; I look forward to seeing her race at home on Monday. :) Katelin rounded out our top 7 with a solid race and pulled Lesly and Julien with her. These two juniors stepped up big today! Lesly has been battling some hamstring and knee issues, but that did not stop her from racing hard and setting a new LPR. Julien looked incredible today, dropping a minute to earn a new LPR, too! These two looked much more like their Oshkosh selves--taking risks and working through difficulties. Nice work, women! Marisa, much like the women ahead of her, had another strong race. After looking great and earning a medal at JT, Marisa matched her season PR by racing smart at Lake Forest.
There was a little gap, and then Angie and Delilah were our next bees to finish. These two looked great today; Angie looked more like her real racing self, matching her SPR, and Delilah used her frustration from JT to step up and run a new lifetime PR. These two worked hard throughout the race and had great kicks to seal their races. Nice work! Bri, Loula, Jenna, and Kelly were not far behind. This was certainly a day of teamwork, and these four pushed each other at different points, whether up close or from afar. They raced well together, pushing Jenna to match her SPR. :)
Jayla was our next bee, finishing close to her SPR and pulling Naiomi to match her LPR! Nice work, women! Bianca and Jenni were next and working hard and running great races. Bianca ran a nice SPR, looking aggressive throughout her race. Jenni, who was right behind her, had a huge breakthrough today. Not only did she run a lifetime PR, but she did it by simply listening and executing. She asked for some tips to get out of her rut, and she used all of them: getting out a bit harder than usual; working on arm swing past the hip; focusing on passing people in the middle miles; and trusting herself and her training. It all added up to a big drop of nearly a minute. Great work, Jenni! Aubrianna was just a little away from Jenni. Although she had a bit of an off race, she helped pull Illyana to close to her LPR, distracting her from her angry ankle in the mucky conditions. Nataly earned a new LPR today, running through a tight hip and focusing on racing hard. :) Zowie had the biggest drop of the day with a huge race. After admitting that she was nervous about racing again, we talked about trusting her fitness and giving herself a chance. She did so and dropped nearly seven minutes from her previous best, illustrating just how much the mind matters to performance.
And that's where I would like to end this blog--with the mind. While I was battling the plague, I spent some time reading a book called Amazing Racers (you are welcome to borrow it once I am done). One of the pages I folded over discusses the role of the mind in racing, and I could not stop thinking about the passage, especially while watching the best racers on earth in the World Track and Field Championships this weekend:
"Sport scientists claim that even the world's best runners rarely put forth an effort equal to what their bodies can truly achieve. Coaches urge their athletes: 'You always have 20 percent more to give.' Few runners really believe that; fewer still act on it" (Bloom xix).
In our final weeks of the season (it's closing fast--we race Monday, Saturday, and then it's Championship season...most of you have three races left of the 2019 season), I would like to focus on that 20%. When you are racing, most of you believe that you simply cannot go faster, that you are giving all you can. The key to unlocking that last 20 percent (which, let's be real...that's a ridiculous amount of time. For those of you working through the math, that's 4:00 faster for a 20:00 race. Think about that!) is twofold:
1. Believing in all the hard work you have done so far.
2. Having a real purpose in your race.
Your logbooks are designed to help you wrap your brain around #1. If you go back through all the miles and workouts, surely you cannot ignore that you have put in the work. This team has not shied away from work this summer and fall.
Your "why" needs some work. When I asked you to describe your "why" at JT prior to the race, many of you struggled to articulate your purpose. And I get it...many of you are new to this sport, and you are finding your way this season. And the rest of you? Well, you have continued to run because you found some success in the past, and you like the team. If we are going to unlock that last 20%, we have to dial into the "why" with more clarity. We have to lean into our team as a whole. We have to live the joy we have for each other after the race when we are debriefing on the bus while we are racing. I know that we can. I have seen you proudly brag about each other's achievements. I have witnessed as you have helped a teammate through a tough workout or moment. I know you love each other, and I know that most days, you love running (let's be real--others have not made it to this point in the season, and you have). But how far do you want to go? Are you willing to admit that there is 20% more to give? Are you willing to lean into the pain of racing? Are you willing to let the linked spirit of this team be your purpose when the race gets tough?
Your answer should be your race on Monday. It's our last home meet of the season. It's a great opportunity to showcase your knowledge of every turn. It's the perfect chance to show your dominance on our home turf. It's the right time to make a statement about who you are...about what the team really means to you...about what kind of story you want for the end of the season. Remember--our seniors said their mission was to shape this team in to a family of elite student-athletes. And elite people let their actions speak. I hope to hear you roar.
Saturday @ Grant's JT Invite:
After a stellar week of training, I knew we were ready to step up our racing. The ladder on Tuesday revealed that we were capable of faster times, and the tempo on Thursday proved that we are stronger than we think! While I was disappointed that the conditions on Friday and Saturday would not allow for super-fast times at Grant, I was excited to see our grit in adverse weather. You all did NOT disappoint!
Honestly, I was a bit concerned on the bus. We had such a good week, I wanted to make sure we did not leave our best efforts in the workouts. The quiet mood on the bus did not help, either. But as we exited and started to warm up, my nerves were allayed as I felt the energy of the Frosh/Soph women on the warm up. They felt that the loop was quick, and they seemed to embrace the misty rain, the muddy conditions, and the "hill" (Coach Agee is STILL shocked that we call that a hill ;) ). We pulled a good box number on the "better" side of the hill (less muddy), so I was excited to see how our first group would do! Pre-race, Marisa asked for some advice to keep from falling asleep; she did not want to repeat the mistake from last season at this meet. I love when athletes strive to grow mentally! We talked about getting out hard and making a passing goal for each mile. When the gun sounded, Marisa did just that: by the time she emerged from the first loop, she was in the front of the pack, and she kept catching people each successive loop. What I loved about Marisa's race was that she looked engaged the whole time, enjoying the hunt and challenging herself to be elite! By focusing on passing, she was able to create a more even race: 7:50, 8:10; 8:02). That fight paid off with a season PR and a medal. Awesome work, Marisa! :)
Her teammates also had great races. Bri and Kelly also had strong performances, each moving up throughout the race to earn ribbons for being in the top 20. Sweet! Their efforts to fix the split were instrumental to our 3rd place trophy. :) Melanie had a big breakthrough at JT. Not only did she earn a new SPR by 44 seconds, but she just looked fantastic the whole way. She got out harder than usual by trusting her fitness and herself. Like Marisa, she never missed an opportunity to pass people--great job, Mel! Finishing as our fifth runner today, Aubrianna had a HUGE race. She lost her chip shoe on the first loop, but she did not let that obstacle slow her down. She ran a new LPR by 29 seconds with only one shoe through the mud! Like Mel, she got out harder than usual, focused hard in the second loop, and had a great finish. So proud of your gritty performance, Aubrianna! She was not the only one to earn an LPR in this race: Illyana and Stacy also broke through today. Illyana rolled her ankle last week, and she has been working through the swelling and discomfort all week. I was concerned that she would struggle in the sloppy conditions, but she did not allow that to slow her down. Her quick start and great finish helped her shave 21 seconds from her previous best! Stacy has had a difficult week, too. Her shins have been uncooperative all week, but she tried the warm up and raced like a champ. She blocked the pain during the race, and she stayed locked in the whole time, dropping 9 seconds. Naiomi, Sam, and Blanca all had strong races today, too, despite what the clock said. Like Aubri, Blanca ran with only one shoe for part of the race, not allowing the distraction to push her off track.
This group set the tone for the day. They worked hard for each other, and they raced ELITE. Congratulations on the 3rd place trophy--you all earned it!
Our Varsity women were the next to toe the line. Prior to the race, officials agreed to move the second hill flag over so that runners would have a slightly less muddy ascent. Our racers did not seem fazed by the conditions. I asked Kelsey to take a big risk and try to go out with Grant's #1, Aly Negovetich. Although she was not able to make that big goal come true today (yet), she did get out aggressively and kept fighting fiercely to catch the Lake Forest runner ahead of her. Kelsey ended in 4th, helping our team score tremendously. Audrey, coming off of the plague, got out hard today, too. She looked strong at the start, and fought mightily throughout, keeping Kelsey in sight the entire race. Her time was only five seconds away from her LPR, and her grit was unquestionable--nice work, Audrey! Both of these women earned top-10 medals today for their efforts. Maya had a great start today, too, and was in shouting distance of Audrey after the first loop. Although she was not happy with her performance today, I hope that our post-race conversation was helpful; I anticipate a change on Tuesday at Lake Forest! Her 21st place finish helped our team score, too. Our next finisher was Kaila, who had a strong race today. For most of the race, she and Natalie worked together to catch other girls and push one another. Kaila had a stronger last mile, finishing in 27th. Natalie took a big risk today to race with Kaila, and it paid off with a new LPR of 22:03. She showed herself what she is capable of, and I look forward to her and Kaila racing together on Tuesday. The big breakthrough of the day was Katelin's race. She got out hard, worked to pass throughout, and ran a new LPR by nearly a minute, despite the muddy conditions. This is the kind of race I knew she could run, and I'm proud that she proved it to herself today! Our final runner was almost a scratch today. Karen has been a late adopter of our plague, and I was hesitant to have her race. After the warm up, she looked me in the eye and said, "I've got this. I want to race." Who can argue with that assertiveness? Despite missing a few days of practice, Karen looked locked in and ran a competitive race. I look forward to seeing that same grit as she gets well. This is the first complete team race we have run this season. We looked good from 1-7 and it showed in the results: we finished in 3rd behind a tie-breaker to Lake Forest, a team we will need to beat at the Regional. (FYI, if there is a point tie, the place is then decided by comparing 6th runners. Ties are NOT broken at the Regional or Sectional for the last qualifying spot, though; both teams advance in the case of tie). Speaking of the Regional--on Tuesday we compete against Lake Forest again, on their course, home of our Conference and Regional meets this year. We will need to use this opportunity to learn the course and make mental notes about go-zones. Our 1-5 split was 2:15, much improved over early performances, but still needs improving. our 1-7 split was 4:12, a slight improvement. Clearly, we are a close match to Lake Forest, and we will need all seven racers scrapping from gun to tape to make the win happen. This race was an improvement over Lake County, and I know we will continue to improve! I also know that Lake Forest is well-coached, so we need to be ready to grit out a scrappy race!
Our final racers of the day had to deal with the worst course conditions. Repeat loops are easy to learn but suffer more churning; by the time our open racers went to the line, the course was a slip and slide in many sections. That did not deter our bees, however. Loula got out hard as our lead racer, and she did not relent! She ended in 10th place, helping our team score and earning a ribbon! There were a few other significant races from this group. Angie had a nice breakthrough today after several races of being "stuck." It was good to see her being the gritty racer I know her to be. Her kick was fantastic, too. Jenna made a nice comeback after an extended sickness; her characteristic smile was on display as she passed people throughout the race! Bianca raced hard, only seconds away from her LPR despite the nasty conditions. Crizaber was able to run a strong race finally, despite her knee pain. This was her first 3-mile race of the season, and it was great to see her fighting for her team! Speaking of records, Alexandra was a hard maybe before the race. She, like Karen, caught the plague late in the game and struggled all week because of it. She tried the warm up and wanted to race today, and race she did! She battled a kid from Wauconda for most of the race, then dropped him in the final loop, finishing with an amazing kick. Her efforts helped her drop a whopping 58 seconds despite the messy course, for a new LPR. I am really proud of her efforts! I also want to highlight a few kicks from this race: Delilah, Ashley, Ixa, and Jenni all had outstanding kicks today--great work! Although there was no trophy for this race, our bees finished in 3rd place as a team, too!
I was really happy with the energy at this meet. I watched MANY runners simply give up in the mud, but not us. Check out the pics on insta to see how aggressive you all looked on the hill. It was fun to watch!
This coming week, we have some work to do. First, we need to get healthy. I know I sound like a broken record, but we have to rest, refuel, and rehydrate at elite levels this week. With no invite, our focus is the race at Lake Forest on Tuesday, and a quality workout on Saturday to help us sharpen for the championship part of our season. The weeks are moving fast, so we need to be intentional about our work this week. Second, we need to focus more on our WHY. When I asked each squad to share their why at the starting line, too many of you struggled for a reason. Without having a purpose, running hard is difficult. Let me offer some food for thought:
*We have sent individual runners to the sectional consistently since 2013, but we have not sent a team since then.
*We have not had a F/S runner or Open runner earn a medal at Conference since 2011.
*We have not had a team finish in the top four at Conference.
*We did not win the GPA contest last fall.
*We have not shown our true potential yet.
*Recent workouts indicate that we are ready to race much faster!
Let's work on the mental side of things this week in order to finish the season with the seniors' intention: as a family of ELITE student-athletes. That requires that EVERY team member needs to rededicate herself to our collective purpose. That requires that EVERY team member takes care of herself so that she can help take care of the team. I am re-dedicating myself to this team this week; I look forward to hearing the same from each of you. Let's go, bees!
Tuesday @ Libertyville's Adler Park:
After a brief team meeting, we headed south to Libertyville for a dual meet. When we arrived, we found out that Adler was not immune to all the rain, and that the course had been altered due to extensive flooding of the Des Plaines River Trail. Already a challenging course with repeated hill climbs and uneven terrain, the new route to get up and down the hill was indeed more technical than the original course. Post-race, many of you revealed that you were intimidated because you didn't understand the course, and it looked tough. I would have never known it, though, because you all put on a strong face before the gun.
I held out a few peeps due to lingering illness as well as some achiness, but the majority of our squad was ready to race against a strong Libertyville squad, despite a lack of TP in the bathrooms ;). Once the race was underway, I soon realized that the times would not be fast: squishy conditions in the woods (how many times did I see one of you almost lose it and/or actually lose it and fall?) coupled with the new uphill/downhill that featured slippery and soft moguls, made today's race more of a technical workout rather than a true race day. That being said, I am happy that we had this stimulus. Working through these hills and slick conditions are a great stimulus to drive adaptations. When your body has to deal with a course like Adler, you gain strength that is difficult to create in a workout. In sum: you're welcome. :)
There were several stand-out performances today. We had SIX LPRs on this course, including Zowie, who finished her first race ever today (we had to wait for her transfer paperwork to clear until now...)! While most of you enjoyed the luxury of starting your season or career on Deerfield's simple, flat course, Zowie debuted on Adler's terrain. Her grit today is to be commended! I know she will continue to improve from here. :) Alexandra also set an LPR by 14 seconds over our home meet. She continues to get stronger each race! Kelly dropped a whopping 1:03 from Waukegan. Each race, she looks more and more like a true XC runner, embracing the challenges and pushing herself to improve. Impressive work, Kell! Sam's fitness is really showing now, too. She dropped 29 seconds from Waukegan, and she looked strong doing it! Nice work, Sammy! Aubrianna is starting to show her feistiness from track now that she is XC fit. She dropped a huge 1:19 from our home meet, looking fast up the hills and gritty throughout the race. Proud of your growth, Aubrianna! Stacy was our final LPR-er of the day, dropping 37 seconds--signalling her impressive fitness gains. She continues to look stronger week-to-week! Props to all six of these women for pushing themselves to new LPRs. Real talk, I know they will continue to slash time because they work hard every day and keep learning more about their ability to be tough in races each day.
Although the following women did not earn LPRs, they were close to their Waukegan times today: Julien, Kaila, Audrey, Marisa, and Jayla. Considering that the meet at Waukegan had ideal conditions: first big meet of the year hype, cool weather, and lots of competition, it is definitely a meet to look at for comparisons. That being said, you all have some significant workouts in your system now (Darwin, Paavo 400s, tempo, and this hilly race) that should start providing a bump in your fitness in the next week. We will no longer look at Waukegan as the measuring stick!
I was happy to hear the commentary on the bus ride home. This team is intentional about seeing the greatness in each other. I invite you to start (or continue) to see the greatness in YOURSELF as well.
Saturday @ HOME (Bill Dawson Blue Devil Invite):
I think that every single returning runner looks forward to this invite: the competition is always strong, and the flat, fast course provides nice PRs. So I understand when we found out that WE would be hosting the meet that some of your had some trepidation. Yes, we have home-course advantage, but yes, our course is more challenging than Warren's.
Varsity Women: For me, this race started on Wednesday when Warren confirmed that they would need to use our course in order for the meet to happen. And then this race became even more impressive when Kelsey walked into my room on Thursday morning. She just stared at me at first, and I was worried that something was wrong: was she sick? was her back getting worse? had she tweaked a foot or ankle or knee? She finally said, "I am telling you this to hold me accountable: I think I can win the invite on Saturday."
That's a big statement, and my smile was undoubtedly cringey big. :) We talked more about it later and agreed that having that big goal was important. Even if she fell short, she had a big goal mindset going into the race...a 62 mindset. It's impossible to have a breakthrough without thinking it is possible to begin with. This was an important moment in her mental development, and I'm so proud of her for dreaming big dreams!
Due to impending storms, Warren decided to switch up the order and get the Varsity races completed first. I intentionally shifted some women into other races today for two reasons: First, frosh/soph runners deserve to run frosh/soph once or twice to feel what it's like to be in the front of a race; second, I wanted to see what each unit (varsity and f/s) would do without having teammates to key from. Runners sometimes hit a mental block where they think they have to be in a certain order on the team. Rather than run their own races, they key off other people for mid-race feedback to see if they are in the "right" spot. By splitting our pack up, I was hoping we would have some epiphanies. :) Pre-race, our group was QUIET and seemingly nervous. I instructed them to each share one positive moment from the season during their warm up in order to break the nerves. When they returned, the mood was slightly lighter, but I still did not like the vibe. During dynamic, I asked each bee to share her positive moment, and everyone had a good story to share. By the time we got to the break down, the rest of the team's energy seemed to break up the gloominess, and we looked a little more ready to race. After the gun, I headed to the mini-loop by the parking lot (we need a name for that section--anyone have any ideas?) to see how our bees were doing. To be honest, I was not pleased by how far back our bees were in the pack. The leaders of the race did not get out excessively hard (unlike last year's Dawson Invite), so I was concerned that we were not being aggressive enough. Of course, the most effective race is when you are second-half strong, BUT you need to balance that by being in the right spot to start, too. Generally, our bees moved up throughout the race, but we had A LOT of ground to make up for. If you look at the race results here, you can see what place you were in at each mile, splits, and your finish place (another reason why I LOVE this race...those mile mats provide us with some great info!). What if each of you had started 5-10 seconds faster for your first mile? What if you truly believed in your fitness for mile two, rather than give in to feelings of tiredness? My job is to push you all at this point in the season...when school stress is real, when sickness is rude, and when your body is feeling a little banged up. We need to push through all of those stressors and ADAPT this week.
There are some important highlights to the varsity race. First, despite a slower start, Kelsey moved up considerably in the pack and raced a gritty race. Her back has not been cooperative this week, and she worked through it today. Although her goal was to win, she made a nice mental adaptation when she realized that her first 800 was not fast enough. She kept working toward her goal in the latter half of the race, moving from about 25th place at the 800 to 18th by the mile to 9th at the finish. Her race represents an important racing lesson: even if things do not go how you want, if you have not crossed the finish line, there is time to make improvements. No race is perfect, and it is your job to adapt mid-race and keep pushing so that you finish on empty.
Maya moved up considerably in this race (did you look at her stats? Started in 65th and moved up to 43rd), despite having a particularly harsh strain of our ZB plague this week. I liked her second-half grit today, capped by a really strong kick; she dropped 5 seconds from our first home meet, which is impressive progress--nice work, Maya! Speaking of plague, Kaila also ran well despite the itis. She broke through her stuck point running a BIG season PR of 21:36, only 21 seconds away from her lifetime PR of 21:15 from her freshman year at Warren (pre-knee blow out and surgery). She had been hanging around the 22 mark for several races, so this breakthrough despite illness was HUGE. I'm proud of her gritty racing! Karen's race was an improvement over recent races, looking more like a Waukegan effort. I know that she has more in the tank, and her task this week is to continue her work on the mental side of things so that she can truly race to "empty." Lesly has been working through some wandering knee pain; I was hoping that holding her out of Tuesday's mud fest would help her for today. Although she stayed pretty consistent place and time-wise, I know that this gritty runner has more to give. A strong week of practice will help her unlock her potential at Grant. Julien had a solid start, and like Lesly, she has been boldly dealing with some joint discomfort. After seeing her performance at Oshkosh, I know that once that ankle feels stronger, she will be able to pop a performance that matches her work ethic. I saw glimpses of it in her kick today! Finally, Delilah adapted and stepped up to take Loula's role today (another victim of the itis) and worked grittily to push herself, especially in her last mile. Her kick was savage, and I'm proud of her for a strong week of practice and taking on the challenge of a varsity race. In the team race, we finished in 11th behind some strong teams; that matches our finish last year, despite not having all of our true varsity racing. That being said, I know that the group who raced to day has more to give, and it will be our work this week to put together some mental and physical work to help adapt and reveal each bee's potential. :)
Frosh/Soph Women: The energy felt better at the start of this race. There was a playfulness in the team huddle, and I was hoping that would translate into strong races. This group got out strong. I was happy to see our bees looking strong, and in particular, I appreciated Audrey's bold start. She started in second and stayed there the whole race. Despite the course being slightly longer than when we raced there for the first time, she ran a few seconds faster than that meet. I was proud of how assertive she was in this race, and I cannot wait to see that same confidence at Grant! Her efforts today nabbed her the last spot on the Top Ten Board; she knocks off Ana Beck, class of 2015. Ana is the only runner in ZBXC history to qualify for Sectionals ALL FOUR YEARS of her running career; to replace Ana is to replace a legend! Congrats, Audrey! :)
Naiomi keeps improving each race. Today, she really took a risk and got out harder than usual. Her aggressive racing produced a drop of 1:09 for a huge LPR! I am so proud of her progress this season! She keeps embracing our culture and work, and the results are showing! Kelly is the same boat; she ran a gutsy race, surging in Shiloh Woods and kicking with purpose. Her tactics earned her a new LPR by 57 seconds! Great work, Kelly! Melanie stepped up to have a great race today. She worked through some doubts and let her teammates pull her to a 24 second SPR--nice work, Mel! Aubrianna seems to be "getting" this whole XC thing this week. After a strong performance at Libertyville, she came back to drop a WHOLE MINUTE from her previous best to set a new LPR. Her first two miles were very even, and I know she will get that third mile down to keep shaving time. Great work, Aubrianna! Speaking of great races, Blanca has had a difficult week. She battled the ZB plague all week while she was mourning the loss of her grandmother. She was able to focus on the race, however, and pull off a breakthrough! Watching Blanca race today was awesome; not only did she react to every go zone, she also had an incredible kick. All of that focus resulted in a 32 second PR. I know her next race will be in the 28s for sure. Proud of you, Blanca! Sam also had an impressive race. Each week, she keeps getting stronger, and today was a breakthrough for her. She dropped a whopping 1:51 from her previous best, running sub-30 for her first time ever! Her pacing was solid, and I know she will keep dropping time each week because she really "gets" XC now. Stacy almost dropped as much time in her spectacular race: 1:42 for a new LPR, too! This is Stacy's first time sub 9 in a race and sub-30 overall--nice work, woman! :) Both of these bees struggled with sickness earlier in the week, but they bounced back to race with grit; it is so much fun to watch them improve!
Although they did not produce LPRs today, there were a few other gritty races in the F/S today. Bri looks more and more like herself in each race. She was within 2 seconds of her lifetime today, and she looked strong coming into the finish. Joceline took some impressive risks today. She worked hard in the Shiloh loop, and she zoomed through the 2-mile mark. I know that if she keeps taking risks, she will set a new PR for sure. Illyana had a strong race today, too. She was within 15 seconds of her LPR because she go out fast. Nataly ran 6 seconds faster than her first time on our course today, despite a sore hip; she is improving steadily and will hit some faster times soon. Natalie had a strong first mile today; I am proud of her for getting out hard and taking a risk. I know that she will gain the confidence to hang onto that pace and roll with her pack soon! Katelin also had a strong start today; as she works through some shin pain, she will undoubtedly drop some more time, too. Overall, this F/S squad looked strong. They finished in 10 place as a team, despite missing Marisa, Jamaya, and Alexandra due to illness. Nice work, women!
Open Women: Our last race of the day was the Open. Thankfully, the weather held, and this small but mighty group enjoyed some cooler, less humid air during their race. This pack was hardest hit by the sickness and injury bug; only three women stepped to the line, but they all got out strong. Jayla was the speediest at the mile, starting in 8:09. Bianca got out faster than usual, too, posting an 8:39! Jenni looked good in that first mile, too, posting a 9:11. Each of these women were responsive in the woods; they used go zones to pick people off, and then they brought their last miles down through strong kicks. Jayla ran a 35 second LPR. I know that she is ready for a breakthrough like in track; she has been looking stronger lately, and I cannot wait to see her pop a big race! Bianca looked great today, too, dropping 4 seconds for a new SPR. I know she is ready to break her LPR; now that she is healthy, we will look to Grant for that to happen! Although Jenni did not set a new PR today, she listened to her sister and ZBXC alum throughout the race. I know that if she starts taking her own advice (she was EVERYWHERE on the course for her teammates today), then she will set a new LPR, too.
I am pleased with our efforts today, but I am not satisfied. I have planned a good week of work for us, since we do not have a Tuesday meet. Our mission is to trust the fitness we have earned, take some chances in the workouts, and then really take a risk on Saturday at Grant's course. The weather looks decent this week, similar to the cool temps we enjoyed at Waukegan. The other arm of our mission is to get healthy. That means letting your ACTIONS prove your INTENTIONS: actually go to bed on time; actually eat to fuel and recover; actually hydrate consistently; actually think about your stretches and supplementals. I see that we can be a second-half-of-the-season strong team, but it does not matter what I think--you all have to believe it. Let's go!
Before I sign out, I just wanted to give some shout outs. Special thanks to the Johnson family for hosting our first pasta party of the season! Events like these help the team bond and feel more accountable to one another. We have a large team this year, so this monumental task is greatly appreciated! Thanks to all the alums who came to help and cheer. It felt great to have all that history on our side today! Taylor, Naya, Cynthia, Lance, Alex, Victor, Desmond, Avedis, Collin, Miguel, and Jason--we promise to make you proud this season. Thank you to the Hamiltons who helped marshal the course as well as clean up when the storms were rolling in. Thanks to Jenna and her crew who picked up all the Shiloh Woods flags after the last race...without being asked! And thanks to Mrs. Luell for the great pictures of every race. Check out our Facebook page if you haven't seen them yet; her camera and eye for the right moment are on point! :) Special thanks to the Zion Park District and Zion ESDA. They go above and beyond to make our course look great and to make us feel welcome. They made this meet possible! Thanks to Coach Agee's kids Felicity and James; they helped keep the crowds away so that you could have a safe passage along the parking lot/pine trees (fans need to learn how to be more aware of the race!). And if I missed you, please know that I appreciate all the "little" things that people did to make the meet go more smoothly.
Let's have an elite week, bees!
Tuesday @ Shiloh Woods vs. Lake Zurich and Waukegan
All day, my phone was buzzing: Mr. Bible sending me pictures of water on the course, Mr. Bible sharing updates about the predicted temperatures, and the Park District staff warning me of bees and a broken tree limb. How would our team handle all of this adversity? During 8th, a small crew of bees (Jayla, Lesly, Nay--thank you!) helped the coaches gather all the gear for our meet and load it onto the spirit bus. As we arrived at the Leisure Center, we started our assessment of the obstacles; we quickly decided that the finish line would need to be moved so as to avoid tearing up the grass too much (we want the Park District to keep loving us). We also saw that while SO much of the water had receded (no puddles were deep enough for ducks anymore), this would indeed be a wet race. True cross-country conditions! There was standing water in several locations, including the starting line, the mini-pond right before the first turn, the duck pond squish (but when is that ever dry?), the small pond post-volleyball court, and the splash zone by the creek. Our bees made quick work of setting up the course (thank you all!), and we were ready to compete!
At race time, the heat and humidity was still hanging on, despite a bit of a lake breeze. The heat index was nearly 90 degrees, and our bees certainly felt it. At the gun, we looked strong, with Audrey taking an early lead. I was interested to see what she would do without Kelsey as a key. The answer is that she would compete hard, trying to break up LZ's strong lead pack. Throughout the race, she lead, sat on their shoulders, fought back, and kicked stride for stride with their #4 runner. They finished with identical times, and the finish line crew could not distinguish who was first. This race was by far Audrey's best of the season. She was focused, fierce, and unyielding. Her racing tactics produced pretty even splits (6:43/7:04/6:44) despite the heat. More importantly, she made LZ's pack work, which is what we always want! After not having much of a kick at Parkside, she really worked hard today, fighting until the very end. I'm proud of her effort today!
Speaking of gritty races...Maya also deserves a shout out. Like Audrey, Maya got out well, sitting a little further back. Her splits were also pretty even: 6:57/7:20/6:59. More importantly, she RACED, working to pick off packs of LZ runners as well as Waukegan's #1 runner. Post-race, I asked her about how she felt about her performance, and she explained that she kept imagining catching the girls ahead of her until it actually happened. She said the visualization really helped her to believe despite the distance she had to overcome as well as the heat. What a great way to help her team! That kind of mental grit is what we all need to continually perfect.
Audrey and Maya were not the only standouts for the day. Joceline looked absolutely fantastic today. Like her teammates, her splits were solid: 8:44/9:10/8:58. What really stood out to me was her focus, though. She has improved SO MUCH over last year. This race was her best by far; not only was she actively passing people throughout the race, she listened whenever people gave her tips, working to push up to the next pack. All of this aggressive work rewarded her with a LIFETIME PR of 27:01, besting her speediest from last year by 23 seconds. Despite the heat and puddles, she let her training shine! Congrats, Jocy! :)
Speaking of LPRs, Blanca is also in that category. Her growth in the last few weeks has been remarkable. After building a base during XC and the summer, Blanca is really learning how to race now. What I love is that she is becoming fearless; she got out hard and worked to pass people in the latter half of the race. Every time I saw her, she was locked into the race and using the course to her advantage. Congratulations on a 34 second LPR, Blanca! :)
Aubrianna is in a similar situation to Blanca in that she built a base during track. We missed her this summer, though, and were thrilled when she showed up on day one of XC. She has been figuring out this longer distance, and the race on our home course was a breakthrough. Not only did she set a new LPR, but she also looked like she liked it. :) Every time I saw her, she was working hard to catch people; she also listened to advice to take advantage of the course. She dropped 7 seconds over her time at Deerfield (a much faster and cooler day). Great work, Aubrianna!
Our final LPR of the day goes to one of our newbeeist runners--Stacy. This woman has been working her tail off to improve since the first day of practice. Her efforts are paying off. She dropped over a minute from her previous best at Waukegan, and she did it by trusting her new fitness. Proud of you, Stacy!
Overall, I was pleased with our work today. Home meets are always tough because I have to work rather than coach, but our seniors took care of business so that when I showed up to the starting line, everyone was ready to go. I was thankful for everyone's efforts to make the meet go smoothly, from setting up the course, to dealing with a brief lightning detour, to taking down all the gear. Special thanks to Maya, Brandon, Chris, Davion for helping unload the bus at school and get all of our gear back into storage. That task would have taken forever if just the coaches had to take care of it. I appreciate all of your help! :)
Since we did not have a meet on Saturday, we scheduled two important workouts this week: Paavo 400s on Thursday, and tempo on Saturday. Thursday's workout looked chaotic. We were hustling to get the work in before the soccer game, and everyone took Anderson's guidance of the workout being continuous seriously. That led to a few missed times, but you all took care of business, getting in a solid workout. Thank you for your efforts! They will pay off next week! I want to take a moment to discuss Saturday, though. Not only did you guys rise to the occasion, but you learned some important lessons. First of all, I think you all KNOW now that you are ready to race much faster this week. Part of that is due to training effect, but more of it is due to some light bulb moments in the workout; you now see and feel your fitness! Second of all, you know that feeling accountable to a group is a great motivator. We need to make that transfer to race day: you are running for something bigger than just yourself. Keep your fellow bees in mind as we head to Libertyville on Tuesday. Finally, you can go out harder than you think. So many of you pushed the first mile, and then you were able to maintain serious work after. Trust yourself. Trust your training.
This week, we are faced with two vastly different courses. On Tuesday, we head to Adler, one of the true XC courses of our conference. It has hills, grass, trail, dirt, and more hills. It requires focus and grit, which is why I like racing there at this point in the season. After conquering Waukegan and Parkside, I am excited to see you all attack this course; I know it will be a favorite! On Saturday, we will hopefully be heading to Warren's flat and fast course. Their school backs up to the Des Plaines River; with all the rain we have had, there is a small chance they may need to move the meet to a different location. As soon as I know, I will share that information with you. We will prepare under the assumption that it will be at their course.
This week, let's attack the following goals:
1. Racing more aggressively and forgetting about time.
2. Letting our actions speak for our intentions.
3. Getting/staying healthy.
4. Getting a clean eligibility list
I'm proud of our progress, but real talk...it makes me hungry for more. Let's go, bees! :)
One last thing! IHSA has posted the assignments for the Regional. We will be heading to Lake Forest, which is great news. We race there in early October for a dual, then return for Conference the week before the regional. We will know the course well! We race against the teams listed below. We must finish in the top 6 to advance to the Busse Sectional. Food for thought in the coming weeks!
Deerfield (we beat twice)
Warren (beat us twice)
Highland Park (have not seen yet)
Lake Forest (beat us by 5 points at LC)
Libertyville (beat us twice)
Stevenson (beat us once)
Mundelein (we beat once)
Waukegan (we beat twice)
Wheeling (have not seen yet)
Wednesday @ Lake County Invite:
The energy on the bus was great as we took sharpies to arms to assert our positivity for race day. Varsity was up first, and we had the luxury of racing 10 athletes. I was so excited to see what we could do; unfortunately, Waukegan's course makes it difficult to watch the race unfold. :) At the mile, I was excited to see our placement overall, but I was concerned that we were racing alone rather than packed up. There were gaps that we did not make up later in the race, and this will definitely be a goal to work on in future weeks and races. That being said, each woman was racing well because she was tuned into the race. The best part was watching our women work the switchbacks mid-race. Everyone was responsive and working hard to eat while others slept. Natalie had the best mid-race work; she caught Kaila in the final mile, and they worked well together through the finish. Although I did not make it back over the bridge to watch kicks, I was pleased to hear about great finishes, especially Kelsey's! Overall, I was really happy about this race because it showed our potential. Everyone took the "elite talk" seriously and put their intentions into action during the race. It produced four LPRs (Audrey 20:12; Natalie 22:04; Katelin 23:31; and Julien 24:44). It also resulted in three SPRs (Kelsey 19:07; Maya 20:40; Karen 23:25). Other highlights from the race: Maya ran negative splits and looked fantastic on the hills; Elyssa took on the challenge of Varsity with grit, despite her hip acting up a bit; Kelsey was All-Lake County with an impressive 8th place finish; and all those SPRs and LPRs represent locked-in racing. As a team, we finished in 9th place out of 14 teams, an improvement over last year's 10th. More importantly, I saw a spark of what we can be this season! I was so hyped after this race, and could not wait to see how our women would fair in the Open.
When we did the breakdown for the Open Race, I could feel that the energy was right; what a difference a week makes! Although there were some nerves, they quickly dissipated after the gun. At the mile, I was so happy to see our bees working in groups and challenging themselves; in fact, Illyana ran a lifetime PR at the mile and ended with a lifetime for three miles, too! Like Varsity, this group SLAYED on the switchbacks. Near the two-mile mark, I witnessed Jenna smiling and whipping past sleepy runners down the hill. Loula and Marisa's partnership worked well for passing, too; they challenged each other as well as anyone in front of them. This kind of teamwork was the trend in this race, and that kind of hunger resulted in 13 LPRs (Bri, Loula, Kelly, Naiomi, Illyana, Blanca, Sarah, Stacy, Sam Natly, Jamaya, Alexandra, and Fatima) and 11 SPRs (Marisa, Angie, Delilah, Jenna, Jayla, Melannie, Ixa, Jenni, Ashley, Bianca, and Joceline). What struck me most was our conversation on the bus. Jamaya's sheer joy over her race and the ensuing comments about loving THIS course (this makes me proud, but I must admit it shocks me...this is a tough one) helped cement our team. It was a thrill to hear your pride in one another, and I know we will grow significantly from here.
Once I got home and looked at the numbers, I could see our next goal: to work on mid-race splits. With a few exceptions (Maya, Bri, Natalie), everyone's second mile was at least 30 seconds slower than the first. For those of you who are new, these splits will get stronger as your fitness improves. For those of you who ran this summer and are veterans, these splits will get better as your mental grit improves. That second mile is tricky and requires intense focus and specific tactics that we will work on in the coming weeks. Overall, I was on cloud nine as I drove home on Wednesday, and that energy persisted when we honored one another with links on Thursday. Keep looking out for greatness in each other!
Saturday @ Rebel Invite (Parkside):
After Wednesday's energy, I was worried we would suffer a slump this Saturday. I wrote off the quiet busride as a product of an early morning. When we arrived and started our warm up, I was happy about the vibe from the Open Women. We ran the back loop and talked about opportunities on the turns and hills as well as the point where kicks should start. LIke Waukegan's course, Parkside's hills make it difficult to see many points of the race. I saw you all past the mile mark, and I was elated at your progress. I watched great form down and up the hill. In particular, Delilah powered up the crest of the hill to get to make contact with the next pack she would pass. Nice work, Delilah!
When I found Coach Agee near the finish, she reported the same sort of grit: everyone was working the hills hard and pushing one another. The best part of the race was the incredible kicks. Agee and I were stationed before the finish line crowds, and we were stunned by the intensity of each woman's gear shift. Arms looked incredible, eyes were locked in, and the leg turnover was impressive. Although EVERYONE had a great kick, a few stood out. Crizaber, after battling knee pain all season, looked stunning in her final kick. I wish I could have seen how many girls she caught in total, but the three she blew past near me were shocked! Alexandra came out of the woods side-by-side with a girl from a blue and white school. Both runner accelerated, and they battled for the entire stretch! Although the other runner bested her, this is by far the hardest I have seen Alexandra push. It was so great to see her looking gritty and engaged in the race!
There were several highlights from the Open Race beyond the kicks. Aubrianna, after a difficult race at Lake County, looked incredibly strong. Her mile splits were even, and she bounced back like a champ from a mid-race stomach evacuation. Many of you ran much more even splits compared to Lake County: Angie, Delilah, Jenna, Melanie, Kelly, Ixa, Aubrianna all had a 35 second or less difference between miles one and two. And Blanca? She ran negative splits! Additionally, this crew did a beautiful job of looking out for their teammates in the ensuing races. I am proud of you all for helping your teammates stay focused on this difficult course!
Like Lake County, we were lucky to have 10 entries again in the Varsity Race. Due to Katelin's illness and Elyssa's hip, Bri and Julien stepped up to help our varsity crew. Like the open race, we agreed that times did not matter, and we would instead focus on fixing the split. The energy was weird during dynamic, and we worked to fix that before the gun. As I headed to the woods, I kept thinking that they would fix it, and as I saw Kelsey emerge in 10th place with Audrey only 10 seconds behind, and then Kaila looking amazing on the hill, and Nat looking strong not far behind, and then the trio of Karen, Lesly and Julien looking amazing and in striking distance of each other, and the same for Marisa and Loula working in tandem like beasts, and then Bri looking amazing down the hill and gritty as she got back up...well, I was thrilled to say the least! And as I headed to the kick stretch, I was met by Agee who was equally stoked. She reported that all of our racers were working the hill and looked tuned in. Yes! So it came as a surprise when our bees came around the last turn just looking flat. It wasn't a lack of effort...it was more of a lack of spark. With the exception of Kaila and Julien who actually shifted gears as we yelled, everyone else acted as if the finish was nowhere in sight. The splits reinforce what we saw with our eyes. Although the final mile split includes the "point one" of the 5K, there is still too much of a slow down between two and three.
Here is the great news: I am really proud of the first two miles of this race. We did a much better job of not dropping off in the second mile, especially Kelsey (12 seconds), Audrey (22 seconds), Kaila (28 seconds), Natalie (16 seconds), Lesly (30 seconds), and Marisa and Loula (both 35 seconds). We still have work to do here, but I am really happy with this progress! Additionally, we had two medalists in this race: Kelsey (9th) and Audrey (18th). Congrats to these two women! This is the first time we have had two medalists at this meet, so that progress is important. As a team, we took 7th out of 14 teams, an improvement over last year's 8th place finish. And that was without Maya and Katelin. You can see why I am going to keep pushing you this season; I know what we are capable of! :)
This course is by far the most challenging of the year. The first hill requires courage and patience. We took care of that. The remaining sections of the course are technical and demanding. Post-race, Kelsey said that the last K was brutal; while that comment initially surprised me, I understood it upon further reflection. While the Open Women were able to kick with purpose in the shorter 4K race, they also enjoyed cooler temps. Post-race, Jenna said that she could feel the lifting workout in her legs, and it makes sense that the longer race, coupled with the effects of warmer temps and lifting might take a little zip out the kicks for 5K racers.
When we got together to talk post-race, the weird vibe was back again, and I could see that individually, people were not satisfied. We talked about what we did right, which is important to remember. 3/4 of the race was REALLY good. We will learn from the 1/4 that wasn't and we will grow! Here is the plan of attack:
1. Tuesday, we are going to work on pack racing. We need to continue to develop our ability to work with each other because ultimately, this will be the key to success in later races this season. More to come here.
2. Thursday, we will get after some Paavo 400s. We are ready for a new stimulus, and this workout is always a great confidence booster. The workout also develops consistency as well as strength.
On our bus ride home, I was happy that Ixa started us off with some good news. Her spirit has been infectious this season, and it seemed fitting that her had would go up first. I am proud of you all for witnessing and sharing the greatness in each other. Let's keep that spirit and mindset as we work this week and defend our home course.
I need a redoubled effort on the following wellness pillars this week. We have a full week of school, and this tends to be when people start getting sick. You have the power to protect your body, so please, make these items habits:
1. At LEAST EIGHT HOURS OF QUALITY SLEEP. You cannot find an article that says that sleep is unimportant to general health and specifically to athletic to performance. Want to race faster? Set a bedtime and STICK TO IT. Our bodies and brains like patterns! Still don't feel rested with 8 hours? Make sure your sleep is GOOD. Put your electronics away at least an hour prior to bed, make the room dark and cool, and save your bed for sleeping only. Don't do homework in bed; your brain might start associating your bed with stress or work!
2. EAT EAT EAT. Although that is Delilah's phrase for racing (and a great one, at that) I mean it literally here. Your job is to fuel your body throughout the day. Is your fridge empty? Don't let that be an obstacle! Offer to go grocery shopping with or for your parents. Show them you are committed to fueling your body rather than just complaining! When you shop/cook, think about the rainbow. You want to eat brightly colored foods that come right from the earth, not from a factory. Not sure what to eat? Variety is key. Here's a sample of what I ate on Thursday:
Breakfast: orange juice, slice of watermelon, Superhero muffin (has carrots, zucchini, eggs, almond flour, oats, dark chocolate, butter, and spices--homemade! Let me know if you want the recipe--they are delicious!). (Rainbow colors hit: orange, red, green)
Morning snack: Homemade trail mix: walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, dark chocolate chips, craisins. YUM! Nuts have good fats that help you recover from workouts, plus protein that helps build muscles. And they are yummy.
Lunch: English muffin with peanut butter and fig spread, carrot sticks, hard boiled egg. See how I am working on protein again? Peanut butter and eggs are amazing for runners. (Rainbow colors hit: purple and orange)
Post-practice snack: Apple (Rainbow colors hit: red)
Dinner: Pre-made spinach and cheese ravioli, and bagged salad (sweet kale--it's delicious and full of good stuff: kale, brussel sprouts broccoli, radicchio, cabbage, sunflower seeds, and craisins). This dinner took 10 minutes to make. I boiled water for the ravioli, put a little butter and romano cheese on it, then assembled the bag of salad. Super easy and inexpensive--about $10 and served two people. (Rainbow colors hit: green, purple).
3. WASH YOUR HANDS before you eat. Whether you go to New Tech or Main Campus, you are sharing a space with A LOT of people. Don't make it easy for germs to get you! Simply washing your hands before you eat can make a big difference!
Let's have an elite week, Bees! Take care of class, home, and running! :)
Thursday, August 29th @ Deerfield Quad:
With such a big and new crew, I was excited to head to Deerfield in order to kick off some dust and see what the racing character of this team will be. While Thursday was the warmest day of the week, it was mild compared to this meet in the past. As we walked the course, we noted the shade, the breezy opportunities, and the overall flatness of the terrain.
The eight-woman 2-mile crew warmed up and headed to the starting line with some nervousness about the unknown (only Maya had any high school XC experience prior to the race), but I was proud of the goals each woman set pre-race. When the gun sounded, our crew got out well and looked strong coming around the first loop. As they headed over the bridge, I could see the grit emerge. Maya sat on the lead runner from Deerfield, Naiomi kept pushing despite a fast start, Kelly looked up and connected to the race, Elizabeth worked through some race pain, Stacy and Sam worked together smartly, Jamaya pushed despite not having many people around to key from, and Alexandra stayed focused. The splits for each mile revealed what I already know: that this group is gutsy, but most of the women need more conditioning. Maya--the exception--ran very even splits. She keyed off the energy of the Deerfield runner, and dropped the hammer for the last 400 to win her first XC race of her career! Congrats, Maya! Her splits--6:46/6:48--were nearly perfect. In a post-race talk, Maya explained that she did not reach her goal of leaning into the pain, but she also admitted that she ran a very smart, tactical race in order to win. The key to success in the later stages of the season is place, and Maya showed her race savvy today--nice work!
The remainder of our racers were new to high school racing. Here's a quick list of their splits and finish times:
Kelly: 8:40/8:27 (negative splits--nice!)--17:07
This group will drop time like crazy in the coming weeks as they get more fit. There were definitely some important moments during this race, however. Kelly, after a moment of doubt in the final 400, made the last turn and had a great kick to catch a sleepy runner. Negative splits show that she is ready to start a little more aggressively, too. Naiomi had a gutsy start, and she will be able to hang on better for the second and third miles in the coming races. Elizabeth, after a moment of doubt before the mile, finished with an incredible kick, catching two snoozy runners in the final stretch. Stacy and Sam were smart and used each other's energy to push through the middle section of the race. Jamaya pushed through some discomfort in the second mile to finish strong. Alexandra worked on keeping her eyes and feet up, especially in the final 400. Overall, I was proud of this group; I know they were nervous pre-race, but now they have the power of knowledge for upcoming races.
We had 26 racers in the three-mile group; much like the first race, there were some nerves, some moments of awesomeness, and some great learning opportunities. Our mile timers missed some of you (understandably...there were A LOT of you, and this was their first time getting splits), so I am just going to include a pic of the split sheet rather than type them all. If you know your mile time, you can figure out that first split! Click here for the split sheet. The trend I noticed bears discussing: almost everyone's second mile was significantly slower than their first or third. Obviously, this is the toughest part of the race, but most of you are fit enough to ensure that there isn't over a minute drop between mile one and two. That kind of slow-down tells me that we need to work on mental toughness mid-race. That information is important feedback, and we need to learn the lesson NOW. As we come up on Lake County, what can you do to fix that second mile? Well, the course can help you significantly. The first mile starts flat, then ends with an uphill. Mile two is a series of switchbacks downhill. You can use those switchbacks to keep yourself awake: use gravity to help keep your leg turnover fast, and use the turns to push 10 hard. You have to stay awake, though, because there will not be many fans at the very top of the hill.
One other observation from the meet: post-race, many of you used the phrase "in my head" to explain your performance. While I understand what you mean by that line, I am concerned that people are using that as a crutch. Varsity has ELEVEN more guaranteed races; everyone else has TEN. We are training to race, so we cannot write off races as missed opportunities because we were in our heads. I know that is easy for me to type, but how do we fix it individually and as a group? Here are my suggestions:
1. You have a logbook. You need to start using it more to your advantage. On the good/great days, make a note about how you felt and what you did to feel that way. On the tough days, make a note of what you did to get through it productively. On race day, flip through your logbook and read the thoughts of the day. Look at your notes. Use that information to put your head in the right space.
2. Practice the right mindset. Your words in your daily life become habits. I correct your verbs at practice quite a bit: "I have to" vs. "I get to." You have to believe that correction. The fact that your body can run 3 miles hard is a beautiful gift. There are Zee-Bees out there who are scared to join the team. There are Zee-Bees out there who physically cannot run. Never squander a gift. So before the race, instead of letting yourself get in your head, keep working on correcting your internal dialogue: I get the chance to prove my fitness today; I get the chance to improve over Deerfield today; I get the chance to show my teammates how much I love them today; I get the chance to show ME how much I love myself today. That kind of positive self talk will help you get to the starting line in the right mindset.
3. Focus on the team. During the warm up, instead of being in your head, be vocal about the team mission. My best season was my senior year, when I focused more on helping my team get strong. I would talk all through the warm ups about go-zones, tangents, how this girl would be good at a certain section because she was good at hills, how this other girl would kill the woods because she was great at focusing when no one was around, etc. That kind of positivity helped me calm my nervousness and remember that I was running for my team. It made me feel strong and helpful.
4. Pick a mantra. For mile two, I want each of you to have a short phrase to help you push. The key is something short, positive, and helpful. Suggestions: I'm strong, I've got this, I'm gritty, I love hills, pass pass pass, fix the split, etc. When your brain is trying to tell you it's ok to slow down, you must have a positive answer. Don't wait until you are tired to figure one out. Plan it before the race, and write it on your hand or arm. Own it. Use it. And if you get stuck, think about what you would tell a teammate, then tell it to yourself. Give yourself the same grace and loving advice that you give your team.
5. Remember tradition. This is my 22nd year coaching ZBXC. There are hundreds of Zee-Bee women who have come before you, and who felt the exact same nerves and doubts as you. But they are also out there rooting for you. Each time I post a pic on Facebook, alums respond with how much they miss the team. They send me messages asking how you all are doing. During those tough moments, remember that they are spread out across the globe, and they are rooting for YOU. They want you to be a strong woman on the course and in the world. They want you to know that you are stronger than you think. They want you to finish the race satisfied with your effort. Picture them cheering for you on every corner. Look at your jersey and remember that you are part of a strong tradition! #zbstrong
With all of that said, there were some great moments I would like to highlight. First, Kelsey was the only one to go negative in the three-mile race. She paced the top group for the first mile, then got faster every mile. Kudos to her for a focused and competitive race. She had a lot of work to do to try to catch Warren's top three, and she kept creeping up little by little to catch one of them. I'm proud of her mental strength. Second, I asked the top group to pack for the first mile; while it did not quite work out like I hoped, there were a few individuals who took the risk to try out the strategy: Audrey stuck perfectly, Kaila was close (actually, she was right on pace at 7:00), and Katelin, Natalie, Karen, and Lesly were close. I KNOW this group can go out at this pace and stick; I also know that most of them ran their first official XC race on Thursday, so they will learn as we go! I'm proud of them for giving it a shot. :)
I was also impressed by Elyssa and Loula. They both ran lifetime PRs at this race. While the times are great to show off (Elyssa dropped 40 seconds from her previous best, and Loula dropped 17 seconds from her previous best), what CREATED those PRs was more important. Each of these women went into the race with confidence. Every time I saw them, they were locked into the race, listening to advice, and believing in their fitness. Simply put, they RACED. When you race, the times will follow!
The other race I want to highlight is Kaila's. She went out at the pace I prescribed. Like Loula and Elyssa, she was locked in all race. And with 400 to go, I told her that the Deerfield runner ahead of her was their #3 and that Kaila was our #3. I told her that catching that girl could give us the chance to beat Deerfield. At that point, Kaila was holding her left arm (since she cannot swing it with as much power as her right, it gets tired/irritated in races sometimes), and I told her to forget about the arm and just kick. She listened, focused on her task, and started to work. Around those last few flags, she moved up considerably, and in the final stretch, she caught the Warren girl first (who did not put up much of a fight). The Deerfield runner heard Kaila coming and found a new gear. Kaila could have backed off, thinking she could not catch Deerfield...but Kaila kept coming. She kept pushing to the final steps, and caught the girl in the last few meters before the chute. I had chills when it happened, and I have chills typing it now. Why? If each of you find that focus..if each of you can be selfless enough to forget the fatigue and instead think about how your choices affect the team as a whole? Well, we could do some great things this season! I witnessed the Oshkosh crew step up during team/partner runs. I witnessed all of you run incredible "broken" tempo runs at Shiloh when you were working with a small group. And I certainly saw that fight as we completed our first Darwin run in the rain last week. I KNOW YOU ALL HAVE IT IN YOU. Let's get back to that spirit in the coming week!
Before I go, I want to give a shout out to the following bees: Audrey, Natalie, Lesly, Julien, Katelin, Bri, Fatima, Aubrianna, Illyana, and Blanca. These women ran their first XC races ever. XC can be intimidating...you have to learn a course and deal with varying terrain as well as the distance. This group handled their first race with courage and grit. You all could have chosen the two-mile race, but you accepted the challenge of the full three; I'm proud of your choice and your races!
This week, let's keep focusing on 8 hours of sleep a night, especially as we transition into a full week of school. On Wednesday and Saturday, I challenge you all to accept that XC racing HURTS if you are doing it right, and to LEAN INTO that PAIN. You will be proud of the outcome if you do! Finally, the commonality between the two courses this week is hills. Let's use this terrain to our advantage!
I'm excited to see how you all use the Deerfield meet to grow this week. Let's go! :)
PS--Bee a student of your sport! Check out athletic.net here to see your progress and that of our team this season. :)