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!