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!