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. :)