Bonus Week! :)
Last June, I came home from the State Track Finals on an absolute high after what I can only describe as the most bizarre, and yet satisfying State Meet I have ever witnessed. I was so proud of how our group navigated ridiculous weather and unprecedented delays, all in the middle of a pandemic. In the following days, I struggled with how to imagine the next season. I was "losing" one of the most impressive senior classes I have ever had the privilege to coach. How do you replace the optimism and work ethic of a Kelsey? Or the hilarity and power of a Maya? Or the smile and dedication of a Jenna? Or the growth and grit of a Jenni? And that list doesn't consider the depth of the class of '21: Lesly, Karen, Ixa, Julien, Marleth, Delilah, Belen, and Ashley. I mean, seriously...how would we move from this kind of experience, leadership, honesty, and just awesomeness into a new season?
I knew we had a good core, but how would we grow? How would we recruit? Who would step up to lead?
My worries (like all worries) were based on fear rather than facts. Fact: all those seniors were giving. They shared their love and wisdom and growth. Fact: all those seniors wanted the 21 XC team to bee amazing. Fact: YOU were listening.
This season was unexpected, and that's what makes it all so glorious. As I said on the bus, seasons like this, especially the last month, do not simply happen. They require the captains to buy in and then to lead with humility and grit. They require newbees and veterans alike to buy in and be willing to grow. And they require everyone to be vulnerable...to be willing to put themselves out there, knowing that falling short of big goals is possible, but the journey to get there was worth it. All of these requirements happened thanks to all of you, and it bought us a team birth at the Sectional, which was a dream come true! But it also bought us an incredible season. One that certainly had its moments of challenge (honestly, I'm still not over how many people that quit the season), but that also provided opportunities to learn and grow. I think one of the most gratifying feelings was watching the seniors grow into such an impressive group of leaders in their own way. There is no way to replicate the depth of the class of '21, but the class of '22 didn't try to. Instead, you seven found your own voices and your own style of leading this very different team. It was so cool to watch!
This week was something next level, though. To have a week of practice like this, and then a trip like this requires selflessness and pure love. The nine of you (plus some of the boys as well as Anderson and Hamilton) selflessly gave yourselves to Audrey all week. You gave her your sweat and energy in workouts. You gave her your laughs and sound effects and stories on adventure runs. You gave her ALL the parks. And you poured pure love into her...not just when she found out she qualified...not just on Monday...you did it all week and all trip. It would have been so easy for you nine to goof off and lose focus. But that's not the character of this group. You took her journey seriously, and it says so much about your character. I am simply in awe of how beautiful this last week was. Thank you for proving to the world that "this generation" is NOT lazy or selfish. Thank you for showing the boys how to balance laughter with intensity. And thank you for making this week something to be proud of. From your help with organizing the trip to designing the shirt to all the little moments in between, thank you for showing the power of love! Of course, I love watching you all run fast, by I am far more proud of the character you each displayed this week, and you should be, too.
Audrey, I need you, too, to take some compliments. You handled the non-running parts of this week with grace, and I am so proud of you for that. I know that the last thing you probably wanted to do was sit through a recorded interview or to walk through a loud parade, but you let yourself simply bee part of it all, and I'm thankful for that! I wanted you to be able to revel in the praise that you earned, and you seemed (at least outwardly) to somewhat enjoy it. :)
I also need you to own the fact that you ran one hell of a race. To run your absolute best race on the biggest stage of your career is simply awe-inspiring. It is no easy feat to keep the nerves in check, but you did so with grace and grit. After you slayed Tuesday's workout, I kept thinking that if you could just keep everything in perspective, you were ready to run a great race. As I watched your and your girls run the course on Friday from the bleachers of the coaches' meeting, I could see how easy you looked. Each time you looped by, you were laughing and listening, looking smooth and fit as could be. On Saturday, when I pulled you aside to talk about a race strategy, your eyes were so sincere; I could see that you were nervous (understandably), but also that you were ready to make the most of the race. You wisely leaned into your girls during the warm up and dynamice an strides. After the breakdown, I felt bad that I couldn't think of any good corny jokes to lighten the mood on the line. I could see the weight of your goals on your face, and I willed time to move a little faster so that you could just get to what you do best: race.
When the gun sounded, I put an Italian hex on the two girls who cut you off (I have since rescinded it...I don't want that bad blood in the world...), but you didn't need it: You hopped around them, and offered the best vengeance--you beat them all. I raced down to the first uphill to see your positioning. You had run the first 400 like a pro, putting yourself in a smart spot--around 60 or so. You looked fantastic, and I lost my mind a little bit. I raced across the field, realizing that I should have warmed up properly, and found a spot just before the mile. As I watched the leaders approach the mile, I saw that the pace was zesty; Welin from OPRF rolled through in 5:10, with the chase pack in close pursuit around 5:20. It felt like only moments later, I saw you working the outside of the course, passing peeps as you cruised down the hill, looking impressive in 5:37. I was elated! It was slightly faster than the 5:45 I had prescribed, but well within your ability. I had asked you for a slower pace in order to temper the adrenaline and the setting that would conspire to likely pull you through faster. When I darted back to the other side, I found your brother, who was going absolutely nuts about your race. To see his joy for you in that moment was simply priceless. He truly loves you and wants you to shine bright! When you exited The Back 40 and approached the uphill of loop 2, you had moved up considerably, near the low 40s. Collin and I were so impressed by how strong you looked, and we raced across the infield (with Collin low-key insulting my age, claiming that I "still had some speed" lol) to see you on the downhill of the last loop. As you coasted down the hill I was fully losing my mind. You looked so dang strong, and I knew the time was FAST. I darted across to see you one last time with about 300 to go. Collin was staring at my watch, doing math, and realizing that you were going to break your goal of 18:00 without a problem. When you raced by us, I could not help but think about the last 400 you ran on Tuesday...you just looked so impressive and ready to eat! I tried with all my might to make it to the finish before you, but I think we all know how that went.
What I saw instead filled my heart with so much joy. I watched Kaila sprinting to the finish area to see your last steps. I saw Brionne running to the same spot, even though she wasn't supposed to be moving like that. And when I got to the top, I saw your team searching for you, celebrating and laughing and sharing. Illyana said that watching your kick brought her to tears. Marisa and Aubrianna and Natalie, feeling joyous about your race, stood on a picnic table and held your fat head up, proclaiming that they were "Looking for this woman!" and begging, "Audrey, come find yourself!" We searched for you and realized that there was no way that you were standing in that sea of people. I called Kaila, who answered on one ring, and explained that you were near the road away from the crowds. We all raced to find you and celebrate. And for the second time this season, you let me hold my hug a bit longer than usual...and you actually seemed content.
The numbers do not lie. For the first time this season, you were able to keep your first and second mile sub-6: 5:37 and 5:59. You also beat three individuals from our Sectional (so you moved up from 10th to 7th), as well as one runner from New Trier's team, one runner from Barrington's team, one runner from Loyola Academy, one from McHenry, and one from Palatine. To say that your outperformed our Sectional is an understatement! That would have put you 10th! All of this math adds up to a 17:41 time and a 43rd place finish--the only time for a ZB woman at 3 miles at Detweiller (when Kim Johnson qualified back in 1991, the State Meet was still in the stone ages; women were only allowed to race 2 miles). And across all courses? No ZB woman has run faster. Audrey, I think it is obvious, but I need to say it anyway: I am so proud of how you performed! A race like this says so many things about you: it says that you consistently worked hard all season; it says that you believed in your training; it says that you believed in yourself. The moment you qualified, that quote on the shirt popped into my head because it was so fitting for you this season--you didn't overcomplicate things...you simply raced hard. I hope that it is obvious that your team is so proud of you, too. RIley and Kate wanted to bee part of the junior room situation because they wanted you to be at ease, and I loved that arrangement because of the promise of power it portends for track and next season. Brionne and Nat darted around the course for you despite a bum calf and ankle respectively because they wanted you to feel the power of their love as you raced. The freshies offered their competitiveness in the games we played as well as their laughter as they soaked up the lessons you told without speaking. Marisa (and her mom) made loud signs to show how much she believes in you! Aubrianna, after narrowly missing the chance to go to Sterling, showed her dedication since Conference in order to share her love with this team. Illy helped me design the shirt because she wanted the world to know how special you are, and she "matched" your energy all week because...well? It's you and Illy. :) These nine were inspired by you, and so were your coaches. And it doesn't end with this group. At least eight others wanted to come see you, but we couldn't pull off a pep bus this year. Heck, Jarek made his dad drive three and half hours to watch a 17 minute and 41 second race. Your season and your race has fed and inspired others. Own all of that!
To say that I am excited about this upcoming track season and next XC season is an understatement. Yes, it is fun to watch you all run fast, but it is equally joyful to watch the way you work together, laugh together, and grow together. As we loaded into the bus after the craziness that was our Dairy Queen stop, I could not look away from the glory the setting sun provided in my rearview mirror. The intensity of the pinks and oranges...the contrast between the dark landscape and the brilliant clouds...the minute-by-minute growth of the color...it just felt like a perfect closing to an incredible and intense season. As I was revelling in Mother Nature's genius, you were all brainstorming final "Remember Whens," re-laughing at the silliness that had unfolded only hours before, and oooh-ing at the sweet moments that you did not want to forget. That was when I started to think about what to say when we reached school...what to write here, too, because I did not want to forget, either.
So incredibly proud to be your coach,
Saturday, October 30th at Busse Woods Sectional
I am a fan of being in awe: taking in the glory of a perfectly painted sunrise or sunset; appreciating the harmony of hundreds of different colored trees in Beulah in October; and watching a perfectly run team race. Taking the time to be in awe means taking the time to see the greatness in the world rather than focus on the ugly. It means seeing how the individual is part of something bigger and more powerful than just themself. It means taking a moment to just bee.
This season has been nothing less than awe-inducing.
First, I want to acknowledge the links that helped make today happen. All week, Illyana, Brionne, and Aubrianna lunged and laughed and ran alongside our seven. They helped support during harder efforts, and they endured the rain. Thank you for your help in keeping the week light and fun. :) On Saturday, we added more love with Blanca, Nataly, and Estrella. Having their positivity and energy on the course was an added boost that we needed! Thank you all for making the day awesome!
All morning, time seemed to play tricks on me: the first section of the busride felt SO long. I was a little panicky about the pokey route our busdriver was taking to get to the tollway. Was it really worth it to avoid a $3 toll? Once we were on the expressway, it felt like we were rolling past the elk within minutes...where did the time go? When we arrived and started walking the course, I saw that the conditions were not as bad as I imagined. Despite all of the rain on Sunday/Monday and the second dose on Thursday/Friday, much of the course was firm and would allow us to race well. Suddenly, time was messing with me again. Why were we only by the road, and we still needed to change out spikes and get chips into laces? As I sent you all to manage the spikes, I noted that there were hot spots on the course--along the road, the turns on the upper loop, the lake, and the 400-to-go mark. When I headed to the bus, I could see that you were all still messing around with swapping out your smaller spikes for the daggers that are 5/8, and I got a bit panicky about time again. I wanted to make sure that we were on the starting line to get checked in without feeling rushed. This pattern of time compressing and then standing still repeated until the gun: getting stickers pinned on, spikes taped to combat the muck, and over to the starting line felt like an eternity, as did circling up and removing pink sleeves once sun emerged and made sleeves seem silly. On a day where time did not matter, it certainly felt like it was trying to mess with my head! I was in such a rush to get strides in and the breakdown, but then time slowed down as we stood in the box, waiting for the official to climb the ladder to start the race.
Watching you all stay loose and feel the emotions that go with potentially the last race of the season made me so proud and filled with awe. I was glad that Natalie and Sofia were feeling the moment so vividly and outwardly. And I appreciated it when you all did the Riley to keep those feelings from becoming too much. When the gun sounded, I was antsy to run with you so that I could get to the hill and see you all for the first time along the parking lot. The crowds were so thick that I could not make it all the way to the parking lot, but I saw you were all in good position as you came down the hill. You all heeded my advice: Audrey was smartly in the middle of the lead pack; Riley was signaturely further back, looking composed; Lauren was within eyesight of Riley, and Marisa the same to Lauren; Katelin and Nat were in a great spot, within steps of each other, and Sofia could see this powerful duo from her spot. ALL of you looked relaxed and connected to the race. I almost lost my mind. Would we out-perform the race predictors who seeded us 15th in the team race? Later, I would see the splits for the first mile that Lily grabbed. You all went out FAST in those conditions, yet you looked so easy and smooth: Audrey 5:46, Riley 6:02, Lauren 6:12, Marisa 6:35, Natalie and Katelin 6;44, and Sofia with her first sub 7 of 6:52. Whew!
I stood at the top of the hill, watching you snake along the water, behind the start, and into the trees behind the circle. I moved to the road and waited for the pack to emerge up that muddy path, and time messed with me again: I looked at my watch to remind myself that no one was running 4:50 pace, and I should just breathe. When Audrey came through the second time, I'm not going to lie--I was worried. She looked a little tired, and she was disconnected from the pack she needed to be in. I'm not sure if she heard me, but I yelled to look up and take 5 hard steps to reconnect to that group that felt like it was slipping away. Immediately, she stood more tall and started working back to the pack. I turned around to see Riley moving up smartly in the race. In the first loop, I had her pegged in the late 30s to upper 40s place-wise. She was definitely at least 10 people ahead and looked great! Lauren was not far behind, working to catch people according to our plan, and Marisa looked the freshest of all, with perfect form and alert eyes, moving up smartly. Natalie and Katelin were doing their thing, pushing one another along and staying locked in the race. Sofia was not far behind, looking the strongest she has all season. While I wanted our second mile to feel fast, I knew it would likely not be due to the mud. I was pleased to see later that everyone's splits were strong: Audrey 6:21, Riley, 6:23, Lauren 6:36, Marisa 7:06, Nat and Kate 7:29, and Sofia 7:37. Even though they were slower than mile one, we did not slow as much as those around us; we were all gaining ground on sleepy runners, which was great! I watched you all use the hill as free energy for a second time, and then time slowed again...
When I saw Audrey emerge for the last loop, I almost lost my mind...again. She was in 20th and in a great position to get another week of XC. She looked like the Audrey who took the top spot on The Board, and the Audrey who ran so beautifully at Conference. I honestly don't even remember what I was screaming at her, and she probably didn't hear the what so much as she heard the pitch. I turned to search for Riley, and she was RIGHT THERE. I almost lost my mind again-again. I distinctly remember yelling that she was SO close and that she had to close hard for a chance. She looked so dang smooth and in control. It was incredible! Time was actually kind to me as I recollected my mind to find Lauren. She was looking so incredible despite the pressure of a Sectional as a freshman. I yelled Jenna (I think), and her face lit up with a smile as she charged along the parking lot. I searched for Marisa and yelled "last one, best one" as they surged along the parking lot. They looked so confident and at ease--it was great to see them looking so strong! I darted over to the steep part of the hill to catch our leaders one more time, and I saw them all powerfully charging down the hill. I yelled at Kate and Nat to move for that last 800, and that they did, using the hill and pulling each other the whole way. Sofia looked so strong in that last stretch too--she was tall and confident...a transformed runner compared to the summer.
I tried to catch Audrey's and Riley's finishes, but they were too fast for my careful steps down that muddy hill (the fan section was far more treacherous than the racing side!), but I did see Lauren's red hair zoom by to the finish. When I looked at my watch, I almost had to sit down. If Lauren's time was this fast, what had Audrey and Riley run? I didn't have time to compute before I saw Marisa's beautiful form switch gears to dust a Warren runner (and one more? I couldn't tell for sure from my angle), and then Katelin's speedy kick and Natalie's and Sofia's. It was all over so fast...and the only feeling I had was awe. We had run an incredible team race.
While times didn't matter today, they do tell the story of my awe. After sitting on Aly from Grant all race long, Brooke from LZ made a move on the last upper loop when Aly fell, and earned the title of first place for the race. Brooke's fastest time of the year is 16:53 at Detweiller (on a really nice weather day). She ran 17:11 today in what looked like a maximum effort--Aly is not easy competition! It is safe to say that the muddy turns cost most people about 20 seconds, which shows how fast you all ran.
Audrey's 18:27 converts to her fastest time ever...18:07. More importantly, she did not let nerves or the fast start deter her from her goal. She worked SO HARD in that last mile to maintain her spot and catch sleepy runners. By passing Leung from Warren in that last mile and holding her off (she was only 2 seconds behind), she guaranteed herself a trip to Detweiller. We need to take a minute to talk about how huge this moment is. Only one other ZB woman has qualified for State XC in ZBTHS history--Kim Johnson from the class of 1992 (she made it as a senior in 1991). So many before Audrey have come close--Bailey Lippeth missed going by 13 seconds as a sophomore and again as a senior. Kimmy Figueroa missed by 13 seconds her senior year. In one of the fastest Sectionals I have ever seen, Kelsey Hamilton missed it by 13 seconds her sophomore year (Aly, a freshman at the time, won the race in a ridiculous 16:30). Kelsey's junior year, you had to be in the top 11 in order to qualify; the times were slower, but the team race was not up in the front of the pack. What I'm trying to say is that the Sectional is goofy--times don't matter and place is subjective from year to year. What matters is a lot of courage and hard work, and a little bit of luck. To see it come together for Audrey after a decidedly NOT average season (yes, that's a direct line for you, Audge), is just awe-inspiring. Congratulations on an incredible season, Audrey, and an opportunity to race at State!
Riley's 18:40 becomes an even bigger LPR of 18:20. A quick note about this huge PR: Every single person I talked to after the race was really impressed with our team race and over the moon about Audrey's State bid, but they all wanted to talk about Riley's second-half performance. She ran the most even race out of all of us, bringing her third mile back to 6:15 and missing a State berth herself by only 13 seconds and two spots. To see how Riley has grown in this sport this season is just breath-taking. She has embraced tough courses and workouts with a smile and few words. We already digitally pinky-swore that she is going to State next year. The more I think about that promise, though, the more I realize that it might not need to be just Audrey and Riley who do it. We have SO many runners returning. What if we dream really big and make it as a team? Some food for thought. ;) In the meantime, I need to say one more time how thoroughly impressed I am by Riley's rockstar performance today!
Lauren was only 7 seconds off of her LPR when she finished in 19:32, the 15th freshman in the race! Although she is a freshie, her demeanor and mindset has been that of a much older runner all season. In today's race, she showed that maturity again. Not only did she run incredibly fast, but she did it with a smiling mindset. Running varsity as a freshman, and being our solid #3 all season is just impressive. Period. And to see her rise to the occasion again at the Sectional? Welp, I'm in awe. I cannot wait to see how she continues to grow as a runner and as a teammate in the coming seasons! Great season and great race, Lauren! :)
Marisa Michelle Johnson. When I saw you in the PAC before we boarded the bus, I knew it was going to be a good day for us. Your energy and positivity were on point, and your sense of humor was shining. When a captain is feeling good, the team is going to follow. When we arrived at the meet, I could see that you were still feeling that great energy, and that matters. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the pressure of the day, but your cool demeanor helped keep everyone in our normal state. Heck, it helped me, too. ;) Your race was the rock that it always is--you have been such a solid #4 all season. With the conversion, it puts you right in the mid 20s, where you have been all season. More importantly, I was in awe of your finish. I saw you come around that tree and shift gears to catch one more girl. Watching you finish that strong just made my heart sing! Your strong performance helped us beat our seed in the team race. Thank you for an incredible four years! You have grown so much, and I cannot wait to see what track season holds!
Katelin! I am in awe. You have battled a sore knee for several weeks now, and you have done it with grace and grit. These past two weeks in particular have been particularly impressive: To manage a sore knee on Libertyville's hills and in Busse's mud is no small task. When an injury nags on a tough day, it is so easy to acquiesce, but you were so strong from start to finish. I love watching you and Nat work together, and I appreciate how you brought your last mile back down, mostly through your last 400. You came whipping around that last bend, and your final stretch was so strong. If you convert your time, you are within seconds of your lifetime PR--so impressive! Your strong performance in our 5th slot helped us exceed our seed, too. You also helped our other senior and captain run a great race!
Natalie Fig. I was not sure where this season was going to go for you. At Waukegan, I worried that your ankle was going to be rude for the whole season. But watching you the last month has been awe inspiring. You have scrapped your way back to making a difference for our pack, both in workouts and in races. Your effort with Katelin has been super-charged. The two of you really challenge each other, and it is a joy to watch! To see you run a season PR in the last race, especially after your emotional start to the race, is just awesome. :) I am proud of your grit and your love of this team! Congrats on a great race!
Sofia-fia. This was the first race where you were actually satisfied afterwards, which shows that you need to give yourself more grace--you have had a tremendous first season! I believe that this is the first race where you went sub-7 in the first mile. You did a great job of bringing your last mile back down, too! In between, you kept your head in the race, working to pass and using the energy of our fans to fuel you. On the last loop, I watched you ZOOM past a girl on the downhill while Mr. Hamilton encouraged you on--SO MUCH FUN! All of this grit added up to a new LPR of 21:58--your first time sub-22! To come this far since July is just crazy. 34:43 at Bee Linked to a strong 7th woman on Varsity at the IHSA Sectional? THAT IS GROWTH, and I am in awe of you!
Overall, this was a great day of racing. I am so proud of you as a group! And I am HUNGRY for more. Let us use this day as fuel for the winter, spring, summer and next fall! More importantly, I am in awe of how well you all work together. There is no ego...no ugliness that sometimes happens on teams. You genuinely celebrate and support one another, and I am so thankful for that dynamic. This season has brought me so much joy, and I am eternally grateful that we have another week together! Can't wait to see you all on Monday, stars!
Saturday @ Adler Park, Libertyville
WE GET ANOTHER WEEK OF ZBXC, and I cannot stop smiling! Three years in a row, baby! Advancing as a team, you are now part of a proud group of ZBXC women who have been striving for team eliteness over the years. :)
All last season, I kept pinching myself as we navigated what felt like a magical season. Against the odds, we kept performing beautifully. We kept growing as a team. For the most part, we kept healthy. We kept making the most of ridiculous situation. And I kept reminding myself as I looked at our incredible senior class that teams like this don't come along very often. A coach is lucky to get a collection of cool humans like that maybe once in a coaching career. So this summer, I tried to temper my expectations about the upcoming season. I couldn't compare this small, and young team to its predecessor. To say that this season has been a lovely surprise is an understatement. All season long, I have revelled in your ability to step up on workout days and race days. I have been amazed by your abilities to handle the stress of the new, different, and challenging school year coupled with difficult training. I have been pleasantly surprised by the way you have leaned into each other as the season progressed. And I have been so impressed by your honesty and vulnerability. And today? Welp, you amazed me again.
Going into Regionals, I knew we had a solid chance to advance. Two different "projection" websites predicted that we would take 6th based on our previous performances as well as that of our competitors. But I knew that Stevenson held out their top runner last week at Conference, and I was concerned about how teams like McHenry and Grant seemed to be getting hot at the right time. But all of the data and past performances really don't matter once the gun sounds, and I had confidence in our ability to step up on race day because we had done it SO many times this year.
So when I arrived at school, I was feeling optimistic. And then I took the temperature of our group as you all sat in the South Commons. The air felt heavy, and everyone was quiet. When we settled on the bus, I asked, "Is this nervousness or sleepiness?" I appreciated your honesty about the nerves, and I hoped that simply acknowledging it out loud would help, and that getting to the course and seeing the beauty of the trees would finish it off.
Watching you begin the warm up, I felt a bit better, and seeing the looks in your eyes during the breakdown, I was even more confident that we would be ok. When the gun sounded, we got away well, and I raced to the path to see you at the 800 mark. Audrey was boldly and comfortably sitting with the leaders, Riley and Lauren were roughly in the 30s with Marisa in sight in the late 30s, and then our pack of Katelin, Natalie, and Sofia were sitting about 50th and working together. Clearly, the race had gotten out hot, and you all were being smart about your starts. I watched with pride as you each wisely used the downhills to your advantage and cruised along with the pack. I raced down the road to catch you just before the mile. I could see our pink sleeves emerge from the river and start the climb to the grass, and I was pleased that everyone looked strong. I was worried about the team race, though. Stevenson was looking good, as was McHenry. I kept miscounting McHenry runners because their jerseys were so similar to the clearly dominant Libertyville squad (they ALWAYS run so well on this course!). I cut over to the short downhill as you exit the woods and kept my fingers crossed.
When you all came by me the next time, I was edgy! Everyone was moving up, but I wasn't sure if it was enough. I was impressed by how well you each took the hill...you looked effortless as you floated down the woodchip path, and you seemed to use the momentum to help you along the road crossing and into the tent area. I debated about staying in the same spot or moving more into the woods so that I could cut across and see finishes for the final loop. I decided to move and pleaded with Illy, Brionne, and Aubrianna to get on you all to pass. I moved past them and awaited your arrival. At this point, you all had done some WORK. Audrey was sticking strong, Riley had moved up into the low teens, Lauren up to the 20s, Marisa to the mid 30s, and Katelin and Natalie were doing WORK within steps of each other, with Sofia pulling on their pink power not far behind. My mood was buoyed as I darted out of the woods, hoping to make it to the river. As I emerged from the trees, I could see pink emerging from Bertha, and it was Riley already! I was going nuts at this point, trying to figure out how far up she had moved since I almost missed her finish. I scooched as close to the trees as I could get and saw Lauren pop out of the trees, digging in to kick in the final stretch. She was followed by Marisa only moments later, who looked fierce in her kick. Katelin and Natalie came within seconds of each other, hot on the heels of Stevenson's #3 & #4. I knew we were in good shape versus Stevenson at that point, but I was frantically counting how many Highland Park girls were coming out of the woods. Had we put them away, too? Mundelein had run very well, especially their top two runners, but I was confident that we had put enough runners ahead of their 3-4-5 to be ok. As I was counting, Sofia emerged with a huge kick, looking amazing all the way to the finish line. In my mind, we were through, but I wanted to see the scores to confirm.
When Coach Washington came running over with his phone aloft and a smile on his face, I was relieved that we had done it again! 5th place! I knew we had run a great team race, but my Sunday analysis illustrates just how much you all stepped up. We raced at Libertyville on October 5th--only 18 days ago. Audrey, you ran 34 seconds faster than that Tuesday, despite fighting a cold all week. Riley, you didn't get a chance to race this course this season, thanks to your selflessness, but compared to last year, you dropped an inconceivable 5:00! Lauren, you ran 17 seconds faster, nearly breaking the 20 minute mark on this challenging course! Marisa, you have raced Adler five times, and you saved your best performance for your girls today, knocking off 32 seconds compared to your October 5th performance (which was a course PR). Katelin, despite battling an angry knee tendon on this unforgiving course, you dropped an incredible 1:22, while challenging Natalie and Sofia! And they both responded. Natalie you had your best race of the season BY FAR--running a season PR that was 7 seconds faster than your impressive race at Sterling, and dropping 1:41 from your previous best on the course. What?? And lil' freshie Sofia...what a day! After I challenged you to stay with Natalie in the workout on Tuesday, I asked you to do the same in the race. You courageously went out with her and Kate and stuck for half the race. Those two were just having monster races, so the fact that they had the strength to pull away in the second half says more about their experience and power than it does with your will to pull on them. You ran an incredible race, too! Only 2 seconds off your LPR from last week on our FAR easier course and a huge 1:40 drop from your performance at Adler a few weeks back. Let's talk about a little more context. The winner of the race, Aly from Grant, is tremendous runner. She was racing for real today, pushing to ensure that she would win her FOURTH Regional Title. Her season best is 16:54--a speedy time that she ran at Detweiller in near perfect conditions (remember the great weather we had at Warren this year? And the course was in great shape that day, too). That course is known for being fast in general (just like Warren), so that time is a good indicator of what she can do. The fact that she ran 36 seconds slower on Adler shows the lack of speed on this course. If I subtract 40 seconds from each of your times (I'm rounding up a few seconds because she is faster than all of us), it puts you all right around either your SPRs or LPRs OR FASTER (looking at you, RIley and Sofia!).
What more can a coach ask for than for 7 runners to give their absolute best efforts on a tricky course under stressful conditions? I am SO proud of the way that you raced for one another, and I cannot underscore how excited I am to see you race at Busse. We will face 17 other schools as well as individual qualifiers. The top seven teams advance as well as the top 10 individuals. I'm getting greedy, though, so here is my two-part challenge to you all: First, since we made it to the Sectional, we are in a great position to take a big risk. Why not simply go for it on Saturday? Go into the first mile smart and under control, and then just take a risk for the last two miles? Hunt people down. Run negative splits. Make people wonder who that is in the anonymous black uniforms and pink sleeves. I think we are ready for another amazing team race. Let's go! Second, let's surround Eric with some love and support this week. He ran a gutsy race to advance as an individual. Let's help him feel fast and ready for his race! #linked
Shout out to Illyana, Brionne, and Aubrianna for their dedication all week as well as their encouragement all race. You three really have proven what it means to be linked. Thank you thank you thank you! :)
Oh, and one last thing! Rizzo gets the final thought: "My human was really happy when she got home. If she had a tail, she would have wagged it a lot. So you runners should keep being awesome!"
Saturday, October 16th @ Shiloh #homesweethome
This meet could not have happened without the kind of teamwork that cross-country is all about. So many people gave their ideas, energy, time, and expertise in order for it to unfold as wonderfully as it did, so I have to start this entry with shout outs! While Coach Anderson did a million things to help this meet happen, I particularly appreciated his calmness and humor when things don't go quite right, his artwork on the course, and his "let's get it done" mindset. Coach Hamilton has similar traits, but the one that I appreciate the most is the "what needs to be done next" mindset. We packed her truck with ALL of the things, and she was the first one to the course on Saturday morning, laying out the chute. Losing Coach Franklin this year was such a big blow, but when one door closes, another opens. Coach Hamilton has been such an important addition to our ZBXC family, and I simply cannot imagine this season unfolding the way it did without her. :) Coach Lunsford and Coach Chihoski as well as their wrestlers were clutch in helping make sure people went the right way on the course and kept it moving in the chute. Class of '12 alum and CLC coach Taylor Lindblad was the perfect person to direct runners into the final 300 of the course and keep the course clear of fans who aren't paying attention. And it was great for Coach Franklin to come cheer us on and help out with keeping that stretch clear for finishes, too. I also loved all the alumni energy. Forgive me if I miss anyone, but I talked with or saw Andrew Fig, Collin, Alex R., Marcos, Ixa, Maya, Kenneth C., and Kaila. I also received messages from several alums wishing us well for the day. #linkedforlife I also appreciated the energy and enthusiasm of Coach Tolliver and Washington. Thanks for your help taking down and unloading the course, too! Let's talk about the Park District for a moment. The people who work there are just fantastic. Whenever I emailed about something we needed, my requests were always met with a smile! Constantly they asked how they could be of service; that kind of mindset is what makes life so much easier! Finally, you guys might not understand it, but our Athletic Director Mr. Niemi stepped up big for us. Whenever we asked for something, he simply made it happen so that we could look GOOD all day. Give Mr. Niemi a high-five next time you see him!
Ok...all of those thank yous set the stage for letting you all shine, and shine you did! I am going to do my best to let you know how happy I am in these next sections, but start reading with a giant smile on your face in order to get into the right space. :)
Varsity Women: This was our first group of the day. The grass was still a bit damp, the temps were still rising, and the wind was relaxed. When I arrived at the staring line, I was impressed with the energy. Pink sleeves certainly help with the mood: that bright pink conjures up so much for me. I picture all the strong women who have run in those shirts, and I cannot help but get goosebumps! :) Seeing our pack put their pink arms into the breakdown circle and doing the Riley spin made me smile hard before the race! At the gun, I knew that we were ready: we have raced well as a group the last few weeks, and Tuesday's workout (despite the grumbling) was really strong. We got out well, and by the first 800, we were in great position! I was impressed with Audrey's great start, Riley and Lauren's good teamwork, Marisa's link to those two, Katelin & Nat's teamwork, Sofia' & Brionne's energy, and Illyana's grit. When I zoomed to the Shiloh side, I was so happy to see the pink pop against the beauty of the woods. We did some real work over on that side. In particular, I was impressed with Audrey's push to stick with the pack she was fighting, Marisa's work coming off the volleyball court section (she WHIPPED into the woods), Natalie's drive in the same section, and Illyana's focus on the Stevenson runner ahead of her. I missed Audrey going back across the street, but I saw Riley and Lauren zoom into the cut-through, Marisa harness Maya's energy, Katelin take over the work of leading, and Sofia and Brionne find another gear heading into the two mile. When I cut back to everyone's favorite horseshoe (the final 700), I was stunned by the progress we had made. I swear, everyone had moved up in the race.
At this point, I need to just give you each some shout outs.
Audrey...girl. For several weeks, you have been stuck on your own in races. Without the luxury of someone to directly pull on, you have had to be mentally disciplined to push yourself. To be honest, you seem to excel a that kind of solo running, so I didn't know how you would react to running in a pack like you faced at Conference. I am SO HAPPY with the grit you displayed. Not only did you respond every time someone tried to push, you also still showed off your new-found signature kick. I told my husband the morning of the race that I would be really impressed if you could take 7th today. The fact that you were able to be 5th says so much about your hard work and mindset. I am over the moon about your race because I think it shows you are ready for Regionals, Sectionals, and beyond. I am so asdkfjadfkj proud of your race today that I am tearing up a little just writing about it. I know that you won't give yourself the credit that you deserve, but now it is in writing, so it is real. Read it and own it! :)
RILEY. Just when I don't think you can surprise me anymore, you pull off a last mile like you did today. Don't get me wrong--your first two miles were fire. But that final mile was just gold. I don't know how many girls you caught, but I'm pretty sure you were at least 19th or 20th coming out of the woods (I was so excited that my counting was not perfect). That kind of closing grit is what landed you on The Board, and it's what helped you run another LPR of 19:03. More important than times, though, is your teamwork. Your gutsy moves allowed Lauren to pull on you, which helped our team effort tremendously. I cannot say enough about how much you have progressed as an XC runner this year, and that is saying a lot after your amazing debut last fall. I am so proud of you--congrats on being All-Conference! :)
Lauren. Whew girl. After a rough patch a few weeks back, it has been so much fun to watch you just enjoy racing again! I love that you are not afraid to match all of Riley's moves and challenge the runners around you. Every time I saw you, you were looking ahead and focused on the task at hand. That kind of focus what allows our team to keep improving! I am so proud of your cumulative hard work and effort. Getting onto The Board as a freshman is no easy feat, and it happened because you did the work every day. Congrats on getting your name up there, and congrats on earning All-Conference honors as a freshie! So proud of you, Lauren!
Marisa J. All season, you have been the rock of our scoring five, and today was no different. Like Riley, your second-half game was SO strong today. When I saw you come off the volleyball courts, you looked like you were on fire. Your last mile was particularly strong--my husband said that your work along the pines after the two-mile was impressive. He said that you just kept eating! When I saw you on the other side in the horseshoe, you looked so smooth coming down the hill into the last 400, and your speed in that kick was beautiful! The fact that you were SO close to your LPR, despite the slower conditions (that stupid grass was not cute), shows your grit. More importantly, your ability to keep so close to Lauren and Riley is the key to our awesome team score today. I am so proud of your effort, senior!
Katelin Katelin Katelin! I hope it is ok that I say that your Conference race is the perfect illustration of the fact that NO FEELING IS FINAL. Four weeks ago, you were not feeling this racing thing that we do. But rather than give up, you did what makes me so dang proud of you--you admitted how you felt, and you did something about it. Your honesty and grit in the last month has been so impressive to me. You deserved this race today, and I am so glad that it came together for you the way it did! Since Lake Forest, you have adopted this distinct look when you are racing. It is not the smile of Jenna or Lauren or Jarek. Instead, it is the personification of dramatic irony: you know more than the rest of us, and we have to wait to find out what you are about to unleash. Your moves in the second half were so much fun. Not only did your leadership help Natalie in the second half, but it also helped the team score. And your kick was FIRE! I am so proud of you for earning a new LPR. I know that you were thinking a lot about time; now you can let that go and simply race for these last races of the season! Congratulations on a fantastic race from gun to finish--I'm so proud of you!
NatNat. Your race today was important for so many reasons. In the first half, you kept leading Katelin, pulling her along faster than she might have gone without your guts. Each time I saw you, you were one or two steps ahead, challenging yourself and her rather than being complacent. That kind of leadership matters in the early stages of the race! In the second half, I know that Sofia could see your pink sleeves, and you helped her pull along harder than she normally would have. Unlike during this past track season, when you struggled a bit in the latter half of your race, you did not fold; you pulled on your senior strength and kept scrapping. As our #6, that mindset matters so much! You were only seconds off of your SPR from Sterling. Why does that matter? Because your ankle was rude at the beginning of the season, you are honestly about ready for a big performance, as your fitness is a few weeks behind your teammates. I know that you will step up even more for your girls next week! Congrats on a strong race, Natalie! :)
Ok, Sofia! This is the first race where you did not immediately apologize after the race was over. :) I was so impressed with your poise today. You let the energy of the meet and your team fuel you with confidence. When you came out of the woods, I was so impressed with how strong you looked! Not only did you rock the second half, but your kick was absolutely fire. When we were driving home after the meet, my husband commented that he couldn't believe that you were the same person who turned around to find your friends at Bee Linked. In one season, you have grown SO MUCH, and I am proud of you for being open to doing so. Your biggest strength is your growth mindset, and I cannot wait to see what you do next week! In the meantime, congrats on a new LPR--a drop of 16 seconds! Way to go, freshie!
Brionne :) Every single time I saw you in this race, you were reacting to the people around you. That is the way racing should be! You were so locked in today, and it was so fun to watch! In particular, your last 700 loop was fire--you used the downhill, unlike the girls around you, and you lit up that last 400. You just looked so dang happy at the finish, and you had every right to be! I honestly did not know how you would race after such a huge breakthrough at Sterling. Sometimes people have a stable week after a big drop like that. Not you! You soaked up the energy of the pink and earned a new LPR by 22 stinking seconds! Considering all the ups and downs you have negotiated this season, I am just so happy about your competitive mindset ("I'm DONE running Frosh/Soph!") and your grit. Congrats on a fantastic race and a new LPR!
Illy. When I asked you your racing preference this past week, you YOLO-ed me and said you wanted to run Varsity. I cannot tell you how much I love that mindset. Not only was it fun to watch you race in the BA black and pink, it was just a joy to watch you stay locked in the entire race. Honestly, if you had another 400 meters, I think you would have hunted down that Stevenson girl--you had been working on her the whole way, which is why you had such a sweet race. Every time I saw you, you pulled on the energy of the crowd, smartly used the course, and simply raced. It was beautiful. The fact that you were only seconds away from your SPR today speaks volumes about you. The fact that Coach Hamilton said that you were essentially the coach while I was taking care of meet stuff today does not surprise me at all. I am so proud of your progress and grit this season, just as I am proud of this race! :)
Overall, this group lit a fire in me and the team. We could not help but race great the remainder of the day! 3 All-Conference medals. 5 LPRs. Tons of grit and a 5th place team finish. Whew! :)
By the time our fresh/soph crew was ready to go, the racing conditions had improved. The course had tightened up a bit from the previous two races. Not only was the grass pounded down, but the morning dew had dried, the sun was at full strength, and the wind had not yet whipped up. Our newbees took advantage of the opportunity and raced the hardest I have seen all season! It was simply a joy to watch! Sheila was our break away star of the day. She started aggressively and grew throughout the race, catching people with a cool confidence that she did not have at the beginning of the season. She looked so good going into the final 400, and her time showed it! She earned a new LPR today--breaking 30 minutes for the first time today! She dropped a whopping 1:15 from her great performance at Lakes. So proud of your growth this season, Sheila! I cannot wait to see you in track season! :) Cheyenne was our second bee in this race. After a great performance at Lakes last week, I was hoping that she would be able to break 30, too. At the halfway point in Shiloh, Cheyenne turned it on, letting her second half be her best half. Not only did she have a fire kick, but she also earned a new LPR by dropping 29 seconds and smashing the 30 minute mark! Congrats on a great finish to the season, Cheyenne--I'm so proud of your strength! Not to be outdone by her teammates, Adrianna had a huge race today, too. After struggling with her quad and hip for a few weeks, Adri really let the energy of the day fuel her. She looked fantastic throughout the race, and she stayed strong in the last mile, pulling on Cheyenne's energy to sneak under 30, too! Adri earned a new LPR by dropping 11 seconds. What a great day, Adrianna! Proud of your race! :) Aubri had a big day, too. She ran a really even race today, pulling on her teammates and racing smart. She really pushed the last 300, turning it on at the "bridge" over the creek and dropping 20 seconds from her great performance at Lakes last week. She definitely showed that she gets racing now--great job, Aubri! :) The trio of Wendy, Joanna, and Melanie were only seconds behind Aubri. I am so dang impressed with this group. They really pushed one another the whole race, truly embodying the idea of being linked. Rather than being complacent, they kept switching the lead, pulling one another along. Their kicks were also impressive, using each turn as a way to shift gears. Wendy earned a new LPR by dropping an impressive 1:27--what growth! :) Joanna dropped 1:36--a huge improvement! But Melanie wins the day for the biggest breakthrough. After joining us this summer, Melanie has worked so hard on growing as a runner. It clicked in this race. She dropped 3:50 for her most competitive race of the season. So proud of you three--way to empower one another to greatness! Our next bee was Aniya. After missing a week and half of practice in quarantine to keep us all safe, Aniya ran an incredibly strong race. She was only a few seconds away from her LPR, and she looked so strong the whole way! I am proud of her tenacity and team-focus today and all season. Way to go, Aniya! Our final bee in this race was Leilani. She had such a big breakthrough at Lakes last week, and I was hoping she could use that momentum today...and that she did! She struggled with some calf issues this week. I'm not sure if it was due to dehydration or her new and improved open form, but she had to gear back several days to let her calves feel better. She was good on the starting line, but she admitted post-race that they bugged her in the final mile. You would have never known by looking at her--she looked open and strong for the whole race, challenging the girls around her. Although she was not able to earn a new LPR, her race was certainly one to be proud of. Honestly, this crew has come SO FAR this season. I cannot wait to see what they do this track season and next XC season. Congrats to you all!
Our final race of the day featured four strong women--three vets and a newbee (well to XC at least). By this time, the course was in really fast shape, but the wind had picked up considerably. The energy at the starting line was fantastic, and I could tell that none of them would allow the wind to bother them. I'm not going to lie--after the gun sounded for this race, my tiredness really hit me. Watching these four come off the first 800 gave me life, though. I was so stoked to see how well they were racing, I forgot how tired my legs were! :) Aubrianna was our leader in this group, rolling through the first 800 looking fiery. She was tucked into a competitive pack, and she looked like she was on a mission. Over in the woods, Aubri was not backing down. I watched her pass people along goose-poop-alley and then whip into the woods with strength. Her final mile was simply beautiful: she pushed along the pines on the backstretch, glided down the horseshoe hill and kicked like a senior on a mission. This is by far her most even race of her life, with her last mile clocking in at 7:59. After her race, I couldn't control my enthusiasm and asked if I could hug her. She gave me that Aubrianna look and said no. But a few minutes later, after she had recovered, she let me hug her (and I think she even smiled). Aubrianna has been hard on herself all season, but today, even she had to admit that it was a great day! :) What a great race from start to finish! She earned a new LPR of 24:10 by dropping 45 seconds from her previous best from her sophomore year. What an incredible way to cap off her senior season. So proud of you, Aubrianna! :) Our next finisher was our "newbee" Estrella. This kid has really figured out XC racing, and I cannot wait to see how it translates to track and next XC season. For now, let's talk about her great race. She dropped a big 59 seconds to earn a new LPR because she let herself just feel the race. Every time I saw her, she was catching some sleepy runner or using a turn to gain momentum. I am so proud that she broke the 25 minute barrier, and I am thankful that she is part of the future of this team. Great racing, Estrella! :) Blanca was not far behind Estrella. Last week, I was really happy with Blanca's race at Lakes, but I had no idea she was going to pull off such a big drop today! This is the first race where Blanca was looking up every time I saw her, and it showed in her racing. She was constantly catching peeps and was just tuned into the race. In the final horseshoe, I screamed the time at her, and we locked eyes for just a moment. The look of joy on her face was phenomenal. She knew she was going to PR, and PR she did! She ROLLED down the horseshoe hill, and she kicked mightily to earn a HUGE season PR and an LPR by 12 seconds. What an incredible way to cap off her XC career! I'm guessing it was not shocking to hear her name when we called the Sportsmanship Award winners. Blanca has been a rock of this team, bringing her positivity and consistency to practice and meets every day. To say that XC spirit clicked for her from the jump is an understatement. Yes, the training took some time, but she simply got our ethic from the beginning. This season, she has given rides, encouraged the entire team, and just embodies the positive character I want our team to be known for. So proud of you for your great race, Blanca! :) Our final bee has had a phenomenal season. From surgery last year to being so gritty this year, Nataly had the race of her life today. Like Blanca, I yelled her time in the horseshoe and watched her kick it into high gear. Nataly told me early in the season that she wanted to break 29 this season. She accomplished that goal easily in her awesome race at Warren. To then drop another 1:24 to earn a new LPR of 27:04 is just nuts. Nataly is one of only two 4-year seniors (fun trivia--do you know who the other one is?). To see her growth since her freshman year is just so much fun. So proud of you for seizing the day, Nat. :) This group finished the day right for us.
Overall, I am still giddy over our performances and power today. Everytime I ran somewhere to cheer, I saw swarms of bees lending their strength to their teammates. The energy of this team has been a work in progress, and we finished the right way. So proud of you all! I cannot wait to witness links on Monday! :) In the meantime, thank you for reminding me of why I love to coach. There are so many ugly things in this world, but being part of something bigger than yourself...being part of a team that believes in honest, hard work...that believes in lifting one another up...that believes in celebrating each other's victories...that is what makes life worth living! That and the donuts from Sweet Life. :) Let's have another great week, bees! :)
What a great week of racing! Let's start by celebrating a great evening at Lakes. The meet directors collapsed the races down to two: Varsity and Open due to impending weather and course conditions. Since our Varsity was getting ready for Sterling, all of our bees were in the open race. I was really excited to see the grit of our racers today. We had SEVEN LPRs and just some great team racing!
Our first runner was Estrella. This woman had a heck of a race! Not only did she look happy the whole way, but she used the energy of the crowd to drop 30 seconds (on a soggy course) for a new LPR of 25:50. Breaking into the 25s is a big deal, and I don't think she is done dropping time, based on this race! Proud of you, Estrella! Our second finisher was Blanca, who had a great race. She got out aggressive and then held her second and third miles. Although it wasn't a PR, I was just impressed by her push every time I saw her along the road. Great job, Blanca! Aubrianna was our next bee. Like Blanca, she had a great first mile and really worked the second loop well, too. Coach Washington reported that her kick in the final stretch was strong, too. Great work, Aubri! :) Nataly ran a consistent race today, too. On a looped course, it is easy to get "lost," but Nataly put her experience to work. She did a great job of opening up on downhills and bringing her last mile split down. Proud of your grit, Nat! :) Cheyenne had a huge race today. She dropped 2:14 for a new LPR of 30:18, and she looked fantastic doing it. Not only did she use the downhills, but she also simply trusted her fitness. Awesome breakthrough, Cheyenne! Sheila was only seconds behind Cheyenne with her own LPR. She dropped 1:06 to earn a new PR of 30:24. She was so focused in the second half and looked so incredibly strong! Great work, Sheila! :) Aubri N. had a big breakthrough today. I knew that she had it in her, and she let her fitness shine today. Not only did she drop a whopping 3:37, but she also just looked GOOD racing today. Part of the time, she was twinning with Antonio, and then she moved up in the second half, challenging herself to run a strong last mile. Proud of you and your LPR today, Aubri! On the bus, people could not stop talking about Wendy's race. Not only did her focused face show that she was ready to rock, but she also helped pull teammates along. She used the energy of our cheers to drop 51 seconds for a new LPR. Proud of your growth, Wendy! Keep it up! :) Joanna was with Wendy most of the race. These two worked so well together, helping Joanna drop 2:29 for a big breakthrough LPR of 32:10! Congrats on a big race, Joanna! :) Melanie definitely wins grittiest race of the day. She slipped on the wet ground in the first loop, but she didn't let that fall stop her. Channelling Blanca's grit from Parkside, Melanie got back up and raced hard despite a sore leg. So proud of you for working through that obstacle, Mel! :) Our final bee in the race was Leilani. Since Libertyville, she has been on a ROLL. She dropped another 37 seconds to earn a new LPR of 37:28. While we did shout-outs on the bus ride home, Marisa kept repeating, "It's clicking...they get it now!" She could not be more right. I'm really proud of everyone's racing tonight, and I cannot wait to see what happens at Conference next week! :)
Nine runners climbed on the spirit bus for the long drive out west to Sterling, IL. The drive is scenic, especially this time of year, but I love this trip because of the distance. We move away from the stresses of school, work, and home, and simply lean on each other to make a great weekend. This group embraced the whole process, enjoying some long-time traditions (pics at the bridge and tree) as well as fostering some new ones (outdoor dining!) From the jump, I had a great feeling about this trip. The course was in great condition, we looked fantastic running the course and doing strides, and the energy was just on point. It was no surprise that when the gun sounded on Saturday, our bees had fantastic races. After the first 800, the runners emerge from the woods, and I am always anxious to see if we have navigated the narrows of the woods well. We certainly did. Audrey was securely in 3rd place with her eyes on the leaders; Riley and Lauren were within arm's reach of each other in the upper 20s with Marisa only seconds behind; Nat and Kate were working in tandem and looking sharp, and Sofia had an incredible start, looking confident! My pictures from the actual race are trash (lots of blurs and feet) because I was going nuts with how strong we looked. Coming around the mile, I was so impressed by how well everyone was using the course. That long stretch back into the woods, we were flying down the hill, working on other runners and just looking fantastic. In the woods, our crew moved up, especially in the second mile. By the time they were emerging for the last 400 kick, I had a headache from yelling so hard! :)
Audrey came out of the woods on fire. Her final kick was her best of the season by far: arms driving and face locked in! She finished 3rd overall and ran the fastest time a bee has EVER run on this course--a new LPR of 18:13! Afterwards, she inexplicably seemed disappointed. To run THAT fast on this course (which is no pancake) in the heat and humidity was a huge win. I am so proud of your grit, Audrey! Way to go! After a difficult week health-wise, Riley was on fire, too. Emerging from the woods, she fought hard to catch sleepy girls in that final kick, and catch them she did! She finished in 19th, a significant move up from where she started, with a speedy time of 19:22! Like Audrey, she was initially disappointed, but also like Audrey, this performance was ALL GRIT. Not only did she work the second half like a champ, her final kick was SO SWEET! Proud of your tenacity, Riley. This was truly a big race for you--even more so than the one on our home course last week; you showed that you could overcome obstacles and still race like a beast! When I saw the giant blister on her foot post-race, my respect for her grit more than doubled! Proud of you, Riley! Lauren had a huge race today, too! Not only did she set a new LPR of 19:37, securely putting her under 20 for the third time this season, she also looked happy doing so. After a few cautious races as we tended to her achilles, Lauren looked like Lauren from gun to chute today. She was pulling on Riley, using down hills, and slaying the last 400! I was so impressed by her grit in the last 200 when she was battling some dry heaves (not a shocking occurrence due to the heat and her fast race). She kept fighting for her girls, and she earned herself a medal for that grit! So incredibly proud of your fight, Lauren! Marisa was our 4th bee today, and they had a fantastic race! Like at Libertyville, they looked a little tight in the first mile, but they worked through that to run an incredible second half. Although Audrey and Riley's kicks were fire today, Marisa definitely had the kick of the day. As they emerged from the woods, I saw a fire in their eyes that said that the kick was going to be incredible. By my estimates, Marisa caught at least six runners in the final stretch (it might have been even more...). What I loved most was that they did not panic after the first mile; instead, they moved up, getting closer and closer to Lauren in order to help our team race and earn a huge course PR. Marisa's kick was simply electric, and I cannot wait to see them race again! :) Katelin rounded out our scoring 5, and she had her biggest race of the season. Every time I saw her, she had this serious look in her eye. Like her teammates, she looked so effortless and smart on the downhills. She simply owned the course today! Like her teammates, her kick was so strong to cap off a great race. More important than the race itself, Katelin's joyful reaction after the race was everything. When we let ourselves just run, the results are always better! So proud of Katelin's HUGE SPR--she dropped 40 seconds because she simply got out of her own way and leaned into the fun of the weekend. It was so much fun to watch your race unfold, Katelin--proud of you! :) Natalie had a similar race story today. After a rocky start to the season, Natalie simply raced today, pulling on Katelin's strength, then relying on her own strength in the latter half of the race. Coming out of the woods for the last time, I yelled for Natalie to tuck in her elbows--that cue was all it took for her to light up the last 400. She looked fantastic eating up sleepy runners to the chute. She earned a huge SPR, too, dropping 1:01 to do so! :) Way to go, senior! Our final bee in this race was the tough freshie Sofia. She had such a smart race--she got out well, ran the course with wisdom, and kicked so well! She dropped a huge 29 seconds to dip into the 22s for the first time--what a huge race, Sofia! Proud of your willingness to learn from your team and simply let yourself race without regrets today. What a joy to watch! The night before this race, Coach Hamilton and I discussed the possibilities of us earning a trophy as a team. When everyone races in sync like this, hardware is the inevitable outcome. I am so proud of the TEAM effort of this crew. There was no individual talk--simply a great team race. We took 4th, matching our previous best of 4th from 2019. As Audrey pointed out, though, we ran significantly faster to reach that outcome. More importantly, we are sharpening when it counts. I honestly think we still have a lot of improvements in us, and I cannot wait to see it happen in the coming weeks!
We had two bees in the open race: Brionne and Illy. These two could not help but feel inspired by their teammates, and their races showed it! Each got out well at the start, with Brionne sitting in the mid 30s, and Illy at 50. Brionne did such a great job of using the energy of her girls to make moves. Each time I saw her, she was working on people to keep her race focused. Illyana did an absolutely fantastic job of riding the downhills and racing the course smart. Emerging from the woods for the final time, Brionne looked so strong! She was just out of medal contention, but she was not going to let that happen. In the final 400, she caught at least three (maybe 4?) sleepy runners with her huge kick and determination. She earned a new LPR by dropping 15 seconds today. I cannot overstate how huge this race was for Brionne. She was "in it" the whole way, and she responded when it counted in the last 400. She let her fitness shine, and she didn't let her head get in the way! She also worked through the heat--both of these women had to deal with the warmest conditions of the day, so that makes the LPR even more impressive. So proud of you, Brionne! Illy, just like Brionne, came out of the woods on fire. She used the little dip to create momentum, and her arms looked fantastic as she dipped past sleeping girls. She ran a HUGE SPR by over 30 seconds, securely placing herself in the 24s despite the heat. What an incredible race to watch! I'm getting chills just typing this now! So proud of you for embracing the weekend, Illy, and letting your fitness shine. :)
On the bus ride home, I had a big smile on my face. There is nothing more rewarding than to present athletes an opportunity, and to watch ALL NINE seize the moment. This is the best group effort I have seen at Sterling, and I am thankful to all of you for making it happen. Let's use this momentum to keep things rolling through the end of the season, bees! :)
Tuesday @ Shiloh vs. Lake Zurich and Warren
Sometimes things just click. People's fitness catches up with their mindsets. The weather is right. The course is fast. The competition is great. And then races just click. Our home meet (technology aside) was definitely a click night. When I left the nightmare that was our tech mess and headed to the starting line, you had all taken care of all of the things: warm up, spikes, drills, strides, heck...even a bootleg breakdown: "Bees eat chicken!" We came together for a brief moment to talk, but I could see that you didn't need me--you were ready to rock.
At the gun, we got out well as a group. By the time our bees were by the building and the pines, I could see we were in for a great day. You were working well together, pushing yourselves beyond where you had been before. I managed to catch most of you over by Shiloh, and I was amazed at how fast everyone was moving. You all looked free along the goose poop alley, and making the turn back into the woods, I was impressed by the turn over and focus. Watching everyone cross the road, I could see your eyes, and I was stoked. Everyone was just LOCKED IN. As I scanned my watch, I was really excited to see how fast we were running, and I knew that there would be a significant number of PRs. In fact, we ended up with 5 LPRs and 4 SPRs from this race!
Fig looked great today, putting together a complete race and really fighting through the third mile. She dropped 29 seconds for an SPR. It's so great to see her racing more like her real self! :) Illyana had a big break through, too. Not only was she eating in that last mile, but she also dropped 20 seconds overall for an SPR of 25:09! Aubrianna was only seconds back in her best race of the season. Yes, the clock says so, but I could also see the focused look on her face the whole way! She was fighting to keep her race more even, and she lopped 1:16 off her previous SPR to run 25:24. So impressive! :) Fellow senior Blanca also dropped a sick amount of time--58 seconds--to race where she belongs. She looked fantastic and had a nice kick at the end, too, to earn a new SPR of 26:22. This squad really took some risks today, and I was so excited to see it! :)
The LPR crew was impressive, too. First, Leilani keeps chipping away at her time. She dropped 15 seconds for a new LPR today. More importantly, I can see that she is gaining confidence in her training. Way to go, Leilani! Melanie had an outstanding race. Not only did she get out aggressively, but she also had a great kick. She dropped nearly a minute to earn a new LPR of 34:25. For perspective, she only ran 6 seconds faster in a 2.5 mile race at Parkside at the start of the season--what GROWTH! Proud of your tenacity, Melanie! Estrella just keeps figuring out this sport with every race. As her fitness grows, she keeps gaining confidence, too. She dropped 44 seconds to earn a new LPR of 26:20--so impressive, Estrella! Riley...whew...this kid set it on fire today. Not only did she drop 30 seconds, but she looked like a woman on a MISSION. She got out strong and ran a sick second half to earn the #3 spot on The Board with a speedy 19:06. Her kick at the end was pure poetry! She has definitely had a shift in the last week, and I am here for it. :) It's hard to out do Riley's race, but Audrey absolutely lit it up today. She was NOT intimidated by LZ's lead duo (who are ridiculously fast--Brooke set a new course record today, btw). She simply went out and ran HER race, using those two as guides to pull her along. Her second half was impressive, and I could not be prouder of her focus during this race. Afterwards, she claimed that she was worried that she was going slow. Clearly she was not, as she knocked Bailey Lippeth off the top of The Board with an incredibly speedy time of 18:16, beating Lippeth by 29 seconds. That time has sat for nearly A DECADE (Bailey ran it when we last hosted Conference), so that fact that Audrey did it during a dual meet is really impressive. Audrey--I hope that you are soaking up this big achievement. We are so proud of you! SO many alums, including Bailey, sent me messages after I posted the pictures for the revised board. Your sisters in running are proud of your accomplishment!
There were speedy times in this race, but there was also a lot of big moments, too. Lauren looked strong in her first race back post-achilles issues. Marisa worked well with her, looking MUCH more like herself and helping our team score. Katelin had a gritty race with a sweet kick and rounded out our scoring. We ended up beating Warren because these three kept fighting until the end. Proud of you all! FYI, LZ nabbed us, but they are in a different zone than we are right now, and that's ok! We just need to keep growing so that we are ready to compete at Conference and Regionals.
Before I wrap this one up, I need to thank all the hives for their great work for our mini-senior night. Teams are built by the wisdom of the seniors. Their experience and leadership helps shape the season, and I cannot thank our current crew of seniors enough. Marisa, Natalie, Illyana, Aubrianna, Blanca, Nataly, and Lily--thank you for helping this very young team grow this season. We could not have done it without you! :)
Saturday @ JT
On the bus ride home, Illy was smiling big. She said that she was talking with Blanca about how she just loves this meet, and Blanca made it plain: It's because it is the first official meet of fall. As soon as I heard that explanation, I fell in love! Part of what I love about XC season is the crisp weather (check), the beautiful locations (check), and teamwork (check). This meet IS fall. The great news is that we keep performing well at this meet, and today was no different.
Our Frosh/Soph Crew was up first. After MANY questions about the course, we talked about the strategy for the day, and these women were off! it was so fun to watch Aniya and Wendy grow into runners. These two worked so well together--challenging one another to improve. What I loved was that they did not get complacent during their races, and it showed in the end: they both set new PRs on this more challenging course. Aniya dropped 22 seconds from her previous best at Warren (a much faster course!) Wendy dropped a whopping 47 seconds from her previous best (also at Warren!). Congrats to these two women! Our next finisher was Sheila, who keeps proving her toughness. She has been working through a sore hip, but she raced with heart and felt better by the end! I like that grit, Sheila! Just behind Sheila was Joanna in her first race of the season! She did a great job of feeding off her teammates and overcoming her pre-race nerves. Congrats on establishing your LPR, Joanna! Melanie and Leilani were our other two racers in this race. Although they did not set PRs, they both did a great job of working the hill and listening to fans to push themselves. Speaking of the hill--this group did a great job of attacking it and staying strong. After Warren's easy course last week, I was impressed that everyone in this race proved that they can handle any type of course! This will come in handy when we head to Libertyville next week.
Our Varsity crew was next. We were missing a few people--Marisa due to illness and Sofia due to celebration (her mom graduated from nursing school! So cool!). Our five was in good spirits pre-race, and I was excited to see what they could do as a collective. Our plan was clear: we were going to mimic the workout from Tuesday but starting smart and getting faster during the race. Audrey was the first one from our team to emerge from the woods, and she was only seconds behind Grant's number 1, Aly, who dominates on this strength course. I was proud of Audrey's smart start. Our original plan was for her to sit back a bit with the lead pack, but the other racers were not at the right pace for her, so she went after the race. Her splits show how focused she was: 5:58, 6:28, 6:18. Whew! That last mile showed her growing strength. Not only did she hold off two surging Grant athletes, but she also looked unafraid to be challenged. She keeps getting stronger each race, and it is fun to watch! Her effort today earned her a 2nd place medal--proud of you, Audge! Riley was our next finisher. Minus Marisa, she and Lauren planned to work together and push the second half. These two could not contain their enthusiasm in that first mile; they both got out well (6:28) and looked so impressive up the hill. Just prior to the second mile, Lauren dropped out as her Achilles was living up to its namesake and causing her pain. Riley pushed on with a strong second loop. The story of Riley's race, however, was her finish (again). Last year, we started talking about Riley's insane kick at this course, but her kick this year stole the show. Parents came up to me later in the meet just to talk about it! Congrats on a huge race, Riley! Not only did she set a NEW PR today (19:35), but she also took Marisa's suggestion to tap into that last 10%. So impressive! Our next finisher was Katelin, who also had a great race. She and Natalie worked well together in the early stages of the race, and she came through with a strong first split of 7:10. She looked locked in for the whole race, and she was so strong going up the hill. Her second mile is definitely where we need to focus. She kept it under 8, and I know that she will continue to improve in this section. She showed her strength in the last mile, coming back down to 7:19 and kicking like mad! Congrats on a fantastic race, Kate! To be two seconds away from her LPR (which she JUST ran at Lake Forest), is truly impressive on this course. Nice work! Natalie was our final finisher. She has struggled with injuries and illness this season, but today was about grit. Although her illness has cleared up, her lungs/diaphragm are still feeling a bit rough. Pulling on Kate, she ran a great first and second mile. I KNOW that the third mile will come because she keeps coming to the line with optimism and better workouts under her belt. Proud of your grit in that last mile, Natalie! Overall, we were unable to have a team score (you have to have 5 finish), but I learned some valuable lessons watching this race. First, Grant's team game is getting strong this season. We will face them at the Regional, but I have confidence in our Varsity squad!
Our final group had no choice but to race hard after the example that was set by the first two races. Illy was our first finisher. Her splits were pretty even, but what matters more is that she just raced HARD. She was locked in throughout the race, and she did not let the Lake Forest girl "win" in the final kick. I am so proud of Illy for her tenacity in this race. She was only 22 seconds off her SPR from Lake Forest (a much easier course, as we all know). In a fiesty race, Aubrianna also had a heck of a performance today. She got out hard and didn't let herself drop off as significantly as in the past, and it paid off. Not only did she run a huge SPR (she dropped 50 seconds!!!), but she was also not mad at herself post-race! My favorite part of Aubrianna's race was watching her attack the hill. SO proud of your grit today, Aubrianna--keep it up! :) Estrella had a HUGE moment today. I can see that she is starting to really figure out her abilities in this sport. Every time I saw her, she looked confident, despite the fact that she was out of town (and not at practice) for a week. That swagger led her to a 1:53 drop for a new LPR! Congrats on a gritty race, Estrella! I know that you had to really work to put your head in the right space, and I'm proud of you for using running to recenter yourself! Blanca was our next finisher. Although her time was not as quick as her fantastic performance at Warren, Blanca ran a smart race today. Not only did she look strong on the hills, but she was really responsive to fans, using them as fuel at all times. Great work today, Blanca! Like Blanca, Nataly had a smart day of racing. I was particularly impressed by her hill work and her focus on the "top" of the course. It's really easy to get complacent behind the baseball diamonds; it's flat and there are not many fans. But Nataly did a great job of responding to other runners and our cheers, opening up her stride and staying focused in these quiet sections. Great job, Nat!
There is something about this meet that elevates everyone's game. Not only did everyone attack the hill, but the kicks were also *chef's kiss* today! I like that kicking hard is becoming a hallmark of our team; there was a time where that was not the case, and I am proud that you have all embraced that mindset! More importantly, I want to take a minute to talk about something else that is starting to shift with the newbees: awareness. Earlier this year, Alexandra was upset on the bus because she had overheard some guys on our team putting down other runners rather than encouraging everyone. Today, I saw the something else entirely. At several points, I ran by Aniya who was cheering for our bees along the infield straighaway before the final turns of the kick. Of course she was cheering with all her might for our bees, but in between, she was offering support for the other racers. Her words were genuine, and it made my heart smile. Aniya has come SO far as a runner this season! The fact that she was cheering for every single person who went by shows her true character. It made me think about an article I saw online a few weeks back. A man wrote about going to the grocery store, and how shopping carts reveal true character. Some people use a cart, then just leave it sitting in a parking space; he questioned the selfishness of those people and their lack of awareness of others. Some people chuck it toward the corral; he appreciated that they were playing by the rules, but he questioned their lack of kindness. And some people take the moment to walk the cart back inside. He claimed that the last kind of person is his favorite because that small sacrifice of time shows that the person cares about everyone: he doesn't want the cart to block a parking space, and he doesn't want the cart collector to be overwhelmed later on. That simple small act of selflessness says a lot. If we are all willing to take a few seconds to look out for our fellow teammates AND fellow runners, it will only make our team of links stronger. More importantly, it makes our world a better place to live in!
Tuesday @ Lake Forest with Stevenson
After a terribly difficult start to the week, we headed to Lake Forest's lush course on Tuesday afternoon. When we left Zion, it was a bit hot and sticky, but the weather gods smiled upon us and sent a cooling breeze that led to fantastic racing conditions. While the boys raced, we prepared by walking and running the course, discussing the changes, go-zones, and tactics. Once our race began, I was interested to see how we would fare after an awesome but challenging workout on Saturday. I wasn't sure how everyone's legs would feel between that work and the stress of Monday. I was pleased to see a few things. First, we had ELEVEN LPRs at Lake Forest: Leilani, Aniya, Riley, Wendy, Sofia, Lauren, Sheila, Adrianna, Melanie, Cheyenne, and Brionne. Congrats to all of these women for huge performances! We also had FIVE SPRs: Natalie, Katelin, Audrey, Aubrianna, and Illyana. Proud of you, bees! That is a really impressive list! I'm so proud of the work we did in this meet. Realistically, Lake Forest is ahead of us ability-wise right now (not by much. They ran all out instead of running a workout against us, and we didn't get shut out like we would in the past), but I didn't know what to expect from Stevenson. We ended up losing to Stevenson by one point. I have confidence that we will be able to mix it up with them at Conference and the Regional when it counts. In the meantime, I am proud of you all for embracing this course and beautiful evening. There was good team energy, and I want that to continue!
Saturday @ Bill Dawson Invite (Warren)
I was excited to get to this meet. Not only is the course flat and fast, but the energy is fantastic, and the timing company provided awesome stats to nerd out on. You can check the results at pttiming; go to the bottom right in the live results. The stats are so cool on this website. You can see your mile splits as well as how many people you caught (green numbers) or how many caught you (red numbers) after each mile. Our racers embraced the day through great effort and earning lots of PRs!
Frosh/Soph Women: Our bees in this race enjoyed a ton of success. Brionne was our first finisher--she did a great job of getting out hard, and finishing with a great third mile and kick. Her only weak spot was the second mile, but I know that as she gains more experience, she will improve here. Great job today, Brionne! Our second finisher was Sheila, who has had an outstanding week! It started last Saturday when she stepped up in the workout, and it continued today as she blew away her PR from Tuesday. She dropped 2:36 because she was locked in the whole race. Proud of your effort, Sheila! Cheyenne was our next bee in the race. She improved by 28 seconds since Tuesday, and she had a strong kick. Like Sheila, she has started to figure out how to push, and her new LPR shows it. Nice work, Cheyenne! Aniya keeps improving, too. Today she looked just as locked in as Sheila. Through consistent effort, she dropped 1:49 from Tuesday! Whew! Great work, Aniya! In only her second race, Wendy also had a great day, earning a new LPR by dropping 2:01 today. When I was talking with the captains, they remarked how Wendy was so determined, and that they were particularly impressed by her kick today! Proud of your growth, Wendy! Our next two finishers were separated only by tenths of a second: Melanie and Aubri. Melanie ran a huge LPR today, dropping 1:48. More importantly, she got out hard, packing up with her teammates and working hard in the second half of the race. What impressed me most was watching her help Aubri in the final section of the race. Aubri was suffering from a side cramp, and Melanie (without slowing down), encouraged Aubri to stay with her, visibly gesturing with her hand. In the final straight, they both shifted to kick mode, challenging one another the whole way! Great work you two! Our final racer in this event was Leilani. In her second 3-mile race, she shaved off two seconds. Nice work! Overall, this group needs to keep believing in the fitness they are building and keep challenging themselves in races and hard workouts. I can see that they are close to a Jackie-like breakthrough. Let's go, newbee crew! :)
Varsity Women: Whoo-wee! I cannot put into words just how excited I am about the effort this crew displayed. The stats say a lot: An SPR for Audrey, and LPRs for Lauren, Riley, Marisa, and Sofia. LPRs are always exciting, but they come more readily to new runners as they gain fitness. Earning an LPR at the Varsity level becomes more precious, and the fact that these women pulled it off today says a lot about their willingness to embrace the fantastic conditions and the race itself. Audrey was our first finisher again. I want to take a moment to give her the credit she deserves. It is no easy thing to be the fastest person on a team. She sets the pace in workouts and races. She has to be self-motivated in order to push beyond her previous limits. Today, she went out with the top racers, challenging them in the first mile. She said that the sun got to her in the second mile; she did slow slightly, but she was able to hang on in the last mile and earn a trophy for her 7th place finish. More importantly, her early push helped her earn an SPR by 11 seconds; her time was only 4 seconds off her time from her Conference performance on the same course last year. Proud of you, Audge! Our trio of Lauren, Riley, and Marisa crafted a special race today. These three went out as a pack in a more conservative pace. They rolled through the mile around 6:45. What's stunning is that they were about 50th place at this point. Because they saved some juice in that first mile, they were able to run nearly an even split for the second mile; while others were suffering for enthusiastic starts, these three ATE. They each caught about 20 runners in this stretch--an impressive feat in the hardest part of the race. What I love the most is that Lauren and Riley were able to go negative for the final mile, each gobbling up seven more competitors. Marisa was no slouch in the last mile either--she only slowed by 3 seconds and was able to catch one runner in the final mile. The patience and effort of these three is so impressive. Their LPRs were the direct result of their smart tactics! Lauren broke 20 for the second time this week, shaving off a second from Tuesday thanks to her intense kick. Riley dropped a big 28 seconds from her Tuesday breakthrough, thanks to her speedy last mile and incredible kick (seriously, she looked like she was running a leg of the 4X100). And Marisa, after commenting before the race that she hadn't felt good since Deerfield, had a breakthrough race today, dropping 5 seconds from her previous LPR that she ran on this same course last year IN OCTOBER. To say that I am excited about the future of this trio is an understatement. Teams that race together do big things! Sofia was our final finisher. She dropped 15 seconds from her big performance on Tuesday. Immediately after her finish, she lamented that she could have run faster. While I don't want her to beat herself up, I do appreciate that she already sees an opportunity to grow! Since she joined us in the summer, Sofia has asked questions and quietly become a student of this sport. Today, she chose the challenge of racing Varsity, and I'm so proud of her for that! Without her courage, we would not have had five finishers and no team score. I need to give a shout out to Natalie, too. She has had a tough road since this summer; her ankle was finally starting to heal, and then she got hit with a nasty head cold. With her nose still stuffy, she took on the challenge of today's race. After the mile (time-wise was great, btw), she looked good, but the second mile made her breathing too difficult, and Coach Hamilton pulled her. What is important is that Nat got some more quality work in today without going too far. I know that this work will help her as we start to sharpen as a group in the post-season. Proud of your grit, Nat! Overall, the collective efforts of this group resulted in a 7th place team finish (out of 18 teams). The last time we ran this meet in 2019, we placed 11th with a very tough team--the first to make it Sectionals in six years! Today's effort was truly a team effort. Without Audrey's front running...without our pack's tenacity...without Sofia's courage, this placing just doesn't happen. A great example of EVERY LINK mattering. Proud of you bees! :)
Our JV bees had some impressive performances, too. Unfortunately, I only had the chance to be in the pre-race huddle and watch them immediately after the starter's gun, and I had to jet. When I look at the results, though, I am really impressed! Blanca ran a big SPR--1:20 off her previous best! She did this by going out aggressively--her fastest this season and then working hard in the last mile, where she caught four people. Awesome work, Blanca! :) Aubrianna also had a solid race. She got out incredibly well--a speedy 8:10! She suffered a bit in the warmest weather of the day and fell off pace, but we are working on a few solutions to resolve that. I know that she will continue to be gutsy as she races, and it will all fall into place for her! :) Nataly J. was not far behind Aubrianna, and-- whew--did she have a tremendous race! Last year, she had to have surgery at the end of the season; unfortunately, this past week, she started having pains similar to last year which is way she sat out of Tuesday's race. She was feeling better today, though, and she seized the day! She dropped 2:01 from her season's best and 37 seconds from her previous LPR. What a huge race! I have watched as Nataly seized workouts lately, so I had a feeling she was ready for a big drop. Way to go, Nataly--proud of your consistent effort! Estrella was our final finisher today. After a difficult week away from us, I was happy to see how excited everyone was to see her back. :) She did a nice job of running around her ability level in this race. I know that with a few more days of running under her belt, she is ready to drop some serious time. Proud of your grit today, Estrella!
Overall, today was a great day! The fact that you were all able to perform so well in the face of the week's events speaks volumes about your resilience. Please do not underestimate the toll that the week's stress had on each of you. If you'll indulge me with an analogy: Each of you has an energy fuel tank. You fill it by eating foods that help your body feel good (like the rainbow challenge, proteins, carbs, and fats) as well as water. But you also fill it by doing things that make you feel good--like having a good sleep schedule, taking care of homework, hanging out with people you like, participating in hobbies, and embracing nature (that's why we headed to Beulah this week!). There are plenty of other ways to fill your tank--you just have to figure out what fills you. For me, it's writing the race blog, reading books I love, talking with my friends, hanging out with my husband, walking my dog, eating ice cream, meditating, looking at beautiful skies, and witnessing as people grow--academically and athletically.
But there are things that deplete our tanks, too. The act of running uses up fuel (in a good way), as does doing homework or thinking hard or simply living. Dealing with unexpected stress depletes our tanks, too. Stress is different for everyone; for some, it's worrying about grades. Others, it's worrying about loved ones or dealing with difficult living conditions. And honestly, for most people, sitting on their phones (social media, games, etc) uses up fuel. Social media CAN be good, but so much of social media is like junk food--it might be nice for a moment, but it's not something you should consume all day long. This week, the lockdown took a ton of fuel out of my tank, so I knew I had to do some serious work to refill my tank. The problem is that if you are not mindful of refills, your body will still try to function at a deficit. Just like you wouldn't expect to drive to Los Angeles from Zion without stopping for gas, you should not expect to make it through the week without refilling your tank. When you don't refill your car, it eventually stops working; the same is true of ourselves. Sometimes that results in illness. Others it results in feeling sad or unmotivated. It can also cause injuries.
So my challenge to you this week is this: Find what refuels you, and work to incorporate it each day. Once you are more mindful of what fills you vs. what empties you, you can be more mindful of filling your tank.
We only have one race this week--it's Saturday at Grant. This meet has grown each year. The course is challenging, but I honestly like it. It's not as tough as Waukegan or Parkside, but it does require you to stay awake. We will focus our toughest workout early in the week so that we can focus on the race at the end of the week. In the meantime, let's fill each other up! :)
After a three-day weekend and a goofy workout on Tuesday (thanks to two lightning-packed storm cells that would not leave our area), we headed back to Waukegan Sports Park for what was supposed to be a triangular with Waukegan and Mundelein. Unfortunately, Waukegan's small squad has endured some serious family losses recently, so their top 3 were unable to race us (and the remainder of their team was not ready for 3 miles yet), so the meet became a dual between us and the Mustangs. This kind of racing is different for many reasons. First, it forces runners to really stay tuned in because there aren't as many racers to work on. Second, the scoring is tighter--every spot really makes a difference.
I asked our top pack to do just that--pack for the first mile. I asked Audrey to pace it around 7:10. After that, Audrey, Lauren, Marisa, and Riley were supposed to attempt negative splits, while Katelin and Natalie were on a slightly different mission. As a coach, I can make all the plans in the world, but the race unfolds the way it unfolds. Audrey did keep the pack together, and the pictures have been making me smile all week. The pacing was a bit spicier than the assignment, though, so the negative splits did not happen. Honestly, I am completely good with how the first mile actually shook out. The 6:40ish split showed Katelin and Natalie where their fitness is truly at. And it showed Marisa, Lauren, and Riley that they are capable of going out faster in a race. It also allowed Audrey to work on an important part of racing: having the patience to chase people down. During mile 2, Audrey reeled in Mundelein's #1 girl, Jocelyn. By the time I saw Audrey at the top of the hill, she had passed her and was working on building a lead. Throughout the switchbacks, Audrey did a fantastic job of staying focused and building more of a cushion, despite having a stomach that was uncooperative. I was not able to see the finish, but Coach Washington reported that Audrey looked sharp, which is awesome! Lauren worked that part of the race, too, inching closer to Mundelein's #1. Unlike in previous races, she looked like she was pressing, though, grimacing through the last mile. She had a great race, but my feedback is that she needs to focus on the fun part, letting the race unfold naturally rather than forcing it. Marisa, after feeling dissatisfied with their finish at Rebel on Saturday, did a fantastic job of keeping a growth mindset in this race. They were pulling on Lauren the whole way, and then they went back to their track success from this summer, fearlessly kicking in that last soccer field, pushing themself and Riley the whole way. Proud of your grit, Marisa! Like I said last week, I don't care what order we finish in, so long as we are racing hard, finishing strong, and having fun. It was cool to hear that these two were sharpening each other! Speaking of Riley, like Marisa, she is so far ahead of last year in terms of fitness and racing IQ. She ran a much stronger race this second time on this tricky course, and she is already knocking on her lifetime PR. Great work! Our 5th bee was Katelin in a VERY important race. That first mile was an important learning moment--now she knows she has the fitness and is not going to totally blow up if she starts challenging herself more in that first mile. The closer she gets to the pack, the stronger our team race becomes! Natalie had an outstanding first mile, too. Unfortunately, as she rounded the bridge, she stepped funny in the deep, sandy trail and twisted her already angry ankle. I pulled her from the race just to be safe. The most important part had already been accomplished: she had stuck with her pack. If we can get 6 to stick? Whew...we are going to keep surprising ourselves and others! I am REALLY proud of the progress of this group--nice work, bees!
The next two bees across the mile were Illyana and Sofia. As they crossed the bridge together, I could see that these two were in for a strong race! Illyana later reported that she told Sofia to go, and go she did! Sofia worked up to some Mundelein runners while Illyana kept her eye on her teammate, pulling on her energy and creating a great race for herself. Coach Washington told me that both of these women looked strong in their finishes. You can check our our team Facebook page to see Mr. Davis's pics. The look on Illyana's face is fierce! :) Our next finisher was Blanca. She had a great first mile, and during shout outs, several people commented on how awesome she looked during her kick. She has been doing a great job of working on her finish: opening up and attacking the last stretch of the race. Look up, Blanca! That's the final step! Estrella was not far behind, looking strong and holding off a Mundelein racer. Her form is looking so strong, and I think we might have this hamstring issue beat! Proud of your grit on this tough course, Estrella! Nataly finished shortly after Estrella. Nat has made huge progress this season, looking more aggressive than ever! I like that she is working the middle of the race with surges in order to make herself more competitive. She had a great kick, too--you can see her dig in those finish stretch pics! Aubrianna was only seconds behind Nat, looking fantastic with her kick. She did a great job of working the middle of the race and achieving her goal of having a strong kick. Proud of you, Aubrianna! Everyone was blown away by Adrianna's kick. She has come such a long way since track season, jumping into workouts and increasing her mileage, not to mention hopping into racing 3 miles like she has been doing it all along! Her kick was fantastic today; she saved nothing! Great job, Adri! :) Aubri made her racing debut today after nursing a sore hip. She did a great job of staying positive and working with teammates early on. At the end of the race, she kicked hard, letting her competitive nature shine! I look forward to seeing her race more in the coming weeks--she is starting to see what she can be as a runner! Sheila was our next finisher. She did a great job of working with her team and improving as a runner. This was her first 3-mile race, and she kept her pinky promise to push the whole way. She finished like a beast, showing off her skills to her sisters who came to show their love and support. Great job, Sheila! Tikia made her XC racing debut today. A few weeks back she rolled her ankle, and it has been slow to heal. She decided she wanted to race today, though, and race she did. She and Sheila worked well together in the mid-parts of the race. In the last switchback, she surged to drop a Mundelein racer. She used the same speediness in the final 200 of the rac, looking strong and proud! Congrats on a great race, Tikia! Aniya made her first 3-mile debut today after mastering 2.5 mile the course at Parkside over the weekend. Aniya did a great job of keeping focused and positive throughout the switchbacks. In her final kick, her form looks so strong! Congrats on your first 3-miler, Aniya! You are just going to keep improving as the season goes on! Melanie was our next finisher. She did a great job of working the last 800 and kicking hard at the end. She keeps improving each race--nice work, Mel! Our final finisher made her racing debut today--Alexandra. I am so impressed by her gutsy decision to race today. She joined us late, but I'm glad that she did! She kept pushing the whole way, and she used the energy from her team to fuel her final kick. Congrats on your comeback race, Alexandra!
Shout out to Lily, Bri, Abri, Wendy, and Makayla for your help with splits. I appreciate your help! :)
One last thing--we did beat Mundelein (and Waukegan by forfeit), so we are 2-0 in our conference. Nice start, bees! :) Remind me to show you how scoring works on Monday.
Saturday Paavo 400s
I have to include a quick note about how happy I am about the grit and focus I saw from you all on Saturday. WHAT. A. WORKOUT. I am over the moon! Audrey, Riley, Marisa, and Lauren did an incredible job of cutting down the pace with each 400. Whew! Katelin, Natalie, Illyana, and Brionne--whew! You worked so well as a unit. Impressive! :) And the second half of Group 2? Blanca, Aubrianna, Adrianna and Nataly? So consistent and gritty! Proud of you all! And Group 3--You all made some HUGE gains today, both mentally and physically. Cheyenne looked SO STRONG running along the goose poop alley--stride open and fierce! And Sheila? She made the last one her best one for sure! Aniya was SO consistent and kept the recovery section rolling. And Melanie kept working on her knee lift and powering through, despite her tight calves. Wendy looked great on the intervals she could manage before her stomach ailment won out. And Leilani did a great job of pulling on her group in order to finish all six.
I am so incredibly proud of how you handled the 800 dessert. This workout was a great turning point! Your body will be able to physically benefit from it in another 10 days or so, but you should lock it in your mind right now. Don't forget that you are SO strong and fit. Don't forget that you managed a very difficult workout by leaning on each other.
This week, we have a full 5 days of school and two races. I need you all to really focus on recovery. Let's commit to getting to bed on time without electronics. And let's enjoy racing on two fast courses! Tuesday we will be at Lake Forest, an incredible well-groomed course (the grass is luscious!) that is flat and fast. We will have plenty of competition between Lake Forest and Stevenson, so let's use that to our advantage! On Saturday, we head over to Warren for the Bill Dawson Invite. I love this meet for many reasons: the course is flat and super-fast, and the event is named after a dear friend of mine who died of cancer right around this time just over a year ago. He was the men's coach at Warren for decades, and he was what was right about cross-country. He believed in running as a way to bring people together, sort out difficult feelings, and find inner strength. Although he was incredibly sick, he still kept coaching because watching his team shine gave him energy and joy. I hope that we can focus on energy and joy this week in his honor.
Let's have a great week, bees! :)
Wednesday @ Lake County (Waukegan Sports Park):
Our Varsity squad was up first. Although we were small in number, these five women had the proper mindset heading into the race. Due to last year's restrictions, Riley never raced this course, but she took that lack of info in stride. At the starting line, our five looked ready to embrace the challenge that this course provides. At the mile, everyone was in a good position with Audrey leading the way for our team, followed by Marisa and Riley running seconds apart, Katelin not far behind, and Natalie not far behind her. The mile is the end of the "easy" on this course. Mile two features a significant climb that requires mental toughness and physical strength. When I saw our bees coming across the top of the course, they were working on recovering and attacking the second half of the race. As our bees worked the switchbacks, I was impressed by their effort on the downhill segments. Each runner looked open and strong, working to pass sleepy runners. I could see that the hill had taken a little pop off their steps, though, as they did not look as locked in as they did the previous week on Deerfield's flat course. I pulled Natalie right before the 2-mile mark. Although she was disappointed that she could not finish, the fact that she got that hill and tempo work in is really important for the latter part of our season. By the time I saw our girls back at the bridge, they were looking more ready to tackle the last half mile. According to Coach Washington who was at the finish, all four had strong kicks (I forgot to teleport to see it...), and I was happy with the efforts of these five women. Post-race, they seemed less enthusiastic than at Deerfield, which is understandable: There is something about the first race of the season that is difficult to replicate! Audrey ran an excellent first mile and had a good kick. Marisa ran a course PR as did Katelin. And Riley looked great despite it being her first outing and finding the course "really hard." Our Varsity mission this season is straightforward: to learn from every race while having fun. Now that everyone is looking I am looking forward to see this group re-run the course next week!
The Open Race featured many newbees! Seven out of our eleven racers had never tackled the course, and three ran their first ZBXC race today: Estrella, Abriyannah, and Adrianna. The starting line was packed since the open race was co-ed, but our bees handled their business well for that opening stretch. At the mile, I was stoked to see that Lauren was the first girl in the race! She was all smiles as she zoomed by. Brionne was our second bee, looking strong. Aubrianna came by third with an incredibly gutsy first mile! I was so excited to see her so far up in the race. :) Illyana--in her first race of the season--looked focused. It was good to see her back in racing mode! She was leading Sofia, who like Lauren, opted to run in the open today. Blanca was not far behind, also looking impressive in her opening race of the season! She was followed by Nataly who had a nice opening mile, end Estrella who seemed to be handling the uneven ground and hills despite her hamstring issue. Abriyannah came through with great form (she is going to be GOOD when she gets more fit), followed by a zooming Melanie (inspired by her teammates' cheers, she flew around the bend onto the bridge!).
When I caught our crew again coming down the hill, Lauren had increased her lead as the first woman in the race. She looked smooth on the switchbacks and had not backed off the pace. The rest of our crew was doing a great job of listening to fans for inspiration and using gravity's free energy on the downhills. By the time our bees were at the 1/2 mile to go mark, I was impressed to see that Sofia had moved up during the second mile, and that Nataly was running a really even race. I waited to see Melanie before I headed to the finish, so I did not see our final kicks. Coaches Washington and Hamilton reported that we really took care of business, though! With a half mile to go, Melanie was about 150 meters behind a Round Lake runner. I encouraged her to work on him, then darted to the finish area. When Melanie emerged from the woods, I could see that she had caught the guy and was mounting a bigger lead! Unfortunately, she missed the final flag and had to go back to get it, giving the Round Lake runner a chance to catch her. What was great was that she did not let this setback get her down: she kicked mightily and gave the Round Lake kid a fight! When I look at the results, I am proud to see that Lauren ran such a solid race. Not only did she take Coach Hamilton's first 800 advice to truly race, but she did so while having fun the whole way! Brionne looked impressive, completing her first full 3-mile race of the season and finishing 1:20 faster than her effort at Bee Linked (a much flatter and faster course). What a huge accomplishment! Sofia was our third finisher, looking impressive in her first hilly course effort. Illyana was fourth for us. What made me most happy about her race was her mindset. She has been understandably nervous about her knees the last two weeks. She really embraced the weather and racing opportunity and led like a true senior. Her presence undoubtedly helped Brionne and Sofia as well as our newbees in the race. She also looked strong on the downhills each time I saw her! Aubrianna was our fifth bee for the day. While her first mile certainly stands out as an impressive accomplishment of the race, her tenacity in the tougher sections also impressed me. I know that she is going to continue to get fit, and she will be able to make that first mile pace stick throughout! Estrella made her racing debut on this tricky course. Despite a tight hamstring, Estrella really embraced the race! She has a starting point now, and I look forward to watching her grow this season! Her mindset has certainly shifted from when she began as a freshie, and I like where she is headed! Blanca made her season debut after dropping her sis off at college last week. It was great to see this senior racing again! Not only did she run significantly faster than Bee Linked, but she also looked confident the whole way! She is definitely getting better at looking up during the race, especially on the downhills. Nataly was close behind Blanca with a really impressive effort. She ran FASTER on this tough course than she did the week before at Deerfield! :) She is also way ahead of herself from last year. Congrats on a great start to the season, Nat! Abri B. was our next finisher. This woman has great form and seems to be getting stronger each week. I know that she is going to make some big drops when we move onto other courses. With a little patience and courage, she is going to be a great asset to this team! Congrats on your first race, Abri! Adrianna is an old soul, but this is her first XC race after joining us in the "summer" season for track. She did a great job in her first XC race! Like Abri, she is going to just get stronger as the season unfolds. I am confident that she will leave the 30s behind quickly as she learns this new sport. Congrats on your first race, Adri! :) Melanie made her 3-mile debut today. I am excited to see her feistiness mid-race; she has been using the Darwin surges in her races which is fantastic!
Overall, we had a strong day. We have so much promise. If the newbees keep believing in themselves and allow the veterans to share their wisdom, I am excited to see what we can do as a running family this season! Thanks to all the timers who helped out today. The times help us see how we are doing in the race pace-wise!
Saturday @ Rebel Invite (Parkside)
As we drove up to Kenosha, I kept thinking about a conversation I had with some of the veterans about Parkside a few weeks back. I was surprised to find out that they did not like the course; for some reason, I was under the (mistaken) assumption that our team enjoyed the challenge that Parkside's course offers. I was hoping that everyone would embrace the opportunity of the day, despite the hills and rain.
As we exited the bus, the rain stopped, and the mood of our group felt good. We got our camp set, and the open women started their warm up while Varsity walked the course. I was surprised to see Illyana return to camp, claiming that the course was different than in the past. Yes, the initial hill was the same, but now we were heading to the western half of the course rather than the part that is closest to the road. Could this be what changed everyone's minds?
Our open crew looked both nervous and excited as we headed to our starting box. Included in this group was two newbees to racing: Aniya and Leilani. After the gun, I watched our bees head up the hill with courage. Coach Hamilton was at the top to encourage our pack along, and I didn't see them again until the almost 2 mile mark. Estrella was our first bee through looking so strong! She looked more open and assertive than at Waukegan--a big improvement in only her second race! She did a great job of keeping her pace relatively consistent (9:17/9:40/4:07) and using the course to her advantage. Nice work, Estrella! Our second bee for the day was senior Nataly J. She got out so well, going sub-10 despite the hill for the first mile! Like Estrella, she kept her pace pretty consistent (9:42/10:12/4:18). More importantly, she has done a really nice job of working on her knee lift so that she is stronger in her races. Proud of you, Nat! Abri was our third bee, looking great! She keeps getting stronger every race. She got out her fastest today in 10:49, despite the hill! I know that as she works at it, she will get that second mile down (12:28) as evidenced by her last half (4:47). Keep up the great work, Abri! :) Sheila was not far behind. Like Abri, she is improving with every race and got out well: 10:55. She did a great job of staying positive and kicking at the end of the race--proud of you! Adrianna was our next finisher. She did a great job of working on her team mindset today, working to support her team after the race and showing everyone how serous she is during. Great job, Adrianna! In her ZBXC debut, Aniya had a great day! She bravely tackled the hill and really listened to her teammates' advice in the second mile. She did a great job of kicking at the end, too. Proud of you, Aniya! :) Melanie did a great job of racing the people around her. She kept surging to work with a girl from another school. Her kick was great, too! Our final bee in this race was Leilani in her ZBXC debut. Although she was nervous before the race, she did a great job of initiating her new shoes :) She worked the downhills and stayed positive the whole way. I can't wait to see what she can do on Waukegan's course this coming week!
I was allowed up to 10 in the Varsity race, so we had eight who took on the 3.1 challenge: Audrey, Lauren, Riley, Marisa, Katelin, Sofia, Illyana, Aubrianna, and Blanca. When we headed to the line, I could tell that there was a lot of nervous energy. It definitely came out in the shape of tears for Illyana and Sofia as the countdown sounded. When the cannon boomed, our pack refocused and attacked the hill with wisdom; without exception, they were able to run their second mile faster than the first: Audrey 6:28/6:24; Lauren 7:00/6:38; Riley 7:10/6:48; Marisa 7:07/6:39; Katelin 7:52/7:43; Sofia 8:45/8:31; Illyana 9:17/8:40; Aubrianna 9:57/9:37; and Blanca 10:00/9:52. I don't have mile 3 splits due to my mistake--I was near the true 3 mile, but I was watching the hill rather than the clock (my bad, bees!). More important than the final splits, though, is the way these runners finished. It was so much fun to watch our bees COMPETE in the last section of the race. Cresting the final hill, our bees attacked the downhill, using its energy to fuel their final kicks. It was simply awesome to watch!
After being frustrated by her performance at Lake County, Audrey rocked her race today! Not only did she stay focused the whole way, she caught a runner in the final stretch, finishing in an impressive 7th place with a course record for herself. Proud of you for bouncing back, Audge! :) Lauren was our second bee today. Much like Lake County, Lauren wore a smile every time I saw her today. She cruised down the final hill and ran a great time--great job, Lauren! Riley was our third finisher thanks to a ridiculously fast kick. She took that last hill seriously and went to sprinter-mode in the final stretch. Proud of you for continuing that kick mindset, Ri! Marisa was only seconds behind Riley--they, too had a great kick! I'm so impressed with Marisa's leadership in this race. They pushed Lauren to go after the initial hill and they paced Riley during the middle of the race. Honestly, I have a feeling that this threesome is going to change up the order all season, and I am ALL FOR THAT. Teams that don't obsess about which number each runner is are stronger because they are focusing on racing other people rather than their own teammates. I'm really excited about what these three can do this season! Katelin was our next bee and rounded out our scoring 5. Kate looked so focused and fun this race. Not only did she work the middle of the course well, but she had an incredible kick, too, hunting down at least two people in the final stretch (Colin said 4?). Our 6th bee was Sofia. She looked strong in the woods and did a great job of attacking the final 200. Fantastic work, freshie! :) Our final three bees had some of my favorite races. Illyana was our #7. Not only did she look fantastic today, but after her race, she declared that she "needed that." All I know is that she was assertive and gritty today, and it was good to see her racing with pride. Aubrianna, like Audrey, was not happy with her race at Lake County. Aubrianna, like Audrey, set things right today. She got out well, worked the middle of the race like a champ, and fulfilled one of her race goals: to have a great kick. She attacked the final down hill and zoomed to the finish (check out the pic on our Twitter!). I'm proud of her for letting herself have the kind of race she could be satisfied with. Great work! Finally, Blanca Blanca Blanca! Right after the 2-mile, she lost a brief battle with gravity, sliding along the dirt trail. Rather than having a pity party, Blanca hopped up and--in her own words--had fun for the rest of the race. When I saw her cresting the final hill, I didn't notice that she was missing skin on her arm, knee, and shoulder...I just saw Blanca racing without excuses. She attacked the hill and the final stretch like a champ! Shout out to Marisa for getting Blanca to the trainer's tent to get cleaned up.
Overall, I am really pleased with our progress. Honestly, I did not see a single bee let the difficult course affect an in-race mindset. And our post-race shout outs show me that we are getting better at recognizing greatness in one another. It was awesome to watch! :) Let's keep this positivity going as we head back to Waukegan this week.
FYI, we have a shortened day on Wednesday. Please plan to either stay at school to do homework OR bee back at school for our 3:30 bus (by the PAC).
Also, we didn't get a chance to talk about the Rainbow Challenge! I hope that the sheet helped you to simply bee more mindful about working fruits and veggies into your diet.
Let's have a great week! :)