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! :)
Let me start with some brutal honesty. I. was. exhausted. this. week. The start of school coupled with the hot weather has just zapped the energy out of me. I know the captains have been feeling the same way, but for additional reasons. They had to coordinate supplementals on Wednesday while the coaches were at a faculty meeting. And leading this many new runners is challenging while trying to take care of their own needs as well. And then not being on the bus on the way to the meet made me feel out of sorts. I didn't know what to expect because I couldn't feel the team energy during the busride. So in sum, this week has been a lot!
But when I saw you all at camp, ready to check out the course? I felt that same joy I felt all fall of 2020. And once the first race began, I was all smiles! It's amazing what a race can do for the soul!
We had four brave bees in the 2-mile race. Brionne, Makayla, Sheila, and Melanie have never raced before. Brionne has slightly more experience because she ran all summer and participated in Bee Linked, but this was still her official first race. This group was understandably nervous on the line. Thankfully, Mother Nature interceded with a gift of two cute and oblivious deer grazing near the starting line. One of the Warren coaches aptly pointed out the obvious: Deer + Field. The moment was a perfect distraction, because when the gun sounded, our foursome took off with so much energy! Coming off the first loop, Brionne was our leader, looking strong and tall. Melanie and Makayla and Sheila were all in shouting distance of each other, looking gutsy and impressive. When the girls came around the longer loop on the school side of the creek, I was proud of their tenacity. Brionne was working hard to race the girls around her, and her fight paid off. Her overall pace per mile was 8:19, vastly faster than her Bee Linked pace of 9:00! The other important note to make is that Brionne has been managing a nerve issue in her leg, so her performance is even more impressive! The great news was that she felt great after the race, so I am looking forward to seeing her move up to a 3-mile at Lake County. Our second finisher was Makayla. Whew what a great race! Not only did she fight through the heat, but she also listened every time someone cheered her on. :) She worked hard to get to that final sprint, and she looked like she was on the track for the final stretch. I know she is just going to get tougher as she become more fit. More impressive than her performance was the fact that she helped motivate Sheila and Melanie during the race. I love that spirit! Sheila was our 3rd bee in this race. Like Makayla, she pushed through the heat and completed her first race ever! She encouraged Melanie, too, and I know she learned a lot from her debut race. :) Our final finisher was fellow freshie Melanie. Honestly, Mel's start was so inspiring! She got out so hard and pushed through the first mile like a champ! Although she paid the price a bit in the second mile, she did not give up, despite throwing up. I almost pulled her out of the race just before the bridge because she looked woozy, but when I asked her if she could fight through the end, she charged forward! What great progress Mel has made since she joined us this summer! Overall, this group was tough--they managed their first-race nerves well, and the handled the hottest weather of the day like champs. So proud of these four!
Our other group of runners tackled the full 3-mile course. Yes, it cooled down slightly, but these eight had to still deal with some toasty temps. We talked about using the first mile as an opportunity to be smart: they were going to pack the first mile in order to avoid a second-half heat fade, then open up after the mile marker. Pre-race, our huddle felt great, and the volume of our breakdown was fantastic! On the line, I could still tell that this group was nervous. Like Brionne, Sofia is new to the sport, with her only "racing" experience being at Bee Linked in July. Lauren is new to high school racing but has slightly more experience from St. Pat's XC. The others are all seasoned vets at this point, but I could feel their nerves. Thankfully, between the starter's inept microphone and a certain piece of head apparel (Audrey, working hard to embody a spy's persona: "What? The hat?"), this group found a way to laugh and smile before the race started. You're welcome. ;) The levity worked, because all eight of our bees looked AMAZING in this first race of the season.
I waited near the previous deer sighting for the racers to come around the bend, and I was surprised and yet not surprised to see Audrey leading the way. Audrey won this race last year with a gutsy performance. When she neared me, I asked if this was her definition of restrained, to which she replied with a confident smirk and slight shoulder shrug. I loved it! She looked confident and within herself. Post-race, she reported that the first two miles did not even feel fast. I next saw Marisa, Riley, and Lauren in a nice pack behind Hersey's mega-pack. It was clear that Hersey was running a workout, but our threesome, led by Marisa, was smartly keying off their energy and letting the first mile unfold. Katelin was in visual contact with this pack, looking tall and strong! And our freshie Sofia was not far behind Katelin, looking confident and relaxed! Aubrianna was not far behind Sofia; her start was impressive to me--she was being far more aggressive than she normally is at this point in the season. Equally feisty was Nataly, only a few people behind Aubrianna.
On the other side of the creek, our racers really did some impressive work. Audrey was challenged briefly by Warren's #1 runner. I held my breath, hoping that Audrey had not gone out too fast in the heat. She responded with a nice surge, demoralizing the Warren runner and putting a nice distance on her. Marisa started to pull away from Lauren and Riley, looking more confident than last year (if that is possible!). Riley and Lauren continued to key off one another, and starting to mingle with Hersey's pack that Marisa was breaking through. Katelin kept making me smile with her fantastic body language. She told me that she wanted to run the 3-mile to set the tone for her season, and her face was conveying purpose and focus. Sofia did a great job of keying off the fans, letting them fuel her into a few fartlek intervals, leaving competitors in her dust. And Aubrianna was channeling the same energy that Katelin was: her face looked determined, and her pace did not wane in the second loop! Nataly was running a fantastic pace, too, challenging the Mather girls around her and racing hard.
It's no surprise that I was all smiles as our team headed back to the Mario Zone near the bridge. Audrey was in a decent position in first. Marisa, Lauren, and Riley were confidently picking off Hersey runners. Katelin's stride never wavered, showing that her foot was holding up in racing conditions. Sofia looked like she was truly enjoying racing! Aubrianna was aggressively passing people who made bad pacing choices in the first mile. Nataly looked open and powerful with each step.
Returning to the final loop, I was elated to see our non-racers cheering like mad for our girls. The were excited to see how well everyone was doing, and they were pouring their energy into each bee. In the final 400, I could see that one of Hersey's runners (All-Stater Anna Harden) was unleashing a crazy-fast last mile. She was coming hard for Audrey, who was starting to feel the heat a bit. Audrey did a great job pushing hard off the second-to-last flag, but Harden was machine-like in her kick. Although I know that Audrey was disappointed to take second, I loved her reaction post-race. She asked for the girl's name, promising to stalk her results and be ready for a rematch later in the season. What a great mindset to have! I was also proud of her for not being hard on herself--despite having to cut mileage significantly this summer, she still ran 5 seconds faster than the same race last year, and she did so in MUCH hotter conditions. What a great way to kick off the season! Marisa was our second bee in, with a HUGE performance. Not only did she race with confidence, but her time was impressive: nearly a minute faster than last year on this course, and only SIX seconds off her lifetime PR. Most importantly, she really showed her leadership skills today, leaning into her role as captain. :) Lauren was our third finisher with a fantastic race. Not only did she look more confident and happy than at Bee Linked, but she also destroyed that time by a minute! So proud of this freshie's progress this summer! Riley was not far behind Lauren with a fantastic race. She looked so intense the whole way, and she finished with her signature track-like kick that blew everyone way! Like Marisa, she is way ahead of herself from last year, running 1:14 faster! She also is in the right neighborhood to blow up her LPR soon, but I will take the impressive SPR for now! Katelin had a great kick, too, and she earned a strong SPR. More importantly, she was elated with her performance, declaring that it was the best she had ever felt in a race! While the time was nice (a faster pace than her 2-mile pace last year), the mindset is really what makes me smile. Happy runners are fast runners! :) She is so far ahead of herself from last year, that I am giddy to see her race again! This group rounded out our scoring top-five. The way team scoring works in xc, is that each team gets five people to score. We take their finishing places and add them up to a team score. Unlike most sports, winning teams in xc have LOW scores (because we obviously would rather be in 1st place than in 150th place). Most Varsity teams have between 7 and 10 racers, though. The racers after the top five are called "pushers" because they can push up another's team score. If our 6th place bee beats someone else's 5th place, it makes that other team's total score higher. Make sense?
Sofia was our 6th bee, our first "pusher" for the team. To say that her progress has been amazing is an understatement. When I first met her in Freshman Focus, she barely spoke above a whisper. She was afraid to ask me questions, but she did have the courage to ask one of the teachers email me that she was interested in joining us for the summer. Since her first day, she has asked questions, watched her teammates, and worked hard every day. At Bee Linked (her 3rd or 4th day of running), she ran 34:43. Today, she finished with a great kick (holding up her shorts the whole way), and earning a huge Lifetime Personal Record of 24:49! Not only did she nearly drop 10 minutes in two months, but she also said she had fun doing it! I cannot wait to see her continue to grow as a runner! Our 7th bee, our second "pusher," had an outstanding race, too. Aubrianna normally begins the season in the 30s, and it took her a month to break out of that last year. This year, she is on a mission, running a huge season PR, 7:19 faster than Bee Linked! What I loved the most was her confident expression for the whole race, especially during her kick. With her teammates yelling like crazy, she found another gear in the final stretch, holding off two girls from Warren and nearly catching a girl from Mather. More importantly, she actually took a compliment when I told her I was proud of her race at Van Patten on Saturday. That's huge! Aubrianna is usually way too hard on herself, but even she had to admit that it was a great opener! Nataly was our final bee, earning a huge SPR, too! She dropped 3:00 from Bee Linked, and she had a huge kick, too. Her confidence was infectious, and I am stoked that she is so far ahead of last year. It took her the whole season to beat 30 during 2020, but she is already close in the first race of the season! Fantastic work, Nat!
When I climbed in my car, I was smiling ear-to-ear because the shout outs showed that you ALL get it. Our bees who were not ready to race were everywhere during the meet--yelling their hearts out during races and supporting people post race. The love I saw between Tikia and Makayla post-race just melted my heart, and the support Estrella gave to Sofia post-race was senior-like! Aubri and Cheyenne went anywhere I asked to cheer loudly and proudly, and it seemed like Leilani was EVERYWHERE during the races! And it's no surprise, but it's still great to see, that Illyana and Natalie were mother bees, teaching the young ones and supporting the vets at every turn. And we need to talk about the post-race shout outs. That circle changed everything for me. I'm not going to lie--practice has felt a bit disjointed as the new begin to learn from the experienced, and the weather continues to interrupt our flow. But that circle...that made everything right. You did what empowered women do--you empowered each other with your love and honesty. It felt so good to see you truly see each other! I'm hooked on this 2021 team...this blend of wise and fresh...this blend of hungry and learning. I simply cannot wait to see you race again on Wednesday!
A few business items:
1. We race twice this week, so I need you to make sure you are taking care of yourselves: aim for 8 hours (or more) of quality sleep per night, bee ready for a rainbow challenge this week (more details to come), and keep hydrating despite the fact that the intense heat will subside a bit.
2. Keep beeing leaders in the halls and classrooms. I have high expectations for academics because I know you can reach them. If you are struggling, ask for help. We want to support you as a student!
3. Pictures are Thursday right at 3:00 (I got us the first slot so that you don't have to look all sweaty!). That means you will need to wash your uniform after Wednesday's race. We will take pics, then practice, so don't forget to bring workout clothes.
4. You can check out our results on www.athletic.net all season! It's a cool resource to see your progress, spy on other teams, and celebrate your teammates. Just type your name in the search bar, or type in Zion-Benton. You can also find pictures from the meet on our Facebook page (Zion-Benton Cross-Country and Distance Crew) as well as on our Instagram: zionbentonxc
Let's have a great week, bees! :)