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! :)