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!