JT Grant Bulldog Invite
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!
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