At the risk of sounding repetitive, you eight have wowed me all season: Workouts that went beyond my expectations, races that were seemingly perfect, and connections that deepened. As I would sit down to write each week, I would wonder how much longer this streak of greatness could continue, and each week, I would have to check out the thesaurus for new ways to express just how impressive you all are.
And here we are again. This week, I watched you lift Riley and Audrey up by offering laughs, leading routines, and pushing in workouts. On Tuesday, these two blew my mind after picking the 800-400-150 workout. Not only did they destroy the goal times I set, but they did it while seemingly floating through the workout, hardly pressing until the last interval. It told me that they were ready for another crazy-fast race, and my weather app predicted that the conditions would be decent for that to happen.
And then as the positive practices progressed, the weather forecast started to shift. First, there was talk of big winds. And then the rain predictions rolled in. And then cooler temps. And despite the forecast when we rolled out of Zion on Friday, I did not expect for the weather to be so dang rude. After driving through squall after squall, it was no surprise to find the course closed to practice upon our arrival at Detweiller. It also was no surprise to see our pack take it in stride. I'm not going to lie, though--I was worried. I wanted Audrey and Riley to have the chance to show off their incredible fitness and competitiveness. A soggy course is really not conducive to that goal. And then Mother Nature doubled down, soaking Peoria all night and well into the morning. The 1A competitors had to race in the driving rain, but they did enjoy the "freshest" course of the day. The rain finally subsided for our warm up and race, but the course was a hot mess after the 2A athletes and the lead vehicle chewed it up for their 6 laps of racing.
When we got into the huddle, I reminded our racers that today could no longer be about time--it had to be about racing smart and fighting hard. And that is exactly what our two stars did. With the love of SO many Zee-Bee alums--Kaila, Collin, Illy, Jenna, and Maya--as well as current teammates--Eric, Ryan, Alex, Adam, Jarek, Jimmy, Katelin, Brionne, Sofia, Aniya, Lauren, and Rachel--how could our bees do anything but shine? When the gun sounded, I watched as these two who have been such baddies all season take off for their final ZBXC race. It was as beautiful as the first races of the season. They pushed hard to establish themselves in the giant pack. At the bottom of the hill, Audrey was in a good spot on the outside, as was Riley only a few clicks back. When I saw them come up the hill the first time, I could see that they were not alone in seeking solid ground on the edges of the course--Audrey on the outside and Riley on the inside. They both looked like they were handling the mud just fine! Coming out of the mile, I was impressed by their times. Audrey was just a second or two over 6:00 while RIley was in the 6:20s. They were running smart--not using all their juice in the first mile, but also not holding back too much. Conditions like these require more energy to simply stay upright, let alone to run fast. I was proud of how they both managed that fact.
Heading past the second mile marker, I could see the concern on each of their faces, but I was so impressed by how each bee was still fighting. On the backstretch, Audrey looked open down the hill, and she really flew in the diagonal section that still had grass. She looked so strong! Riley came off that downhill looking powerful, too. On the diagonal, she challenged a girl from Wheaton North in the one section of solid ground. I saw them one last time heading into the final 400. Audrey had found a narrow band of grass along the fence, and was pushing with all her might to get to the finish. When I looked at video of the finish line, I could see Audrey in full flight, and it was so beautiful to watch! Riley kept pressing after I saw her at the 800 mark. I have several amazing pics of her in full stride, trying to implement the famous Riley kick. Riley picked up so many people in the final stretch--awesome finish, Riley!
Our two bees were up against 30 mph winds with even bigger gusts. At least 80% of the course was churned up, sloppy mud that was at least three inches deep. While I said that times didn't matter, they do offer perspective as to how slow the course was today. When I clicked on 10 random runners in the first 100 girls and compared their LPRs to their performance on Saturday, they were ALL slower on Saturday by at least 30 seconds. Most were closer to 45. Those stats match with how our stars performed today.
More importantly, I never saw an ounce of quit on Audrey's or Riley's face...they just kept fighting. I use the word "proud" a lot in this blog, and it just doesn't seem enough to explain how I felt on Saturday. They both knew that the conditions were rough. They both knew that this race would not produce a PR or individual glory. But they fought through three miles of mud and wind because they are stars and because of the name on their jerseys. They wanted to make us proud, and that they did.
After the race, I could see that Audrey was not happy with the outcome by the look on her face. And Riley vocalized it: "That was miserable!" But these two cannot be defined by one muddy, difficult race. Audrey has given her all for four seasons. Each of those teams qualified to the Sectional together. She has been All-Conference four times. All-Regional twice. And to State twice. She is the fastest ZBXC-er in history yet. And I say "yet" because she doesn't look at herself as separate from everyone. All season, she would check in with me and ask if I wanted her to pack up the group for recovery days. She wanted to be with the group so that the group could see what was possible. And even though she had lofty goals for herself, she always grounded herself with her team. And Riley? Riley has grown SO much as a ZBXC-er. She committed to improving from season to season. She earned All-Conference honors twice and put herself on the Top Ten Board as a junior. She earned a trip to State because she embodies the idea of being second-half strong in a race; she caught so many people in the last mile of the Sectional! She has given us "The Riley" as a way to take the edge off pre-race jitters. But she has also shown us that racing is FUN. She, too, has high standards for competing, and she, too, has shown our younger racers how to make that happen.
Both Audrey and Riley cared deeply about becoming better runners and it shows. As I said on the bus, caring deeply is scary! It requires a vulnerability and courage and hope that most people just don't have. Audrey and Riley made that mindset the way we do things. They are stars in the deepest sense of the word, and I am already excited to see where their legacy leads us.
Until then, please know that this trip was an absolute joy. I appreciate all eight of you more than you know! I loved watching you pour your support into Riley and Audrey, via chalk and window paint and pre-sleep talks and slime and Christmas songs and make-up and coffee creamer and all the other little moments that I don't even know about. It is simply magical to watch when eight people click, and I have loved every moment of it this season.
So I'll close this season's blog with this: To caring deeply, working hard, and enjoying the journey. Love you all.
Saturday @ Hoffman Estates Sectional
I did not sleep well on Friday night. I was nervous because I wanted you all to have the races that you deserved. I have so much respect for all eight of you because you have embraced the process and you have not shied away from the work. You have leaned on one another all season, and watching the bonds form has been nothing short of beautiful. As I kept trying to fall back asleep, I tried to remind myself that I had no control over what you all would do at Busse, but I suppose my competitive mind just could not rest.
My nerves were unfounded. When I saw you all in the South Commons Saturday morning, my worries vanished. And once we climbed the bus and settled into the tradition of letters, any lingering concerns slipped away. I knew what brilliance was in those letters. I knew the depth of wisdom and love and faith in the words. And I knew that it would mean as much to you as it did to me that Kelsey, Ezra, Taylor, Jenna, Maya, Illy, Nat, and Coach Wynn took the time to send you their hearts. And I knew it would fuel you all.
The energy, like all season, felt good as you headed into the warm up. I need to take a moment to talk about Aniya. Although she was not afforded the opportunity to race, she was ready to go in case Brionne was not feeling well due to her run-in with a weight tree in PE the day before. I'm sure that none of you would be surprised to hear that when I asked Aniya to warm up and act as if she was racing that she took this job seriously. Once we knew that Bri was good to go, Aniya switched seemingly effortlessly from race mode to support mode. This selflessness is not shocking. Anyone who has observed Aniya for even a moment knows that she is the epitome of beeing linked. Niy--thank you for being ready to step up, and thank you for being everywhere on the course for our seven.
After our breakdown, I was anxious to see the race unfold. When the gun sounded, I watched to make sure our pack got through the concentrated crowd of talent without incident, and then I darted up the steep side of the hill to see our placement after the first 800. The race unfolded as I expected: Audrey was out well up front. Riley and Lauren were sitting back a pack in great position. Rachel was out well, looking fantastic. Brionne was out hard, pushing Sofia and Kate to stay locked in. Our seven looked amazing in the new uniforms as they used the free energy on the first downhill.
After the first loop, I stood by the road, waiting for the pack to emerge. Brooke rounded the corner first, then the chase pack, and then Audrey's pack. Audrey was in a great spot, working with some of Prospect's mighty pack and looking strong. Riley had moved up a tad closer to Audrey and looked focused. Lauren had the best downhill of this loop. She seemed like she was being pulled down the hill, drawn to her racing buddy Riley. Rachel looked so poised at this point in the race--our freshie was handling the pressure of the big race! She did a great job of responding to my pleas for 10 hard steps. Sofia looked so powerful in her bright, new spikes. I could see that she was stepping up for her team! Kate was so determined as she pushed down the hill for the second time, pulling on Fia's power. And Brionne was only steps away, locked in on Kate's star, pulling hard for her team.
In the final loop, I was holding my breath that we could stick or steal spots. I could see Audrey was laboring a bit, trying to process oxygen through her cold. She was in a great position--she just needed to hang onto the girls around her. I could see that Riley was close to the right pack, but she was going to need to have a Riley finish to secure a spot as a qualifier. I will always bet on Riley's finish, even if she is battling stuffed up sinuses. Lauren was SO locked in, fighting hard through her sickness for her team. I cannot say enough about these three. Starting last week, Lauren fought through her early symptoms to help us not only secure a Sectional berth but also to place 2nd as a team. She kept a positive mindset all week, listening when she needed to rest and pushing when she needed to push. Proud of you, Ginger Snap! When Audrey and Riley started to show symptoms, they were smart about getting rest and keeping their mindsets in the right place. There was no panic or negativity--just focus on the goal. To race 3 miles at an elite level is one thing; to do it with a respiratory infection is quite another. You three are just gritty!
I was proud to see Rachel pressing hard in the last loop, using the downhill wisely and challenging the girls around her. Sofia looked so strong pulling on Rachel, working hard to shorten that gap. Kate looked like the veteran that she is, embracing the last part of her race and looking fierce. And Brionne was bravely working through her eye pain and headache in order to finish strong.
I darted over to the finish and saw the last moments of Audrey's impressive kick. I am SO impressed by her fight in that last mile. She did not give up an inch, pressing through the finish line with that same veteran wisdom of Kate. I saw Riley whipping past girls in the final 400, fighting for another week. Moments later, I saw Lauren's second-best kick to date (I don't know if she will ever top her kick at Deerfield, but I will happily watch her try!), and I was amazed by her scrappiness! She definitely had the worst case of the respiratory bug, and I was simply wowed by her ability to set that nasty cough aside and simply race like she did all season. Rachel fought so hard to the finish, working to hold off challengers and help her team! Fia looked great too, pressing a girl from Glenbrook North and finishing hard. Katelin had a tremendous kick, leaving two Fremd girls behind. And Brionne whipped around the corner only seconds later, finishing powerfully with her perfect sprinter form.
As I tried to weave my way through the fans to get to the finish area, I was simply in awe. Our seven had faced the pressure of the biggest meet of the season and performed like champions. I was SO proud that every single one of the seven stayed focused on a course where it is easy to sleep on the second lap. I was SO proud that every single one of the seven used the course to their advantage. I was SO proud the every single one of the seven listened to our fans and pressed hard to pass other teams. And I was SO proud with the way every single one of the seven finished on empty.
After spending some time to get Brionne (who REALLY finished on empty!) back to the bus, I was surprised to feel the mood at our camp. We had raced SO impressively, and yet the energy did not match that truth. As I started to talk with our runners, I could see that they knew that they had run well...they just wanted more. Well, here are the truths:
Audrey ran an impressive PR on this course, racing 17 seconds faster than last year (and last year was a pretty impressive race). More importantly, she QUALIFIED FOR STATE FOR THE SECOND TIME. No other woman has repeated as a qualifier, and I could not be more proud of this woman! I know that she didn't feel great after her race, but I hope that being a two-time qualifier helped her to feel a bit better. :)
Riley ran a ridiculous last 800, fighting with all of her might to catch anyone in her path. She was within seconds of her LPR, but as I have said all week, times don't matter. She found a way to snag the LAST qualifying spot. She is only the fourth woman in ZBXC history to qualify for State, and I could not be more proud of her effort!
Lauren ran a brave race, fighting through sickness for her fellow stars. She ran 28 seconds faster than she did last year on the same course! I am stunned by her ability to close the way she did, and I know that she will walk through the door that Audrey and Riley opened for her next year. I KNOW IT.
Rachel ran an awesome race as a freshie. I know that she is going to follow Lauren's lead next season! She placed in the top 100 at the most competitive race of the season. She also owned her greatness when we talked post-race. Awesome work, Rose!
Fia was our lone PR-earner today. Not only did she drop 21 seconds, she also said goodbye to the 21s in her last race of the season. Additionally, in her continued story of growth, she dropped 1:11 from last year on the same course. More importantly, Fia found a way to set her nerves aside and simply race for her team today. It was beautiful to see!
Kate had a tremendous last race to her high school XC career. Not only was she within seconds of her LPR, she also set a course PR, all while battling an angry nerve/hip! More importantly, Kate KNEW that she raced hard. She lit up when I went to hug her post-race--she OWNED her greatness! Proud of you for that, Katelin!
Last, but not least, Brionne fought hard for her girls today. Like Kate, she was within seconds of her LPR, despite not feeling great. She has evolved so much as a racer this season, and I look forward to watching her lead our pack next XC season. So proud of you, Bri-Bri!
TOGETHER, these seven placed 10th, our best finish at the Sectional. EVER. We beat our 11th place seed by one. All these numbers are impressive, but I am more proud of HOW we did it. All season, you women faced adversity by leaning into each other. You lifted one another all season long, and it has been beautiful to watch. I am proud about the way you conduct yourselves as people, and I am proud of how you handle the stress of racing. I am thankful for how you have all supported Audrey and Riley so far this week, and I am SO looking forward to our Peoria trip. I love you all, and I am thankful that your names are forever engraved in ZBXC history!
Before I wrap this up, I want to thank all of the bees who supported our journey. Illy, Estrella, Ashley, Melanie, Sheila, Tyler, Alex, Ryan, Cesar, Jimmy, Jarek, Orion, Jay, and Collin: THANK YOU for giving your love to our runners on Saturday! They needed your energy and positivity! Coaches Anderson, Hamilton, and Tolliver--thank you for your guidance and support for these varsity bees all season long! You have helped lift them up when they needed it, held them accountable when they needed it, and cheered their successes when they needed it. Thank you for your tireless enthusiasm for all things ZBXC!
I am thankful that we still have one more week's worth of stories to write. Until then, I will be sleeping easy, knowing that all of you raced without regret!
Week 9 of Racing--Regional
I opened my email this morning to see the official, "Your team made it to Sectionals, so here is all the info" email. I clicked on the box assignments, and we are #7. How fitting, considering it took all seven of you to make Saturday unfold the way it did...heck, the whole season the way it has. In our team huddle before the breakdown, I said that you did not need to do anything extraordinary...you just had to be yourselves. I don't think I explained myself enough in that moment. As a group, you are extraordinary. You feed each other good vibes, and you bring out the best in each other. It is simply a joy to watch.
As you all leaned forward, hearing the whistle and anticipating the gun, Illyana said, "I feel like there is really good energy today." I agreed with her because you all find a way to make the energy right. Despite a stomach in full rebellion. A throat crying for relief. A hip causing chaos. Muscles feeling less than rested. Minds worrying. You all find a way to get your faces and minds and hearts right when the gun comes.
I don't know why, but I didn't even watch you crest the first hill. Maybe it was because I knew our good box assignment would help you all out. Maybe it was because you looked so effortless on the sled hill on Tuesday. Maybe it was because the energy was right, and I wasn't worried. All I know is that as soon as that gun sounded, I ran toward the bridge that marks about a half mile of racing. And as has happened all season, when you all emerged, I was overjoyed by how you all were racing. Audrey had a beautiful start with her eyes on Mia. Riley and Lauren were working in tandem, looking strong. Rachel was placed well, able to see our dynamic duo. Fia had a great start, only a pack beyond the freshie. And Kate and Bri looked awesome within steps of one another.
And no matter where I stood on the course, all I saw was the seven of you working for one another. Pushing past slowpokes on the hill. Taking ten hard steps into the woods. Pressing people who needed pressing. Here's what stood out to me:
Audrey was gutsy as heck today. Despite being sick the night before and cramping in the last mile, she WENT AFTER IT. She challenged Mia and was working on the McHenry leader in mile two. Although she was not able to hold off McHenry's second and Mia in the final mile, SHE KEPT FIGHTING. I am so impressed by her grit, and I am incredibly proud that she was able to earn All-Regional honors for a second time after narrowly missing one of those tiny medals last year (the state really cheaps out on the medals...and I don't know why...there are only five!). Audrey Caitlin, people are going to have to look out next week because if you can race that hard while sick, what is going to happen when you are healthy next Saturday? SO proud of you, girl!
Lauren and Riley REALLY maximized their race together today. These two just ATE the whole race. It was gorgeous to watch them pass people during the second half of the race, beautifully pulling on one another's energy. Riley finally broke away in the last mile, climbing through the people whose legs were trashed by that hill and outkicking SO MANY GIRLS. When I saw her head into the woods for the last time, she was behind Stevenson, Libertyville, and Grant's #1 runners. She took them all and kicked like she always does to secure a 7th place spot. Incredible!
Lauren did not want to let Riley go, so she fought hard and soaked up Riley's energy, pulling ahead of Warren's #2 and Grant's #1. After feeling bus-sick and managing a sore throat, to see Lauren's smile as she headed into the woods the last time, fighting for her team, it was just breathtaking! Such poise from the sophomore! Not only did she run 24 seconds faster than at the JT Invite on the same course (despite the warm temps), she also was 11 places faster than her regional race last year. SO proud of you, Ginger Snap!
Rachel just keeps running hard for this team. Every time I saw her, she reacted to my suggestions. She embodied the idea of 10 hard steps! She had the same locked-in look that she has had for the past several Saturdays, and the outcome was a great finish for our team. She beat Grant's #3-7; she was only seconds behind the winner Warren's #5; she beat Highland Park's #3-7 as well as LZ's; she was only a few clicks behind Libertyville's and Stevenson's#4; she dusted McHenry's #4 as well as Mundelein's; and she beat all of Round Lake. As a freshie. Awesome work, Rose! SO proud of your grit today--more than you know!
Fia stepped back into the #5 role today, and that was clutch for us to place second. Not only did she run an impressive 39 seconds faster than her performance at JT, she also had a great mindset today. On the line, she was calm and ready. During the race, I never saw her doubt herself. She simply fought for her girls, and I am proud of her effort! While her race effort was impressive, I really appreciate that she is trying to do the little things to help her feel right for the race. After the pasta party, she was really worried about the race. Rather than hide that, she talked about it to get it out of her head! She came in early on Saturday to ice that rude ankle and get taped. Little things matter--proud of your dedication, Fia!
Like Riley and Lauren, Brionne and Kate were a powerful duo today. These two put in some serious work last week. They did full-volume of the Tuesday workout, and then they did not back off for the recovery on Wednesday. I should have monitored that day more closely; forgive me for that mistake, chicas. Thursday was more up-tempo for them and was not as restorative as it was for our top runners. Although they backed off on Friday, they were still feeling the effects Saturday. While I don't want to intentionally make you all run through heavy legs, I also need to balance making sure you are all ready for this coming Sectional race and not peaking too soon. These two raced through some heavy legs and fought so hard for their team.
I could see that Brionne was fighting hard the whole way. Despite not feeling her best, she attacked the hill, and she still found that sprinter speed for the final stretch, pulling away from a Grant runner. She has come SUCH a long way from modified miles this summer. The fact that she was able to push so hard today makes me really excited for what she will do at Busse's course with fresh legs. More importantly, she gave Kate a visual the whole race, helping her stay locked in to help the team. Proud of your grit today, Bri-Bri!
Like Bri, Kate looked SO TOUGH on the hill. She also did a great job of using 10 hard steps to push closer to Bri every time I saw her. Her poise on the line and her fight through this race makes me SUPER excited to see what she will do at Busse. Honestly, she is a different runner than she ever has been. The fact that she was able to push through some hip to knee pain in order to help our team speaks volumes about her grit and mindset. Proud of you, Kate!
When the race was over, I was confident that we had advanced. I figured that we were sitting around 4th place. When Anderson put the results in front of me, I gasped out loud. Never have we ever placed 2nd at a Regional--not in my time at least. I asked some ZBXC veterans from before my time, and they do not have a recollection of a finish this strong. We can safely say that we have never done it in the last three decades; that I know for sure. All seven of you helped make that happen. When I revealed that we had advanced, you all seemed...well, disappointed. I think it has to do with the fact that many of you expressed that you think you have more to give. The good news is that my plan for this week is to help you feel confident through our routine, some work on Tuesday, and lots of recovery. The other good news is that on a day when you did not feel like you were able to give an A-effort, you still came together to TAKE SECOND.
Shout out to all of the bees, past and present who shared their love today on that course. It was awesome to hear the cheers from Aniya, Estrella, Liz, Chey, Melanie, Sheila, Ashley, Noah C., Andrew, Jimmy, and Orion everywhere on the course. It was equally awesome to have alums Illyana, Natalie, and Ixa there, sharing their wisdom, love, cookies, and hair ties! All of you represent what it means to be truly linked, and I am so thankful that our seven performed in equal measure to your love. THANK YOU for your time and energy. It matters, and I am grateful!
Here is what I am hoping you will commit to this week:
Week 8 of Racing
This was a goofy week: No school on Monday, testing Wednesday, and lots of chilly weather plus rain. Despite all that, we had an awesome mile time trial on Tuesday followed by some Paavo 400s. That day showed me that we were ready to have a good day on Saturday.
Saturday--Conference @ Lake Forest West:
It was frosty when we arrived at Lake Forest, so I didn't know what to expect for course conditions. After all the rain of the week, the ground was in great shape, with only one muddy spot by the bridge. I was excited to see what we could do in these chilly and windy conditions. Our team was blessed with the presence of several alums: Illy brought super-cute hair ties that everyone sported as well as Rice Krispie Treats for post-race. Natalie, Michael, and Collin were also in attendance to offer their love and cheers! It felt great to have all this support for our races.
Our Varsity Seven were up first for the women, and they looked fantastic in pink (as always). As a group, we got out hard in this smaller race. I spotted our pink sleeves running along the road in the first loop. By the mile, I was really happy with our placement. Audrey was in 4th looking strong. Lauren was in the low teens with a speedy first mile. Riley was only a pack behind her looking reserved and ready. Rachel was our 4th bee, looking fantastic and moving up. Fia was in 5th with Kate hanging onto the same pack in 6th. Brionne was only a few seconds back as our 7th runner. I didn't get splits because I was too focused on how well our team was racing. I jetted across the parking lot to catch our bees in the second mile by the tennis courts. I was so excited to see Audrey working on Izzy from Lake Forest and looking strong. Riley had moved up A TON and was looking hungry to catch more sleepy runners. Lauren looked so strong, pushing along the parking lot and challenging people and fighting hard. Rachel was not far behind, racing hard and pushing to catch people. And then our pack of three made me smile--Fia, Kate, and Brionne were pushing each other to make moves in the final parts of the race. It was honestly beautiful to see them working so well together, switching up the lead and pushing the pace.
I really want to emphasize this point--I DO NOT CARE what order our seven come in, so long as they are beating other teams. Our mission is to catch as many runners as possible. If we get caught up in thinking about certain people being certain numbers, than we have lost our mission. Now, I realize that TYPING this is easy to do, but because we all have egos, it's easy to start to see a certain position as one's own. Great teams set ego aside and focus on the team's purpose at this point in the season: to advance. Let me offer a story from the way back as an example. I started XC the summer before my sophomore year. Looking back, I realize that I was clueless...I just did what people told me. The team had won State the year before, but they graduated four runners from that team. The three returners had big expectations, but I didn't know anything different, you know? So I just did workouts and followed their lead. When the season started, I ran fast enough to be the 7th runner after a few dual meets. One Saturday, we were at the Rockford Invite. I was running in my 7th spot, and I caught a teammate who was a junior--Jen. As we were coming down a hill, my dad yelled, "You are cutting your stride--GO!" I realized that I had slowed down to Jen's pace rather than just running my own race. So I went! I took off and finished ahead of Jen by 15 seconds. After the race, I went to find everyone to go cool down. I found Jen talking with her bestie, and I overheard her say, "First Liz caught me, and then Heather. And now Chris? What if someone else catches me? I won't be on Varsity anymore." Hearing that got me in my head. I really looked up to Jen, and I didn't want her to feel bad. So what did I do (subconsciously)? I stayed behind Jen for the rest of the season. Despite my dad's pleas to run my own race...Despite my coach telling me that I looked like I was holding back...I just let her beat me. I never consciously thought to do so in a race, but I also never challenged myself to go harder.
The crazy part is that when we made it to State, my coach asked Jen and I to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the team. In every big meet, box assignments are decided randomly. We had been given box 2. For those of you who have been to Detweiller, you know that box 2 is on the inside of the first turn. It's a tricky spot because the whole field is bearing down on that turn, and people on the inside can get stuck on the turn. My coach devised a plan based on how our team raced. Usually our top five ran in a pack, and then Jen and I raced together further back. He asked the two of us to go out much harder than we were used to in order to "guard" Heather, who was short and tiny. We basically would go out at her pace on her right side and "block" people from pushing her around so that she could stay with the pack. This mission made me feel important: if I could help Heather stay with the pack, we might be able to earn a first-place team trophy. When the gun sounded, Jen and I did our job beautifully. We kept our arms wide and kept Heather in the pack. As we came around the turn, I watched our pack move up the hill and I felt a heaviness in my legs as Jen and I tried to maintain the pace. I fell behind her a bit for a while, but I felt good that I had succeeded in my mission. But in the last loop, I felt a second wind. I was catching people like crazy as I climbed the hill for the last time. In the chute, I was only one person behind Jen. I tapped her on the shoulder and smiled, telling her that I almost caught her. She looked at me and said, "You have so much energy left--why didn't you pass me?" I didn't say anything because I realized once again that I was holding back. I let myself get complacent with the fact that I had protected Heather, and I hadn't raced hard for the other parts of the race. She then said, "Don't ever do that again. What if you could've caught someone that would make a difference in the team score? What if we don't win because you held back?" That happened DECADES ago, but I can still feel that shame of not giving my all to my team. Why did I let myself run slower than I really could? Luckily, I don't think that even my best race would have made a difference against the very strong Palatine girls who won.
I share this story because as we head into the next few weeks, I want to make sure that none of you make the mistakes that I did. The only thought that should be in your head at any point in the race is, "Who am I catching to help my team?" Think about how many times someone has said this during shout outs: "Seeing you ahead of me really helped my race!" If you are catching people, you are helping whoever can see you from behind. Let that be your inspiration when the going gets tough!
Ok, so back to the finish of the Varsity race! I zipped back to the finish area to see Audrey driving her arms beautifully in that last stretch. She did an amazing job of using that cue to help her turnover. She finished 3rd--the highest finish for a Zee-Bee in my tenure! Congrats on an awesome race, Audrey! And congrats on earning All-Conference for 4 years straight! Riley had a phenomenal last mile. Not only did she catch a TON of girls, she nearly caught Izzy from Lake Forest. This is a great example of how one race can influence another: Audrey pushed after the second mile and passed Izzy. When she did so, Izzy's body language changed--she looked defeated. Although Riley ran out of real estate to catch her, Audrey's move made it a possibility! It was great to see Riley looking like herself again--tenacious throughout and fast at the finish! So proud of you for earning All-Conference honors for a second time and for earning a new Lifetime PR. She ran that previous PR at Sectionals last year. The fact that she is running that fast three weeks ahead of schedule is really exciting. Way to go, Ri! Lauren was our third bee, and what a great race she had today! Not only did she push the pace early to help Riley, she also closed well. This is the second time that Lauren has been All-Conference! Awesome work! Rachel was our next finisher, and she, too, earned a new LPR. Last week, she had a phenomenal race, and she bested it today. While the time drop is exciting, HOW she did it is more important. Every time I saw her, she was pressing to catch another runner. Her finish was impressive because she did not back down when a Stevenson girl challenged her. She slipped into the finish just a second ahead the girl. This mindset is what we need! Awesome work, Rachel! Brionne was our fifth bee today, and what a race she had! Not only did she work well with her teammates, she also had an impressive finish. I can't remember exactly how many people she caught, but I can see how close all the times are in the list. Approaching the last stretch, I implored our pack of three to pass people--I said someone had to step up! What I love is that Brionne's finish pulled Kate and Fia along with her. Awesome leadership, Bri-Bri! That risk taking earned Brionne a new lifetime PR; she dropped 33 seconds from Sterling, and she said goodbye to the 21s. Kate was only seconds behind, kicking hard and edging out a Lake Forest runner. What a great team race today, Katelin! Proud of you! Fia was only seconds behind her, kicking hard and earning another LPR by four seconds. Fia's early pushes in the race put Brionne and Kate in the positions that they were in for the finish. That matters for our team--awesome work, Fia! Overall, these seven earned the best team finish we have ever had in my time at ZB: Third as a team! I am really excited for all seven of these runners. Way to go!
Our Frosh/Soph Crew was up next, and I could not wait to see what they would do. They ran SO WELL at Lakes the week before, so I was stoked to see them live! At the starting line, I could tell that there were some nerves, but our bees took a deep breath and were off! Coming out of the first loop, I was excited to see Aniya looking so strong. Sophie was only seconds behind her. I was proud of her for taking a risk to go out hard because her best race of the season was at Warren when she had a big first mile. She looked great in Kelsey's spikes, too! Cheyenne was our next bee, looking super strong and focused. It was impossible to miss Juliana's bright spikes only seconds behind Chey, pulling on her strength. Our pack of Anahi, Janalise, Nathaly, and Emily were only moments behind Juliana, helping one another along through that first stretch. All four looked positive and ready to make moves! This was the first race in a while where Jana's form looked even (yay!) and Anahi's stride was wide open (also yay!). Awesome work, you two! Only a few moments later, Yaya came powering over the bridge, working toward her teammates. Despite fighting sickness all week, Eva bravely followed Yaya. I was so impressed that she was able to fight through her race today--way to be gritty, Eva! Melanie and Sheila pushed to the mile next, both looking strong and keying off one another. Cici was only steps behind, bravely working on her goal for the day. And finally, after a stitches-induced hiatus, Ashley rounded out our group with a smile on her face as her family cheered for her!
Heading out of the woods and into the second loop, our bees swarmed to help one another. Sophie caught up to Aniya so that they could press together. Jana and Anahi packed up with Juliana to work through the tennis courts, with Nat only steps behind. Emily and Yaya paired up to share the work with Sheila eyeing them for inspiration. Mel and Cici pulled on Sheila's surge, working to keep her in sight.
In the last loop, we had some amazing finishes that made my heart sing. Sofie looked awesome, nearly catching a Stevenson runner in the last steps. She ran a new lifetime PR and kissed the 24s goodbye! What a great way to end her freshman year! Aniya was our second finisher looking strong in her kick, too. No one would have known that her hip was bugging her based on her race. Proud of your growth this season, Aniya. Cheyenne, Janalise, and Anahi finished nearly as a pack and looked amazing in the homestretch. Chey was close to her PR from last week while Jana hit her goal of getting back to the 26s after battling an irritated hip for weeks. Awesome work you two! Today we finally got to see what Anahi could do. After weeks of battling ear infections and colds, she finally showed us who she really is with an impressive new LPR of 26:14. She dropped a crazy 5:17 to do so! Honestly, I wish she had another week to show off her healthy skills! Proud of your gutsy race today, Ani! Nathaly was our next finisher with a big drop, too. She really used the course and her teammates to help push herself to a new LPR of 26:45, a drop of 3:02! Whew! Way to go, freshie! Juliana finished next for us with a big day. She pushed herself so hard that her stomach rebelled afterward--that's finishing on empty for sure. She ran a new LPR, dropping 1:26 to do so. Proud of you, Juliana! Emily finished next, only a few seconds off her PR from last week. She had a strong finish, and she really helped Yaya with her race, too. Awesome work, Em! Yaya was only a few seconds behind, looking strong in her finish. She dropped a sweet 1:50 to earn a new LPR and say goodbye to the 30s. Eva finished next with a gutsy performance. Although it wasn't a PR, it was definitely a statement about her grit. Nice job, Eva! Sheila was not far behind her, running an impressive second half of her race by catching people. Mel was our next bee, running within seconds of her season PR. Great job with your kick, Mel-Mel! Cici was not far behind Mel, working hard into the wind and kicking hard at the end. Proud of you, Cici! Ashley was our final runner in the race. She set aside her nerves to run a BIG new LPR. She dropped 7:17 despite being sidelined after her stitches. Way to be mentally tough and to finish your season strong, Ash!
My hope is that this group is hungry now for more success. I would love to see you all to keep training with us next week (and beyond)and perhaps during Polar Running if you aren't doing a winter sport. And for sure, I'd love to see you all out for track & field in the spring! For sure I want to see your faces on the bus for Regionals on Saturday--we need your positivity and energy to help us extend our season!
Open Women: This was the final race of the day, and ALL of our bees swarmed the course to help Estrella and Liz feel the love! It was beautiful to run to a spot on the course and see packs of bees already there to cheer. :) Estrella and Liz were a little nervous on the line, but they checked that emotion and turned it into greatness. They got out great, and were within steps of each other coming out of the first loop with Liz pushing the pace. I loved seeing that teamwork, and I knew that they would help each other PR. In the tennis courts loop, Estrella took the lead, pulling Liz along through that tough part of the race. It was beautiful to watch these two trade off the work and help one another shine! They both had awesome kicks, and their hard work paid off. Estrella ran a lifetime PR, besting her outstanding Conference performance from last fall by 12 seconds! Woo-hoo, Estrella! So proud of you! Way to leave it all out there! :) Liz was not far behind, running a great race and dropping a crazy 47 seconds from her breakthrough performance at Lakes last week. These two took all the positivity from the day and channelled it into their own races. Awesome work, bees!
Overall, it felt good to have the team reunited after last week, and it definitely felt great to see everyone in such great spirits. In the gym for awards, I appreciated everyone's energy in supporting our All-Conference runners. I also loved the cheers as Estrella was honored for the Sportsmanship Award. Of course I want you all to be as fast as possible, but what I care about more is that you work on being good humans who look out for one another. Estrella embodies that to a tee! Since her first day this season, she has been looking out for newbees in her understated way, quietly showing drills and lunges or doing what I call an "Estrella Walk-by." This is when Estrella walks by me and casually mentions that I "might want to check on _______". She sees when people need support, and she is not afraid to speak up about it. At meets, especially at Lakes, she has helped guide everyone to greatness. She really just does the little things that matter, like grab clothes I am glad we had the chance to recognize her contributions to the team in front of the whole Conference. We love you, Estrella!
I look forward to voting for MVP and Leadership on Monday as well as having one last session of links with the whole team. Before I sign out, I invite you to check out this article from the Daily Herald about our meet. Notice anything that is GLARINGLY missing? Let's use that omission as fuel for this week and beyond.
Here are the names of people who have earned their links so far:
Jay from Jared
Aniya from Lauren, Riley & Audrey
Rachel from Katelin, Coach D, Coach Hamilton, and Aniya
Eva from Cici
Noah C. from Caleb
Reilly from Noah C., Lauren
Caleb from Cheyenne
Brionne from Audrey, Riley, Aniya, Rachel
Cici from Mel, Eva
Riley from Lauren
Janalise from Estrella
Eric from Ryan, Adam
Andrew from Antonio
Adam from Ryan
Ryan from Noah C.
Estrella from Aniya
Katelin from Lauren, Aniya, Brionne, Rachel
Week 7 of Racing
Tuesday @ Libertyville with Lake Zurich
This course is no joke. While it is beautiful, it requires full attention in order to race well. After a week without racing, I was wondering how we would respond against great competition and a challenging course. I was so pleased with the way you all stepped up!
Coming off the first mini-loop, I was excited to see everyone using the course to their advantage. Every single bee was working with teammates and cruising down the trail toward Bertha (that big ol' hill by the river). I liked the aggressiveness I was witnessing, too. We were really racing, and I was happy to see it! There was a lot of great teamwork today: Rachel and Fia pushed each other through the first mile; Janalise, Sofie, Liz, and Anahi had great packwork in the first half; and Estrella and Janalise worked well together in the second half. Even when people were not side-by-side, they were pulling on each other for inspiration. I was really happy to hear about great kicks, too.
Overall, I was pleased with the way we raced today. Although we were bested by Libertyville and Lake Zurich, (we were without Riley because she was being smart and listening to her body) we still competed well. As I mentioned before, this is not a fast course, but we still had some big PRs. Congrats to Estrella for a new season PR. She looked fantastic today because she used the course to her advantage and really pulled on her teammates. She dropped an impressive 48 seconds, which signals to me that she is ready to rip a really fast race on a flatter course. Awesome work, Senior! We had FIVE lifetime PRs today, too. Liz dropped 28 seconds and looked incredible today. She is really starting to "get" XC racing. She also had the cutest "hidden" socks today, while Cici won for best "seen" socks. Nathaly had a huge breakthrough today. Not only did she bid farewell to the 30s, she also dropped a whopping 3:16! Whew! She did it by trusting her training in the first mile and really racing the people around her while using the course. Awesome improvement, Nat! Proud of you! Anahi said "bye" to the 30s, also. She Did an impressive job of pressing in the second half of the race, rolling downhill with a nice open stride! Way to drop 2:28 for a new PR, Anahi! So cool! Yazaira also joined the 20 team, kicking hard to sneak under 30 for the first time. She really embraced the course today and dropped 2:42 today! Sweet racing, Yaya! :) Finally, Cici kicked the 40s to the curb, dropping 2:28 for a new LPR. Great job with your kick, too, Cici! Additionally, Sheila raced for the first time and looked fantastic! Nice work, Sheila! There were also a few other standout races today: Shout out to Audrey for taking a risk and going after Brooke today--I like you moxie; props to Lauren for going with Audrey's flow and just attacking the race; Janalise did a great job working through a tight hip and just competing! Overall, I was really happy with the day, and I'm glad it concluded with some fun at the park. It's important to seek joy whenever it presents itself!
Friday @ Lakes
After a scheduling mess-up, our F/S and JV women headed to Lakes on Friday after the pep rally. I was bummed about the change because it meant that I would not get to watch the race, but Estrella reported that there was A LOT to be excited about. Thankfully, this meet is recorded, so I was able to see everyone's finish. You can check out the video here! I saw that Liz and Sofie worked together for a great race! Liz dropped an impressive 2:35. I am so impressed with this drop! Proud of these two for helping each other race hard--nice work! Only seconds later, Estrella and Chey zoomed through the finish. How cool to watch them work in tandem and finish so strong! Estrella dropped 1:25 from Tuesday's SPR, earning a new SPR today and rapidly approaching her lifetime. What a great race, Senior! Chey looked awesome and reported that her hip felt great! She dropped a ridiculous 2:18 from her impressive race at Warren to earn a new LPR. So proud of you, Chey! What a great breakthrough! Our next bee was Janlaise, and she was working hard against a Lakes runner. She looked fantastic coming through the finish line, pushing to challenge the girl to the last moment. Great work, Jana! Emily was our next finisher, and wow did she race hard! She skipped the 30s and ran an LPR of 29:12, dropping an impressive 1:54. For two weeks now, her knee has been bothering her, but she overcame that obstacle to put together an impressive race! Proud of you, Em! Her sis was not far behind, shaving off two more seconds for ANOTHER LPR this week. Whew! I know Eva will ditch the 30s next week at Conference. Awesome race, Eva! Sheila had a great finish, dropping 2:10 from her debut on Tuesday at Libertyville. Nice work, Sheila! After being sick and struggling with her shins, Tati looked fantastic today. She dropped an incredible 5:10 from her previous best, looking smooth into the finish. Nice work, Tati! Mel was our next finisher. She looked open and strong coming into the home stretch. After also being sick, she dropped nearly 3 minutes from her previous best. Way to push yourself, Mel! In her racing debut, Syneiysha had a thrilling finish, pushing a runner all the way to the finish line. I love that kind of grit--nice work, Syneiysha! Cici was our final runner, and what a race she had today! After smashing her previous LPR on Tuesday, Cici came to compete, dropping 5:43 today to earn a new PR of 33:29. Whew! So impressive, Cici! Will she drop into the 29s for Conference? I believe she can!
Overall, I am so thrilled for this group. You all came to compete, and you worked together to make big things happen. I'm so proud of you all for stepping up and focusing despite a hectic week! Way to go, bees!
Saturday @ Sterling
The weather was gorgeous as we headed west to Sterling. The drive was filled with blue skies, puffy clouds, fun sing-alongs, and great memories. When we arrived at the course to practice, I was happy to hear our bees talking about the course positively: they felt like it flew by, and they loved the mix of trees and park that helped make the miles feel like feet. At dinner and our team meeting, I felt good vibes, and I hoped that a good night's sleep would help produce a fun day of racing on Saturday.
These women played no games on Saturday. Aniya starting things off right in the F/S race. She looked assertive on the line, and she got out well, tucking in with a group of girls from Rochelle in purple. When she emerged from the woods, I knew it was going to be a great race for Aniya. She has been so strong all season, and she just looked ready to embrace the experience. She worked the uphill well, and her mile split was speedy--her first time well-under 8 in a race! As I watched her slip back into the woods, she used the downhill to challenge the pack she was in. When she emerged again, she had put distance on that pack and was looking strong up the bus line. I watched her behind the start, challenging another girl in black. It was so cool to watch Aniya fight for a full three miles. When she emerged for the last time, she squared her shoulders and turned to that great sprinter form. All her efforts turned into an impressive outcome. She didn't worry about time while she was racing, she simply raced. And she ended up with nearly a minute drop to earn a new LPR of 24:32. Congrats on such an impressive day, Aniya!
Varsity had no choice but to follow Aniya's energy. They got out perfectly, following Audrey's perfect tangent to the woods. When I saw the first runner emerge from the woods, she was still in the shadows. I was hoping it was Audrey, but I wasn't sure until she popped into the sunshine. Audrey looked so impressive when she drove up the hill. She was taking a risk to take the lead, and she had already put 30-40 meters on the next runner. To take the lead in an invite is a statement: Audrey said--through her actions--that she beelieved in her fitness and her training. It was beautiful to behold! Only seconds later, the beauty multiplied because Riley and Lauren were running in tandem in the teens. They looked comfortable and strong! And then only seconds later, I found Rachel and Fia only feet apart as they climbed the hill. They, too, looked assertive and controlled! I could see Kate and Brionne's pink sleeves as soon as I whipped my camera around. These two were running tall and strong, just like their teammates. I was so impressed by how close together we all were, and I knew we had a chance to do something great as a team yet again this season.
I was just around the corner from the mile, and I could tell that everyone was running fast. Audrey was sub-6 while Riley and Lauren were right at the 6 mark. The remainder of our bees were ALL sub-7 for the first time all season! I was so proud that EVERYONE was taking a risk today. Those black uniforms were bringing out the real runner in everyone! As we headed into the woods for the second mile, Audrey had extended her lead a bit while Lauren and Riley were moving up in the pack. Rachel was making some moves, as was Kate. I was really happy about our placement. I held my breath that everyone would stay awake in the woods, knowing that Aniya was by the Bezerker tree to keep everyone honest. Coming out of the woods, I could see that everyone was so locked in. Audrey looked so calm while Riley and Lauren looked HUNGRY--they were challenging the very strong runners from Glenwood Chatham. Rachel came out looking fantastic, as did Fia! I was really proud to watch these two challenge people on the climb to the starting line. Kate was having the race of her life, closing the gap between her and Fia. And Brionne looked so in-the-moment as she opened up down the little gulley and used that energy to launch herself up the climb. I watched all seven bees push behind the start line and then slip into the trees before emerging for one last tree loop. I could see that the Glenwood girls would probably not make a play for Audrey in the last loop, but I could also see the sophomore from PV starting to make a move. When I told Audrey to be ready, she looked stoic and responded by pushing hard into the woods. At this point, Lauren was doing her best impression of Jenna, smiling huge and moving into second for us. I could see that Riley was hurting, and I wasn't sure of the source. Here's what made me happy, though: Lauren was stepping up to help, and Riley was showcasing her signature grit--she was not going to give up an inch in the woods. Rachel made several moves, using the downhill to try to fix the split between her and Lauren. By this point, Kate had closed on Fia and was stepping up senior-style. Fia was fighting hard to hang onto Kate, and Brionne was working the downhill with that beautiful long stride.
I raced over to the final 350ish mark, and I saw Audrey emerge by herself. I could see that the PV runner had moved up, though, and I knew it was going to take everything Audrey had to hold her off. Audrey fought so hard, but the PV runner bested her in the final 20 meters. Audrey's risk-taking paid off: she ran a HUGE season PR and was within SIX seconds of her lifetime--a mark she earned at State last year. This race was HUGE. Not only is she WAY ahead of schedule (last year, she ran 18:13 at Sterling), she also is racing so aggressively. I cannot get enough of it! I love the confidence, and I can't wait to see her at Conference! SO PROUD OF YOU, AUDREY! Lauren was our second finisher with a HUGE day also. She has been so consistently BA this season, that I didn't realize just how big of a PR this was until I sat down to write. Last year, Lauren's PR was set at our home course at Conference--19:25. This season, she has been running consistently in the mid-19s, but today was different: She ran a GIANT Lifetime PR of 18:38--dropping 59 seconds from her previous season best. Like Audrey's, Lauren's time came from great racing. She let herself be in the race, eating up opponents in the second half and finishing SO strong. Lauren Kelly Hamilton--way to go, sophomore! Riley was not far behind as our third finisher. I was panicked when I saw the look on her face when she came out of the woods. Was it her hip? Her neck? She was so smart this week--listening to her body. Had something acted up again? Post-race, she reported that the race was hard. She had trouble breathing, and her stomach was not feeling great. Here's the great news, though; on Riley's worst day, she is a 19:01 runner, placing 14th and doing everything in her power to fight for her team. This woman has NO QUIT in her, and it makes me teary-eyed to think about how hard she fought today. Proud of you, Ricat! Our 4th finisher was our freshie Rachel. She had such an amazing race today, too! When she emerged from the woods, and I told her she was in the 19s, I swear that her eyes nearly popped out of her head! She kicked so hard for that final stretch, finishing in 30th overall. She did such a great job of being in the race today, pulling on opponents and working the course to her advantage. Her new LPR of 20:12 (a 43 second drop) is the result of her great racing. So proud of you for being in the moment, Rach! Kate rounded out our scoring 5 today, and I'm so proud of her race! Last year, Katelin had a big breakthrough at Sterling; this year, it was a different kind of breakthrough. What I loved about her race today was that she looked both fearless and in love. She has been feeling her progress this season, and I love to see it! In the last mile, Katelin simply passed passed passed. Her final kick was so impressive, too! All of this added up to a new LPR of 20:49--her first time out of the 21s! Katelin--I am so proud of your ability to set aside mental obstacles in order to perform for your team. Your maturity is what I always want in a captain. Today's race really made a statement, and I'm so proud of you! Fia popped out of the woods just behind Kate. Last year, Sofia was a different runner--she was still timid and learning what she could do. At Sterling, she ran SO well, finishing in 22:57--a huge PR at the time. Today, she was in a different space! She took a risk in that first mile, going out faster than she ever has! I never once saw that negative look after that mile. She kept hanging on, using the downhills and pulling on Katelin's strength. She finished in 21:12, a 23 second drop from her previous lifetime from the Dawson Invite. Fia keeps making moves in the right direction, and this race was a big step--proud of you, Fia-Fia! Brionne was our #7 today with a huge race, despite a side stitch. Like Fia, she let herself take a risk in the first mile, and she used the course to her advantage throughout in order to earn a big LPR of 21:33, a drop of 33 seconds. This is her first time in the 21s, yet it is not surprising. Brionne has worked so hard this season, and she really let herself be in the race the whole time today, even when side cramp tried to derail her. I am impressed by her push in the final 350--way to go, Bri! Overall, we raced HARD today, and it was simply a joy to watch! That focus earned us a 3rd place finish behind two very talented teams--Pleasant Valley and Glenwood Chatham. I am excited to see where we go from here! Thanks for the fun weekend, bees!
This week, let's focus on the basics: sleeping consistently, fueling for greatness, taking care of practice, and soaking up every moment!
Week Five of Racing
We had the luxury of a week of training without an NSC meet on Tuesday, and we took full advantage. I was so impressed by how everyone handled the 1000s plus time trial mile. I know that workout is no joke, and you all rose to the occasion--awesome work!
Saturday @ JT Invite: Perfect, cool weather. Excellent competition. Firm course. What else could we ask for?
F/S Women: Most of our bees competed in this race today. Fia ran in this race today, and she did a great job of racing! She finished in 8th and earned a medal today. She got out well in 6:53--an impressive split considering this mile requires you to attack "the hill" twice. More importantly, I like that she had positive body language today, and she actually smiled after her race. Let's face it: our sport is HARD. It's important to find enjoyment in racing! Aniya was our second finisher with a sweet new LPR. She dropped 27 seconds on this more challenging course by really focusing on racing hard. Every time I saw her, she was working on passing someone or using the course to her advantage. So fun to watch! Lil Sophie was our third finisher. She moved up considerably mid race, as evidenced by her really strong second mile: 8:49, 8:48, 9:01. Nice work, Sofie! Janalise was not too far behind, running a strong race despite her shins acting up a bit. She looked focused throughout the race and really did a nice job using the downhill sections of the course. Nice work, Jana! Nathaly had a big breakthrough today. Not only is she out of the 30s, but she also had the right mindset today. Positive, working the course, and pulling her teammates along, Nathaly really stepped into racin! She did a great job of getting out hard (9:16), maintaining (10:35), and pushing in the last mile (9:54). Awesome work, and congrats on the new LPR of 29:47! Eva worked with Nat for a good part of the race, also getting out faster than usual in 9:17--impressive! She dropped 1:18 to earn a new LPR of 30:12. She is only seconds away from joining Eva in the sub-30 club! :) Nice racing, Eva! Emily was our next bee, running tough despite a sore knee. Like her sis, she dropped some significant time (1:35) to earn a new LPR, too! She also had a great kick today--way to go, Em! Anahi was with her for a good chunk of the race and also earned a new LPR of 31:31. Proud of you, Ani! Mel had a strong race today, getting out strong and working on keeping her stride open. She earned a new season PR by 3:35--proud of your progress, Mel! Cici had a great race today, too. Not only did she drop 2:17 for a new LPR, but she also had a great kick. Great work, Cici! Our final racer was Ashley. This was her first race, and she overcame her nerves in order to face this course. I am proud of her for her perseverance this season--I know that she is going to continue to improve! Overall, this group is making great progress. Keep believing in yourselves, newbees!
Varsity Women: We did not have a full team for this race, but that's ok. This is the point in the season where we need to be mindful of the messages our bodies are sending. since Varsity has a longer season, we have to take good care of little issues before they become big. Kate, Rachel, and Brionne made smart choices and let their bodies rest so that they are ready to help the team in the second half of the season. That left Audrey, Riley, and Lauren to represent us on the line today. I asked these bees to use the opportunity to feel like they owned the course since we will be back at Grant for the regional. These three took that task seriously and had a fantastic day! They all got out well and wasted no time competing. Audrey looked good emerging from the woods the first time, sitting in 3rd. She did a great job of staying patient and working on the Lake Forest runner ahead of her. Rather than being satisfied with 3rd, she kept working and caught LF in the woods of the final lap, then extended her lead in her kick. This was a huge moment! Audrey has always been tough, but being mentally keyed in during the hardest part of the race requires hard work, and today, she really showed her grit. SO PROUD of your work today, Audge! Riley had the same kind of tough race today. She got out a bit harder than usual, and she swapped spots with a runner from Grant as well as Carmel several times. Rather than roll over, Riley stayed patient and made moves in the last mile, pushing ahead of these two in the final 400 despite their best efforts. Riley's kick looked gorgeous as usual. I'm really excited to see her racing so well and looking so confident! Awesome work, Ricat! Finally, Lauren's race was simply beautiful today! Like Riley, she worked hard to stay closer to Ri, and she ran very even. More importantly, Lauren RACED HARD today. I can't even name how many times she changed the lead with the Carmel and LF runners around her. What's important is that she never gave up on herself--she kept fighting to stay as close to Riley as possible. Her strength today was cycling quickly up those hills--she looked so strong each time! Proud of you, Lauren! These three were so much fun to watch--proud of all of your efforts today! Congrats to all three of you for earning medals, too!
Although all of today was fun, two moments stand out the most. First, after cheering during the Varsity race, I headed back to the tent, and NO ONE was there. Everyone was out cheering and having fun with each other. That's what XC is all about! Second, we had some time before awards since we did not have anyone in the open race today. It was good to see everyone talking and goofing around while we waited. Of course running is our focus, but seeing those bonds being created is so important.
Special shout out to Rachel and Estrella for grabbing splits today. And thanks to Cheyenne for parking in the woods during the Frosh/Soph race. Not many fans hang out back there, and having a friendly voice helped everyone stay focused. Also, shout out to Chey for asking to do links this coming week. Plan on Thursday so that we can celebrate the race on Wednesday, too.
Before I go, I'd like to invite you to check out a couple of items:
1. Saturday, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya broke his own world record in the marathon in Berlin. He ran 2:01.9 for 26.2 miles. For you math nerds, that's an average of 4:37 PER MILE. People used to think that the 2-hour barrier was impossible, but Kipchoge is such an inspiration. His slogan IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING is such an important concept to consider as we head into the second half of the season. What I love about him is his mindset. He thinks about what is possible rather than clouding his mind with negativity. You can check out the last 10 minutes of his race here. Watch his form, his body language, and his facial expressions!
2. I want to continue the conversation about fueling for better running and a happier body. Here are few principles that are important for happy eating:
Week 4 of Racing!
Tuesday @ Waukegan with Mundelein:
In our second NSC Meet (NSC means North Suburban Conference--there are 8 schools in our conference: Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Mundelein, Stevenson, Warren, Waukegan, and us! For our Tuesday meets, we only race against these schools, while we race anybody at invites on Saturdays), we returned to Waukegan's challenging course. This course provides several opportunities that I love for toughening us up as a team: hills, switchbacks, and lack of fans. You really have to be mentally locked in on this course!
I asked our Varsity to work on some race tactics for this meet. They were to run the first mile as a pack, coming through around 7:04, then fartlek mile 2 while attempting to stick together, then run the last mile hard. I was SO excited to see our pack roll over the bridge just after the mile, running in pairs and looking SO POWERFUL. Excellent execution of the first goal! It was hard to see the fartlek section, but I could tell that we did that work, because we moved up considerably on Waukegan's lone runner (Emily--our new BFF!) and Mundelein's top three. Another goal accomplished! I knew the last goal would be tough--this course is unforgiving in the switchbacks, the weather was toasty, the bugs were in full force, and Mundelein's lead runner Praise had a big lead. I was so happy to see our top seven continue to press in that last mile, cutting down the distance to that first Mundelein runner and securing the overall team win. Overall, I was pretty stoked about the way we executed our plan today--this was a big TEAM win! I hope that our pack felt the power of each other as they rolled through the mile and that they will take that confidence into upcoming meets.
Since most of our remaining runners have very little XC racing experience, I asked them to simply work on beating their previous time on the course. We had A LOT of growth in this race, despite the weather! Lil' Sophie A. dropped a whopping 5:54 by using the downhill segments to zoom! Aniya dropped 51 seconds, looking so much stronger in the process! Estrella was so much more powerful in this race, dropping an impressive 2:25! Emily had an outstanding day, too, pushing to drop 1:52! Eva had a big breakthrough, dropping 3:20! Awesome job working on that goal, bees!
Aniya led this pack, pulling on the energy of the Varsity pack and really looking aggressive on the downhills. Totally locked in! :) Liz stepped up as a leader in this race, helping Sophie A. stay positive and helping her to drop so much time. Nice work, Liz! At the mile, Emily, Janalise, and Estrella were working as a powerful trio. Although they would lose Emily in the switchbacks, Estrella and Janalise did a great job of pushing each other. Tati fought through some sore shins to have a really strong race, pulling on their lead. Eva was not far behind, keeping Tati in her sights. Anahi has been so tough the last week--after having a cold and some ear issues, she fought hard despite not feeling 100%. Proud of you, Anahi. Cici did an excellent job of keeping her stride more open--she showed it off on the bridge and coming down the switchbacks. Great job, Cici! Overall, this group showed a lot of progress--nice work!
In the final standings, we beat Waukegan on a forfeit since they did not have 5 runners, the minimum in order to count in team scoring. Remember--the place of first five finishers from a team is added up to create the team score. We also beat Mundelein, although I suspect they might be tougher in an invite, as their coach revealed that they, too were running a workout of sorts. I was happy with these results, and I cannot wait for us to race at Warren on Saturday!
Saturday--Bill Dawson Invite @ Warren:
What an outstanding day of racing! This was our first invite that separated our frosh/soph squad from the open/JV bees. While I'm sure Chey and Liz did not appreciate the separation, I like that our big freshie squad had the chance to run in their own race. This group definitely enjoyed the best conditions of the day: the breeze was blowing, the sun receded behind the cloud cover, and the temperatures were still moderate. Our bees seized the opportunity and raced hard today!
F/S Women: Our bees got out well in the first 800, with Aniya leading the way. I love that she took a risk today and went out faster than usual in the first mile. After Thursday's workout, she knew that she was ready to go faster, and so she gave herself a chance to PR by taking the first mile sub-8. It paid off! She ran a BIG lifetime PR, dropping 49 seconds and looking fantastic in her kick--way to go, sophomore! Sofie A. was actually our first finisher for the day, and like Aniya, she also had a big race. She pushed herself out of her comfort zone, running faster for 3 miles than she did for 2.5 at Parkside! That is a HUGE improvement. She did it by running a pretty even race: 7:40, 7:57, 8:27. Her final time was 24:05--an impressive improvement, and almost touching the 23s. Nice work, Sofie! Janalise had a breakthrough race today, too. She was smart and budgeted her energy more evenly through the race, but she still took a risk and got out harder than Waukegan: 7:57, 8:58, 8:51. Now that she knows she can go out harder (in the 7s) and not die off, I anticipate that her second and third miles will be better in the next race! She dropped over a minute from her debut at our course two weeks ago--nice work, Jana! I already bragged about Aniya--she was our 3rd runner for the day--. Cheyenne was behind her, fighting hard through some physical pain. I know, I know...everyone deals with pain during the race, but her hip has been rude for a couple of weeks now, and then the solution (her wrap) was also causing some chaos #chaffing. What I love is that Chey fought through all of this because she was determined to run in this race! Last year, I don't know if she would have had the mental toughness to do so. She had a great start in 8:25, then finished with 9:49 and 9:54. Despite all of those distractions, Chey still ran a lifetime best, dropping nearly 2:00 to beat her previous PR from Conference last year. What a huge breakthrough, Chey! SO proud of you! Julianna had her racing debut today, and she did awesome. Not only did she courageously get out hard, but she also fought through the fatigue to finish with a great starting time (her best compared to practice so far AND sub-30). Now she has a starting point in an official race that she can shave time from. Proud of your grit, Julianna! Eva and Anahi were not far behind. Not only did these two work hard together in the latter parts of the race, but they both showed a lot of guts. Eva had a huge breakthrough--she dropped over 5 minutes from her race at Shiloh! Whew! Eva is just going to keep getting better because she keeps bravely attacking each race. She did a nice job getting out harder than usual and bringing her last mile back down, too: 9:14, 11:17, 11:00. Like most of the bees in this race, the key is to now keep that second mile closer to the first. That will come! Speaking of even splits, Anahi won "most consistent" today. Check out her splits: 10:22, 10:39, 10:31. Talk about methodical! Once she gets this congestion healed up, she is going to make a mark! great work, Anahi! Our final two racers stood out for their amazing kicks. Emily fought through some hip pain while Yazaira had to manage her nerves from her first race. The two of them hit the last turn, and they ran down the final stretch, stride for stride. It was so exciting to witness their drive, neither bee giving up an inch. The crowd was going crazy! These two really challenged each other, and I love that!
Real talk, our team standing does not reflect the big growth that happened in this race. I know I talked about times above, but there are other important measures of growth. Post-race, Eva asked where the brick wall was at because she wanted to be there to help her teammates in other races. That is a great example of a linked mindset! Post-race, Yaya wanted to know her splits immediately and was looking for the QR code to look at the results. You can click here to see your specific race results. It shows your miles splits plus whether you caught people (green numbers with the up arrow), got caught (red numbers with a down arrow), or stayed even (sideways arrows). Most meets don't provide all this detail, so that's just another reason why this meet is so great! And post-race, I saw a whole mess of people cheering on the course, then rushing to the stadium to watch finishes. These moments plus more are what shows me that we are making good progress!
Varsity Women: I'm not going to lie--I was terrified to watch this race. You seven DESTROYED the workout on Thursday. My intention was for it to be more tempo-like, but every interval was much faster than I anticipated. Although I was delighted and proud about the fitness you seven displayed, I was worried that your legs would be heavy Saturday. If they were, no one would know it by watching you. I could see on the line that you all wanted to bring it. My favorite moment pre-race was when I asked Audrey to not win the first 800, and she replied, "Oh, don't worry girl. I had a whole conversation with myself. It's under control." I laughed on the outside and kept laughing on the inside. Thanks for breaking my tension, Audge! When the gun sounded, I didn't even watch our pack like I usually do--I just turned and walked to the 800, right by Eva's brick wall as the trail pops out behind the start. I talked with the Mundelein coach for a minute, and then the leaders emerged. I was OVERJOYED to see Audrey sitting comfortably in 12th place and eyeing the front runners. It was a SUPERB start--she was under control and could see who she was going to pick off. Riley and Lauren were not far behind in the low 20s. They, too, looked controlled and ready. I could barely contain myself, and then Rachel and Fia came rolling up, looking like baddies, only seconds later. WHAT?! And before I could recover from that amazingness, Kate and Brioche were rolling with locked in expressions and powerful strides. For a brief moment, I worried that we were getting out too hard, but honestly, everyone looked controlled, just like Thursday. I sprinted (well, D-sprint) down the field to catch everyone as they left the stadium and turned back into the woods. Everyone had already moved up a bit in the race, and I could tell that we would DEFINITELY be having a great day. I could just see that the the pace was going to stick, and that we were RACING hard as a team today. As I darted around the course, I kept smiling like a big goofball. There is NOTHING more thrilling for a coach than to watch her athletes simply step up to their abilities and compete. I knew that Thursday's workout was only acting as a motivator in this race. When it was over, I was feeling joyous as I headed back to the tent. I knew we had done well as a team, but I didn't anticipate Tolliver showing me a 3rd place result. I had been so busy watching our greatness that I paid little attention to how other teams looked in comparison to us. We would later find out that 3rd place would turn into 4th after a tiebreaker, but I don't care. It was so much fun to watch us race hard and kick hard.
This race illustrates that order of operations matters. I didn't see anyone look at a watch or worry about splits. I saw tough cookies racing hard and then the times took care of themselves. Audrey ran a season PR by almost a minute. Her splits were divine, and I am confident that she will be able to shave down mile 2 & 3 in coming races, especially if she keeps running smart like today. Riley had a heck of a race today, too. She ate the whole race, and the pictures of her kicking are so beautiful (Shout out to Mrs. Luell--click here to check out Riley's kick!). She did not break 19 until the sectional last year, so this race is a big deal! Proud of you, Riley! Lauren had a similar story--she raced hard, and her time is not only a season PR but also matches her second-half of the season best from last year. Huge progress, Lauren! Proud of your grit today--I saw the nerves on your face prior to the race, and you worked through it to perform beautifully for your team. Proud of your effort, Lauren! Rachel was our #4 today--a huge step up! While I could go on about how she ran a new LPR by nearly a minute and ran a huge first mile, what I care most about is that she looked happy during the race. I have a picture of her going back into the woods with a giant smile on her face. THIS is why we run--to enjoy the process of becoming strong people in the world. Awesome effort today, Rachel! Kate and Fia were our 5 & 6 today. Go back to the FB link and watch their kicks, too. Whew! These two fought to the finish--that grit is exactly what we need to hone. Kate had a huge breakthrough today. She ran a big season PR, and she is in the neighborhood of her lifetime PR. More importantly, she looked locked in for the entire race--she was fighting for her team the whole time, as evident by the fact that she only passed others after mile one, and was never passed. What more could I ask? Fia, too, had a big day. She broke her LPR by 23 seconds. Last year, it took her until October 30th to get into the 21s. Now she has done it in early September! More importantly, she took a risk and got out hard in the first mile. That act requires faith in one's training, and I love that she is believing in herself more. That kind of risk taking is going to pay off--proud of your grit, Fia! Brionne continued the trend of breaking a lifetime PR. She dropped 46 seconds from her last race of the season last fall. SO impressive to be that far ahead of schedule! Aside from the time, I loved watching Brionne set aside her nerves and just RACE today! Like Katelin, she simply ate, catching others and holding off any aggressors. Her splits were even, and I appreciate that she got out hard in light of her success at the Thursday workout. SO proud of you, Brioche!
Overall, this group slayed FOR each other. I love that when we were back at the tent, everyone was joyous and owning the greatness of the race. I cannot tell you how many coaches came up to me to compliment the race throughout the remainder of the day. It felt great for you seven to be seen--that all the hard work of the summer came together on the same day! I want to continue this momentum; let's agree that this kind of grit (times aside) is our new standard.
Open Race: By this point in the day, it was HOT HOT. Liz and Estrella took this unchangeable truth in stride. They relished the nice breeze, and they gladly focused on the cups of water I provided. At the start of the race, these two got out well, working together at the 800 mark. I think what stands out most about this race is that they took turns doing the work. Initially, Liz was pushing the pace and leading, and then Estrella stepped up when Liz needed her. It was a beautiful display of teamwork! It was most successful in the second mile when Estrella (5) and Liz (4) passed people like crazy! I love that second-half strong mindset on display. That hard work paid off: Estrella dropped 38 seconds for a new season PR, and Liz ran a new LPR by 45 seconds! THese drops are especially impressive in light of the temperatures--it was TOASTY for their race. While the times are fantastic, I am really proud of how they pushed each other. That's why we are here!
Yes, I am still going crazy about the impressive efforts today, but what I loved most was the atmosphere on Saturday. Shaved ice, cheering, searching for more knowledge...the energy just felt GOOD on Saturday. I'm really proud of our progress, and I can't wait for us to race again!
And for you new bees in search of knowledge. Don't forget that you can track your progress on Athletic.net. Here is a link to our team grid. It's a good way to see how your teammates are progressing, too.
Week 3 of Racing
Tuesday @ Home vs. Lake Forest
I felt good going into this meet: our course looked great (especially the senior signs--nice work, Hives!), everyone was in good spirits as we set up the chute and flags, and the weather was decent. I was really happy with the way we raced at Parkside, and I hoped that we would bring the same energy to this meet. Prior to racing, the Lake Forest coach indicated that he was sitting a few of his top runners; I believed that a few was more than two, so I thought we had a shot at beating this very strong team.
Our bees got out very well, looking poised and in contention at the 800. I was happy to see us competing hard like the men did in the previous race. Heading into the woods, Audrey was in the lead with Riley and Lauren not far behind in 4th and 5th respectively. Rachel and Fia had great starts, sitting in 8th and 9th with Kate only steps behind in 11th, ahead of Lake Forest's big pack. Janalise and Brionne were hanging onto that pack with strong starts, too. Aniya rounded out our top group, looking tough and using the downhill to her advantage. Our newbees looked great at the start, too. I can see that they are starting to feel their new fitness as well as figure out this racing thing. Sofie A. looked smart and open down the hill while Nathaly pulled on the wisdom of Estrella. Emily got strong start while Eva and Tati worked so well together in that first half mile! Melanie bravely battled her tight hip, keeping her stride open and her eyes on the competition.
In the beginning of the woods, Lake Forest made some moves and shifted our places a bit, but I was happy to see that we were still competing hard. Heading back into the trees from the volleyball courts, I was so proud to watch everyone push hard off the turn and work to keep their spots. We put up a good fight, but Lake Forest is just GOOD. They have more depth than we do right now, and they have some impressive pedigrees. Lucy, the eventual winner, has an older sister who is running professionally. She just competed today (9/11) in the 5th Avenue Mile in New York City. It's a really cool race--a mile straight down 5th Avenue--no laps or curves. If you check out this video, she is in the second row on the left in front of the woman who bends over to stretch before the start. She ended up 8th with a time of 4:20! Now, does Lucy's sister mean that we should be intimidated by Lake Forest or Lucy? Nope. But I think it helps to have some context about who we were up against as we look at the final results.
We gave Lake Forest a good fight, but they were the better team today. You can click here to see that they beat us 25-32. In the past, they would have shut us out, 15-50. I like that we were that close, and I like the performances I saw. I am proud of Audrey's gutsy race. She didn't give up on Lucy and tried to close at the end. Her time was strong, and she looked more like herself since her illness. Riley and Lauren had huge races, keeping the gap between them and Audrey small (a key to our team doing well), and running times that are impressive! More importantly, these two really battled like Audrey, trying to close on the LF girls ahead of them. Rachel stepped up to be our #4 today, which is huge! She fought hard, and she seems to have bounced back from some fatigue last week, running a strong time for her team. Fia-Fia wasn't far behind, running a time that is equivalent to her peak at the end of last year. Nice work, Fia! Kate was our strong #6. She put together an impressive race, and she fought through some last mile pain and earned a time she ran mid-season last year. Nice work, Katie-Kate! Brionne finished as our #7, running an impressive race, also earning a time that took her over half the season to achieve last year. Proud of you, Brioche! Our seven really fought, and I'm proud of every one of them!
After being sick, Aniya is back in top form, matching her time from Deerfield. I anticipate that she will have a big drop next week as she feels more confident in her fitness! Janalise had a great first XC race. She was courageous and got out hard. Although she paid for that zesty start, I know that she will eventually be able to hold onto that pace. In the meantime, I'm proud of her gutsiness and willingness to race hard. Nice work, Janalise! Sofie A. wasn't far behind Janalise, running a strong race! I think she is going to have a big drop when we head to Warren next week. Nice work, Sofie! Estrella wasn't far behind, looking much more like her last year's self. Her time was equivalent to her mid-season times last year, so I am excited to see her fitness ahead of schedule! Nice work, Senior! Nathaly was our next finisher. She looked joyful from start to finish. I think she is going to be a surprise for us this season as her fitness grows. Proud of your mindset today, Nat! Emily is also starting to figure out racing. She looked strong in the first half, and she did not give in to that voice that says "Walk!" today. Proud of you, Em! This is a big breakthrough, and I cannot wait to see you race again! Tati was next, complete with a beautiful kick down the hill. She gave everything she had, and I am proud of her toughness! Keep fighting, Tati! Eva wasn't far behind her, looking strong in her final kick as well. These two just keep making each other better! Nice work, Eva! Our final bee was Mel, who fought through a tight hip to compete today. Proud of you, Mel-Mel!
Overall, we had a really strong day. Shout out to Julianna and Yazaira for helping direct traffic on the course, Ashley and Syneisha for handing out cards at the finish line, and Chey for helping Ms. Morelli with cards and names. Thank you all for your help setting up and taking down the course. It takes the whole team to make the meet happen, and I'm proud of everyone's helpfulness.
On Saturday, Varsity ran the long run on a simply beautiful morning at Van Patten Woods. I came home so refreshed from running among the trees, watching the mist come off the lake, and feeling the positive vibes from the team. We talked about an important part of racing: how to deal with "The Red Zone." The Red Zone is that moment of truth that comes in every race--it's when your body is tired, your lungs are burning, and your mind is screaming, "QUIT THIS PAINFUL RUNNING!" This moment comes for different reasons. For some, it's because you are still working on getting fit. For others, it's because you went out harder than you ever have before. And still others, it happens when an opponent presses you, or the course challenges you. And sometimes that Red Zone pops up because our own minds betray us with negativity. The point is, we ALL deal with this feeling. The question is: How should we try to deal with it? Our varsity pack brainstormed some great ideas, and I want to list them here so that you have some techniques to try:
Before I close this blog, I also need to give Coach Anderson a shout out for the cool idea for the First Annual ZBXC Jamboree! It was so nice to see all the families together, and the relay was fun to watch! I'm glad we had some alums attend, and I hope more will come next year. Thanks to all who contributed somehow, whether it was bringing food or helping clean up after. I expect to see our fans in all that XC gear, too! :) If you haven't checked out our Facebook page, you should. Mr. Davis and Mrs. Luell post pictures from a lot of the meets, and Mr. Davis got some great shots at the Jamboree. Search for our team page: Zion Benton Cross Country and Distance Crew. Yes, we post pics on the 'Gram, but there are many more on the FB page due to unlimited uploads.
Saturday @ Rebel Invite--Parkside:
I woke up excited about this meet. I knew that we were physically read to compete after a few rest days, and I knew that our group was hungry for a good race. You all did not disappoint!
F/S and Open: This meet combines these two races, which is great. It gives people more opportunities to pass people! My only complaint is that the race is only 4K (2.5 miles) rather than 3 miles. I think the race directors wanted to give new athletes an easier distance in the early part of the season, especially on such a challenging course. There is no denying that Parkside's course requires some mental grit, especially the first hill. I knew that the hill might be intimidating to our newebees, so we ran up and down it for the warm up, and i was so proud of how this group simply let go down the hill. Everyone's stride looked powerful and open without my saying a word--awesome! On the starting line, I could see that there were some nerves (which is totally normal--it means that you care!) but Sofie and Estrella did a great job of being positive, offering thumbs-ups and saying positive things on the line. When the cannon finally sounded (after that really long count down...), our group was off, looking strong! I waited a few moments to watch them approach the first hill, and then I headed into the woods to see them after the mile. There is a great spot where there is a huge downhill to a gully, and then a quick short uphill. I was so excited to see how our group was handling the hill.
Liz & Chey were the first down that hill, and they were within steps of each other. It was cool watching them work together to pass a large pack. One girl tried to weave to keep Chey from passing, but Liz and Chey eventually made it around the pack on the uphill. These two looked fantastic with 400 to go, Chey leading the duo. Liz turned on her super-charged kick and edged Chey by a second. Chey did not back down, sporting her own speedy kick to finish a great race. These two really looked strong today, and I'm excited to see what they can do on our home course. Nice work, bees! Our next bees looked so great coming down the hill: Nathaly, Sofie, and Estrella. They were each about 10 meters apart, but they used the terrain to shorten that gap. Sofie was our third bee after starting off further back in our pack. She did an OUTSTANDING job of moving up during the race, passing girls on the downhill and then kicking hard at the finish! Estrella let her experience shine, working hard in the second half of the race to finish as our 4th runner. She looked more confident at the conclusion of this meet--nice work! Nathaly was our 5th and final scoring bee. She was so courageous today--she started hard and pulled on Sofie and Estrella to help round out our scoring. I'm excited to see these three work together at our course on Tuesday. I was so excited to see Tati and Emily fly down the hill next, working so well together. They looked SO confident--it was awesome to see. I was particularly proud of Tati for fighting hard today after a tough moment on the starting line. What grit! These two rounded out our team of 7. In cross-country, a complete team consists of 7 runners. The first five runners create the team score: each person's place is added together to create a team score. Obviously, being 1st is better than 2nd, so the lowest team score wins. The 6th & 7th runners are called pushers. They serve two purposes: they act as "back ups" in case a runner has to drop out of the race due to injury; and they can push up another team's score if they beat a 1-5 runner from another team (because their place score will go up). Our next two bees were Anahi and Eva. They were close to each other coming down the hill, and eventually Eva caught her friend and then outkicked her at the end. These two are showing such promise! I know they will continue to improve this week! Cici and Mel were not far behind, working well down the hill with a great open strides. Mel worked up to Cici and eventually passed her. Like Lake County, she finished with an outstanding kick! I like this trend, Mel...keep it up! Cici used the energy of the crowd to help her surge in the final 400 and finishing strong.
Overall, this group is making big progress. This hilly race will help us in future meets, and I cannot wait to see how they grow! Nice work, everyone!
Varsity Race: I was worried that the temperatures were going to be toasty for the Varsity race, but after leaving the tent area, I could feel the nice breeze and noticed that the clouds were starting to obscure the sun. Our seven looked confident when I met them at the starting line. We had some obstacles to overcome today: the shadow of their PERCEIVED flat races at Lake County, a stuffy nose for Lauren, a rude knee for Kate and Brionne, and some general nerves and fatigue. I am really proud to report how these seven overcame all of that to finish in 3rd in the team race. Here's how it unfolded.
When the cannon sounded, I saw that we got out hard. Mrs. Luell documented our pack attacking the first hill with Audrey in the lead, smartly taking the left side of the hill rather than the steepest section. Coach Hamilton reported that we looked good at the top of the initial hill. I saw the same when our pack made it to the steep downhill. Audrey was about 150 meters behind the leader, looking amazing rolling down the hill, then charging up the other side. There were several other runners in striking distance, but by the final 400, she had pulled away from them significantly. I barely missed witnessing her kick, but Coach Hamilton said that she looked amazing--really opening up for the final stretch! She ended up running an identical time to last year, which is impressive considering how much hotter it was this year. Proud of your effort, Audge! Riley and Lauren were our next bees. Coming down the hill, Riley looked like her powerful self again. Her stride looked amazing, and she was locked in, working up to the next racer. She finished in true Riley style with a killer kick, and she ran 13 seconds faster than last year at this meet. More importantly, she looked confident from gun to tape. Way to go, Ricat! Lauren was not far behind in 15th place. What I love about her race was that she was struggling physically and mentally during the warm up. She took some deep breaths, reset, and found a way to really compete for her team today. I loved watching her battle and hearing her confidence post-race. Lauren's race is a great reminder that it is not realistic to expect to feel perfect for each race. We have to learn to work through soreness like we did on Wednesday and less-than-perfect conditions. Proud of your grit, Lauren! The work of our front 3 was impressive--they helped keep our score much lower than last year since all three of them were in the top 15. NICE! Fia was our fourth finisher with a huge race. Not only did she run 3:13 faster than her performance at this same course last year (despite hotter conditions), she also was up much further in the race--over 60 spots! This is the first time I have seen Fia keep her confident body language for the whole race. She and Rachel looked amazing coming down and up the hill, working together to attack the next pack. Fia looked so strong in the final 400 with a speedy kick! Proud of your growth, Fia! Lock this one in the memory banks! Like Lauren, Rachel also proved her mental and physical grit today. She was feeling worn out prior to the race. She has been working so hard with the Varsity pack, but she does not have the same base that she does. After slaying Monday's workout and racing so well on Wednesday, it's no wonder she was feeling a bit sluggish before the race. What's important, though, is that she fought for herself and her team, despite rolling her ankle on this tricky course. She fought hard through the finish as our 6th bee, and handled herself like a pro! Proud of your grit, Rach! Kate had a heck of a race today. She got out hard, looked awesome on the hills, and was the sole winner of the "Catch 4 for Food" Challenge. When we saw her come through the last 400, she whipped by so fast that I almost didn't see her. I tried to catch her again at the cut-through, but she was so quick that I missed her! Her kick was simply breathtaking--she hunted down SEVEN sleepy runners and passed them with such authority that they did not have a chance to respond. This is what I want for ALL of you--that kind of hunger and confidence in the home stretch! She was six seconds faster than last year, but this performance was about more than just numbers--Kate looked unstoppable despite her knee feeling wonky. So proud of your grit, Katelin! Our 7th runner for the day was Brionne. She has worked so hard to manage her shin and knees this summer, and that work certainly paid off in this race. Not only did she look impressive on the hills, she also had a great kick. The pictures from Mrs. Luell show how open her stride was, complete with beautiful arms! Like Rachel and Lauren, she was not feeling great before the race, but she worked through it to put together an amazing race. Great work, Brioche!
Overall, this group really fought hard. Their races were so fun to watch! I love witnessing the beauty of an impressive effort, and I had the honor to do that 7 times in this race. Proud of you all! Let's use this momentum as we roll into our home course this Tuesday.
Ok everyone--there are some important things for you to know for this week. It's a little crazy schedule-wise.
1. We are at home on Tuesday. New Tech Crew--just walk over to the course when you get out of school. ZB Main Campus--if you have a car, please offer people rides. We won't have enough room in cars for everyone, though. Everyone else, CHANGE QUICKLY, then take the shuttle bus at 3:00. Coach Hamilton will be there, but Coach Anderson and I will be at the course already setting stuff up. When you arrive at the course, we will need lots of help setting up. Please plan to BEE OF SERVICE for set up and take down. For Tuesday meets, there are only two races. The boys will all run first at 4:45ish (it depends on when Lake Forest arrives). We will run after they finish--probably around 5:40. Don't forget that we will cool down and then take down the course. You will need to have your ride pick you up from the course at around 7:15.
2. Wednesday is our first shortened day of school--we get out at 12:50. You will need to get back to school at 3:00 because we have team pictures and practice in the afternoon. I know this is inconvenient, but I did not get to pick the picture time. Please wear your uniform for pictures (which means you will need to wash it Tuesday night) AND bring clothes for practice. We will ift and get in some recovery miles.
3. Friday is our first ZBXC Jamboree from 6-8 pm at Shiloh. Please make sure that you fill out this form (i also sent it out via Remind) before Wednesday night so Anderson and I can plan food. Since we are having the Jamboree, we will NOT have morning practice on Friday.
4. Saturday, we are meeting at Van Patten Woods, Shelter A for a long run. 7:00-9:15!
Ok, that's a wrap for Week 2! Before I sign off, I need you to know how proud I am of ALL of you. This was a tough week, and you handled it with grit and grace. Let's keep working together to improve! Oh, and one last important thing: It was great to see two alums from the class of '22 come back to support us. Natalie Fig missed the races, but her face always makes me smile! Aubri made it in time to cheer and lend her experienced wisdom! The fact that these two came to cheer shows that linked spirit. I was so happy to see both of them! :)
Wednesday--Lake County Invite @ Waukegan
I was excited about how we started the week: Despite warm temps on Monday, we had an outstanding workout in The Backyard™, with most of you hitting times significantly faster than I prescribed. It was awesome to watch the energy you gave to the workout and each other. I knew that the success of Monday would have a cost, however. Hard workouts usually start affecting the body 24-48 hours after the effort, which meant that Wednesday, you all might be sore or feel like your legs were heavy. When we arrived at Waukegan's course, and started the warm up, I could see that the heaviness was there for many of you, and the warm temperatures didn't help. Our varsity pack of 5 were the first to race, and they had to endure the warmest conditions of the evening. I know these five were not happy with their times, but I was focused on effort and racing. For some context, last year's winner--Aly from Grant--ran 18:03. This year's winner ran 19:30. To be fair, Aly is amazing on courses like Waukegan's due to her strength, but this year's race was just not fast. Last year, eleven runners beat this year's winning time. Clearly, it was not just our Monday workout at play.
With that context in mind, I think it's important to break down a few things from our Varsity race. First, let's talk about place: Audrey finished 4 places ahead of her performance from last year; Riley was 33 places ahead of last year; and Kate had the exact same place both years! I can't compare Lauren & Fia because they both ran the open race last year. Second, let's talk about time. I need to point out one big moment of growth! Sofia ran 25:58 on this course last year. This year, she ran 24:15 after being on vacation for a week. That jump is important because it shows her dedication this summer, and just how much her body has adapted since her freshman year. Proud of you, Fia! Finally, let's talk about effort. We got out well for the first mile. I was impressed with our placement, with Audrey in the front pack, Lauren and Riley working well together not far behind, Sofia looking strong, and Kate with a really impressive first mile. When I saw them again after the hill and first switchback, I could see the fatigue on each bee's face. What I DIDN'T see was an ounce of quit. Every one of our girls tried to reset, use the downhills, and fight. I was not able to make it back over to see finishes, but I imagine that the finish looked like the last 800 mark: our runners fighting through the heat and tiredness. That's all I ever ask! Our group ended up 9th out of 14, not far behind Deerfield. I think a key for this group as we head into our upcoming meets is focusing on the fun of racing. It is easy to let a course like Waukegan's feel intimidating and to let the weather be a distraction. Instead, let's pick two areas of confidence before the race, whether that is a certain section we know we can dominate, or a certain skill we know we have (like amazing kicks!). We are going to assert the positives and then keep that fighting spirit that I saw today!
Our open race featured several "first-timers", and I am so proud of that group! This was the first time that Liz, Nathaly, Sofie, Anahi, Emily, Eva, and Cici raced 3 miles! As I mentioned, this course is no joke, and I am proud of them for tackling it with grit! At the starting line, I was impressed by how our pack handled the crowded conditions. At the mile, I was so pleased to see Rachel in 7th or 8th (it was tricky counting in a co-ed race), looking fresh. Brionne was not far behind, looking really strong with her tall posture. Sofie was our next bee--she had a great start, pulling on her big sister from NT! Aniya seemed to defy the heat, looking fresh and focused. Liz & Chey were working in tandem only a few moments behind Bri. Nathaly had such a positive energy as she zoomed by the bridge, smiling Jenna-style. Estrella looked great in her racing debut as a senior, measuring her energy and pulling on Nathaly. Anahi and Emily had a great start, looking twice as confident as last week and working together. Melanie certainly took a risk in the first mile, getting out strong and pushing herself to have that open stride that she has been working on at practice. Eva was not far behind, pulling on Mel's energy. Cici was around the bridge only moments after Eva, looking strong and channeling the energy from her family. When I saw our group again on the way to the 2-mile mark, I was really happy to see that they were using the course and our fans to their advantage. In particular, Rachel, Bri, Anahi, and Liz really capitalized on the downhills, zooming to catch a new pack and pass sleepy competitors. Cross-country racing is so different than track racing because smart runners use the course to their advantage. These girls certainly used the "free" energy of downhills to work the second half of the course. While it was certainly cooler for this race, it was far from cool out. Our girls really battled hard. I didn't catch all of the finishes, but here are some good things I saw/heard about. Rachel finished 6th overall for us with a really strong time of 23:04. More important than the time, I was pleased to see her looking more relaxed compared to last week, simply letting her fitness shine. Nice work, Rach! I have to give Brionne the same compliment--she looked more at ease this week. Like Fia, she had a significant time drop compared to last year--nearly a minute faster! That is a testament to her dedication this summer. Although she could not run full mileage, she was dedicated to getting fit via the bike, and her hard work is certainly paying of. Proud of you, Brioche! :) I really liked Aniya's body language during her race--she really keyed off of our Varsity runner's cheers, using their energy to fuel her surges to pass other runners. Nice work, Aniya! Liz really stepped up today. It is easy to simply stay with a teammate during a race, especially a bestie, but Liz pulled away from Chey in the second half, really using the course to her advantage, despite competing at this distance for the first time! Yesssss, Liz! :) A little birdy told me that Nathaly did a great job working the whole last finish section, not waiting to kick until the last straight--nice job taking a risk, Nat! Anahi had one of my favorite races of the day. She looked so confident, despite this being only her second race in life, and first at this distance. She was joyful at the finish, owning her accomplishment! I love that kind of self-confidence! :) I have missed Estrella. Can I just say that? In the 2+ weeks that she has been back, I have been so impressed by her leadership. She has been looking out for people while building her own fitness. I know she wasn't satisfied with this race, but there are many ways to contribute to a meet. Today, she helped ease the fears of newbees by leading warm up with quiet confidence and then being a great role model in her own race. When her body catches up with her mind, she is going to have the race she wanted today! Little Sofie did a great job working through some breathing issues in order to finish strong--great work, freshie! Finally, I have to talk about Melanie's kick. She emerged from the hillside and was in a pack of 4 other runners. Coming off that turn, she just pressed the second-to-last straightaway, and she broke that whole pack--they simply had no answer to her kick. When she rounded the last flag, she used the energy of her teammates to sustain her kick and beat that posse. Like Sofia and Brionne, Mel also dropped significant time compared to last year: 2:23! Yowza! She dedicated herself to running consistently over the summer, and her hard work is paying off!
In honor of Mel's great kick, I want to make that our focus at Parkside. Since the distances are not comparable to our other races this year, let's work on sharpening our race tactics. I will buy anyone their favorite post-race snack if they catch 4 or more people in the final kick (the stretch from where you emerge from the woods to the chute). To be clear: I'll deliver said snacks on Tuesday. Additionally, let's use the hills to our advantage like Rachel, Bri, Liz, and Anahi did. So our theme for Saturday is RACE RACE RACE!
Last note: I was really happy to see the teamwork of our new hives in the weightroom. Let's keep that energy going!
This summer, we had a small but dedicated group who put in some serious miles. And since the season has begun, we have added many newbees who are already adopting that same work ethic. So it's no shock that I was excited to see what we could do in race conditions. Deerfield is the perfect start to the season: there is a two-mile race for our newer runners, the course is flat and fast, and there is usually solid competition. This year included the added bonus of a rainstorm and rainbow! Here's how the races shook out:
Women's 2-mile: This crew was a mix of veterans and newbees. I'm always interested to see how veterans will step up to lead, and how the newbees will receive that leadership. I could not wipe the smile off my face today! Brionne and Estrella made sure that this very fresh group knew what to do and when to do it. We arrived on the line with some nerves and even more positive energy. When the gun sounded, our pack got out well. After the first curve, Brionne was leading our bees, looking strong and assertive. She rolled through the mile in 7:48, then pressed to run negative in her second mile--7:43. Her kick looked strong and her effort paid off! Even though she has had to adjust her training this summer, including a lot of cross-training, she dropped over a minute over her time at the same race last year. Proud of you, Brionne! We had some nice pack work behind Brionne, with Liz, Cheyenne, and Sofie all took turns leading. Sofie came through the mile in 8:49, while Chey and Liz came through together in 8:59. In the second half, Liz asserted herself, especially in the last 400. She had a nice kick and finished 2nd for the bees in 17:54 (the athletic.net results still show the wrong name--it should be fixed this week). This was Liz's FIRST XC race, so I was really impressed that she took a risk to pull away in the last section of the race, running a negative split. Way to go, Liz! Sofie was our 3rd bee of the race. Not only did she have an excellent kick, but she did a great job of surging during the race. I was really proud of how she kept her nerves in check and just let herself be in the race--I have a feeling she is going to surprise herself in the next race. Cheyenne was only two seconds behind Sofie. To say that Chey is a different runner this fall is an understatement. Last year, she was not ready to race at Deerfield. Today, she showed leadership and guts in her race! Her splits were pretty even (8:58/9:07). I honestly think she is going to make some noise at Lake County on Wednesday, too! Nathaly was our next finisher. Although she was not with that pack, she was really working off of the Warren and Deerfield girls the whole time. Her mindset was so positive, and she had a strong kick in the final stretch. She got stronger as the race went on (9:37/9:17), so I simply cannot wait to see her race 3 miles! Tati was our 6th bee, and she, too ran negative. She got out smart, and then she showed her mental toughness in the second half (11:03/10:46). I am so proud of Tati's progress so far. Going from being a sprinter to XC is a challenge, and she has had the right mindset since the start. This work is going to pay dividends when she gets to the 300 hurdles. I think she is going to be able to shine in the 3 mile on Wednesday. Proud of you, Tati! Our final bee showed her veteran toughness today. Racing with a secret sore throat (please don't do that...I want to keep everyone healthy), Mel pushed through that discomfort to run a big improvement over last year's race. She dropped 1:20 from last year, and she had an OUTSTANDING kick. I think what I liked best was her gutsy start with that beautiful, open stride, and the mirror image of it at the end. If Mel can hold that form, she is going to have a fun season!
What I loved most about this race was the energy. Our newbees (El, Cici, Eva, Emily, Tyla, Anahi) were enthusiastically getting splits and cheering EVERYWHERE! And Estrella was such a great role model for this group! It definitely started off our day right, and the 3-milers could not help but feel that energy.
Women's 3-mile: While this group was small, it was certainly mighty! After getting rained on during their warm up, they were asking the sky-gods for more rain for their race (love that mindset!). The did not let the precipitation change their focus. As we circled up for the breakdown, I could feel some nerves, but it felt like the right kind--the "I care about this, and it's been a minute since I raced" kind of nerves. Our plan was this: Riley and Lauren were going to cruise through the first mile at 6:45-6:50, and then try to go negative from there. Rachel was going to keep them close for as long as she could. Kate was going to go out 7:15ish and try to run more even. And Aniya was going to pull on the energy of the girls she has been practicing with all summer.
After the first set of turns, our front duo of Riley and Lauren looked impressive. They weren't pressing, but I could tell they were going faster than 6:45 pace. In the lead with a Deerfield girl in the mix, these two worked together SO WELL ALL RACE. I was happy to watch them help each other for that first mile. Sure enough, they were a little zesty for that first split (Riley 6:33; Lauren 6:35), but that is fine by me! They both looked great! Rachel came through in a speedy 6:46. I love that she was willing to take a risk in this first race, and it was fun to watch her challenge herself in that first mile! Kate was perfectly paced in 7:25, and Aniya looked fantastic in 8:19. The middle mile is tough on this course--it is a repeated loop where the fans are concentrated in the middle. Our bees looked strong in this section, although the pace fell off a bit in this section: Riley 6:54; Rachel 7:32; Kate 7:51; Aniya 9:12. Lauren was by far the most even, only giving up 12 seconds in that second lap: 6:47. This mile will be a focus as we go to Lake County this week. It is perfectly set up for lots of surges and passing in the second mile, so we will work on making our races more even! The most exciting part about this race (for me) was the finish. With 800 to go, I could see that Riley was in a good position. She pushed through our go-zone path, and she had her signature kick in the last 400, finishing in FIRST PLACE--her first XC win! To say that I am proud of her gutsy race is an understatement. She could have been much more conservative without Audrey in the race, but she took control like a senior, and she ran an incredible last mile--her fastest of the race: 6:11. That final mile shows what kind of runner Riley is--she loves to compete, and she was NOT about to let anyone sneak up on her to take away that #1 spot. It also shows how incredibly fit she is right now. FOr comparison, she ran a crazy 2:09 faster than last year at this meet! Proud of you, Ri-cat! :) Lauren's last 400 was GRIT embodied. In the second mile, the Deerfield runner pulled away from Lauren a bit. In the last 400, Lauren had a choice to make--she could let the girl go and be satisfied with 3rd, or she could take a risk and go after the girl. A lot of runners are afraid to make an attempt to catch people who feel out of reach because they think it is embarrassing if they fail to catch the racer. This is where Lauren's grit comes in: she didn't think about how it would look, she simply went for it. WE NEED THAT MINDSET in EVERY RACE. If you never practice taking a risk, then it's hard to conjure up the courage when it counts. Lauren started to work on the Deerfield runner in the final 300. After the final turn, Lauren "moved those little legs" and found another gear. It took nearly the entire last stretch to catch her, but catch her she did! I love that she fought for herself and her team like that! SO PROUD OF YOU, LAUREN! Her courage paid off time-wise, too. She dropped 1:03 from her time last year on the same course. What a testament to her hard work this past year! Rachel was our 3rd finisher today. Not only did she have a great race, but her final 400 looked strong, too! She finished in 21:47, 1:13 faster than her impressive effort at Bee Linked this summer. Although the courses are not identical, it still shows that she has grown as a runner so much this summer! Rachel took some nice risks in this race. As she gains racing experience this fall, I know that she is going to hit her goals without problem. Way to represent for us in the 3-mile, freshie! Kate had a big race today. As we talked about at Oshkosh, she has just been a different runner this summer, and it showed in this race. To steal Jared's phrase, she just looked "locked in" during the whole race. Her second mile is where she needs to work, but I am so excited to see her 3rd split of 7:23. It shows her fitness and mental toughness that she pushed back in that final mile. Her kick looked outstanding, and I am SO impressed by her growth over last year. She dropped 1:20 from last year--whew! Most importantly, I am digging her confident energy. After the race, she could not stop smiling because she owned how well she did. LOVE THAT! Keep it up, Katelin! Finally, Aniya just keeps amazing me. She did not even race at Deerfield last year because she was a newbee. Her growth since last year is just remarkable, and I attribute it all to her mindset. She has been quietly working hard since she joined as a freshman, and her improvement is all her own. Last fall, Aniya never broke 32:40. To start her season running 26:43 is just awesome to watch! I love that she kept working off that pack of Warren girls, and that she was not afraid to surge and work that second mile. I cannot wait to see her race again! Overall, this group was so much fun to watch--way to go bees! We finished in 2nd behind Deerfield. To be clear, both Deerfield and Warren held out some of their top runners, but we were without Audrey and Fia. I am confident that we would be able to stack up against these teams!
Overall, this was a great first meet of the season. I love the energy. I love the confidence. And I love that you all were owning your greatness as we did shout-outs on the bus. Let's keep this momentum as we head into the upcoming week!
This week's focus: Now that school is truly underway, I need you all to make sure you are taking care of yourselves. I know balancing academics and athletics is no easy feat. You need to find time during the day to get work done. Finished your math work early? Get out your history homework for those last 10 minutes of class rather than talking or sitting on your phone. Feeling overwhelmed with the workload in a particular class? Stay after to talk to your teacher, or email them to ask for tips. Not getting a concept and a test is coming up? Talk with your teammates--we have some smart cookies on this team who have probably taken the class you are in. They can help you! Tired after practice? Take a 20 minute power nap (make sure you set an alarm AND ask for someone to check that you get up), then do some lunges once you wake up to get the blood flowing and get you ready to do homework. Let's work together to make this team successful this season!
Newbees: Quick pro-tip! You can check out your progress on athletic.net this season. It is a really cool website that shows all of the results from our season--your final time and place as well as everyone else's. It also shows team points, etc. You can make a free account so that you can see most of the features. Bee a student of your sport--follow your progress as well as that of your teammates! Go to athletic.net and type in Zion-Benton OR a name to see! I like this particular page (see below) because you can see everyone's progress for the season.