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.