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