Tuesday at Stevenson (Vernon HIlls Athletic Conference):
This is the time of the season when the going gets tough. We had an emotional high on Saturday with great races and a slew of PRs. After that kind of team performance, it's difficult to "get back up" for a Tuesday meet. I could feel some of that malaise on the bus, and I knew that the muddy conditions might put people in the wrong mindset. When we stopped walking the course and started RPR, I saw that there was a lack of focus, and I didn't want to waste a chance to race hard. After the warm up and dynamic, I knew that the story about Maya was important to share. I'd like to share more about Maya here now. As a freshie, Maya joined our Summer Endurance Camp and showed so much promise, but when the season started, they were MIA. I called their house to see what was up and was thankful that I was able to talk them into joining for the actual season. I don't want to speak for Maya, but it was my observation that running was both a joy and a trial for them throughout their career. Maya had absolutely beautiful running form--their stride was powerful and smooth and really a joy to watch! Throughout their career, they made an impact on our Varsity squad, helping us break a streak of not qualifying for the Sectional as a team in the 2019 season. Some days, Maya loved running, ripping intervals off and feeling strong. Other days, Maya hated running, especially on long run days. And some days, running betrayed Maya, like when they suffered a stress fracture during the sophomore season, after a tremendous start to the season. I distinctly remember watching Maya walk around the VHAC course in a boot that protected the stress fracture. Despite not being able to race, Maya still contributed to the team by getting splits and cheering on every runner. Training is tricky--my job is to push you all so that you get stronger, but not to the point of breaking you. I unintentionally broke Maya that season, and it was so hard to watch them not be able to compete. That's a big reason why I shared their story prior to your race on Tuesday. It's easy to feel tired or irritated by muddy conditions, or frustrated with school or any number of distractions. But I always think of Maya on days like that because running and racing can be taken away, and sometimes it's only then that you realize how much you want to be a part of it. Feel free to check out Maya's XC and track (click on go to TF Bio on the right to get to track) times here on athletic.net! The times are impressive, as was Maya's state qualification for Track! The times don't sum up this caring teammate, incredible runner, and thoughtful human, though. Hopefully you'll get to meet Maya in person at a future Bee Linked!
I appreciated your willingness to hear Maya's story in our pre-race huddle, and your actions on the course. Despite the conditions, I saw a lot of gritty racing on Tuesday! Let's talk about the highlights.
First, I asked Lauren, Brionne, Rachel, and Fia to hit certain splits today. We were working on getting some tempo work in because these four are solidly in Varsity and will have a longer season ahead. They did a great job of meeting these targets while racing hard in the last mile. I was really happy about their work today!
I asked people to use that tunnel in the woods on the back stretch as a go-zone, and then again by Coach Hamilton and the tennis courts. I LOVED watching you all zoom at that skinny tree and catch people in the woods tunnel. I started to make a list of people who used that zone well, and I realized it was all of you. Honestly, as a group, you guys are doing a GREAT job of making competitive moves this season. If I had to pick two, Tyla and Mel really stood out in this section of the course!
I couldn't see all the finishes from my vantage point, but I did see Aniya, Cici, Sasha, and Joi really hit it from the 400 and the zoom the final straight. Awesome work, bees!
Finally, I want to shout out Eva for running a LIFETIME BEST in these muddy conditions! Eva had a tremendous race on Saturday at Warren, setting a new LPR of 28:39 in those cool temps and on a flat, fast course. Eva's achievement at VHAC is huge because the ground was not great for fast times, but Eva shaved another 27 seconds off her Warren performance. That means that Eva was pressing EVERYWHERE on this sloppy course! When I think about where Eva was last year as a runner compared to now, the growth is simply impressive. Not only does she "get it" now, but she is steadily improving as a racer. SO proud of your growth, EvaEva!
Before I sign off of this race recap, I want to share how full my heart was as you were all taking pics of the sunset. There is nothing that I love more than a beautiful sky, and the fact that you were all so taken with Tuesday's sky was just heart-warming to me! I love all the pics we took that day, and I am so glad to see the team growing together as it is. Keep finding the beauty in our world, in our team, and in each other! That kind of awareness is one aspect of growing strong teams.
Saturday @ JT Invite (Grant Bulldog Sports Complex):
If you go to athletic.net, click on records, choose results grid, and then change it to women (the stupid site defaults to men...boo), you can see our team's progress over the course of the season. Anything highlighted in yellow is a season PR at the distance (remember--many of you raced 2 miles at Deerfield, and everyone ran a 4K at Parkside), any times written in red are lifetime PRs, and anything in green indicates that you made progress in that race. You can't help but notice all the yellow and red in the Bill Dawson (Warren) column. I knew you were ready to run fast there, and Mother Nature helped you out! And you also can't help but notice that the column for this past Saturday is devoid of any color. And I DON'T CARE. There are some races when a PR is cool outcome, but for the ENTIRE season, I want you to be a competitor. I want you to see what is possible. From frosh/soph to Varsity to Open, you ALL did just that on Saturday, and I cannot stop smiling.
On the bus, I invited you to consider the possibilities with the story of 62. I'm going to share a few more details of that story here! For years, we have taken a small group of dedicated and ready runners to Oshkosh for a week in July. The trip is meant to server several purposes: to encourage team-building and goal setting; to push people out of their comfort zones; and to be a reward for summer hard work. Through discomfort, we find strength in each other and the team. We start by camping in tents, forcing everyone into the same, slightly uncomfortable situation. We continue by doing mentally and physically difficult workouts in teams while living, eating, and sleeping in the dorm at Oshkosh.
For several years, we had the opportunity to meet with the Oshkosh XC coach, Eamon McKenna, who ran at Oshkosh and then came back to coach there. He didn't start as a runner, however; he had dreams of becoming an NBA player. He was particularly taken with the incredible skills of a Utah Jazz player--Pistol Pete Maravich. Maravich was renown for his incredible ball-handling skills, and McKenna was mesmerized by him for the same reason. So McKenna started doing one of Pistol Pete's favorite drills: Around the Waist. As quickly as he could, he would pass the ball around his own body, counting the revolutions earned in 30 seconds. So young McKenna started practicing. And while he never grew to a height that would be conducive to playing basketball, he did become REALLY good at around the waist. He was so good at it that he started challenging everyone he met to give the 30 seconds a shot. He recorded everyone's score over the years, long after he had given up playing basketball and had become a really good distance runner. When we met him, his list of scores was so long that the font size was 2 on his spreadsheet in order to make the whole list fit on one page. He had challenged teammates, complete strangers, Olympic sprinters, and countless others to participate. The best score on the list was his own: 62 revolutions in a mere 30 seconds.
Back in 2018, a senior named Victoria was having the summer of her life. She had already put together two strong seasons (she didn't join until sophomore year) in both XC and track, and she was ready to do big things as a senior. She was hard-working, thoughtful, and competitive. And she LOVED running! When we met with Coach McKenna at that summer's Oshkosh, he challenged our team to see how they would do at around-the-waist. Victoria was the first to volunteer, and she boldly walked to the center of the room, basketball in hand. But before Coach started the timer, Vic asked for a minute to collect herself. She had a look of doubt on her face when she asked McKenna, "What if I mess up and drop the ball or get a bad score?" He looked her in the eye and replied, "What if you get 62?"
Her whole demeanor changed. In that simple response, he had changed her mindset from one of failure to one of possibility. In that moment, our rallying call was born for the season. For the remainder of the summer and all fall, as a team, we talked possibilities. When it came time for the seniors to design the team gear, they KNEW that a 62 would be on the back. Steffany Banda, a fellow senior and AMAZING artist, created the look of the front and back of the shirt. It had been years since we had qualified for Sectionals as a team, and we talked extensively about the possibility of that happening. Although that goal did not come to fruition, both Kelsey (Lauren's big sis) and Victoria qualified as individuals. At the Sectional, both Kelsey and Victoria ran lifetime bests, embracing the possibility before them. And their mindsets set the stage for the following season (check out my description of Maya and the 2019 season in the Stevenson blog!).
On Saturday, you all HEARD me...you did not simply listen. In the huddle of the frosh/soph race, I saw that several of you had written 62 on your hands and legs. It's one thing to commit to writing a number with a Sharpie, but it's quite another to embrace the mindset for 3 miles. At the start, Juliana, Norah, Mary, Alisia, and Eva got out harder than usual. 62. On the hill the second time, Joi, Tyla, Dani, and Cici were ZOOMING. 62. In the second half, EVERYONE used the go-zones as a way to catch sleepy runners and stay in the mindset of possibilities. 62. And the finishes? Sophie WHIPPED around the final two flags to challenge competitors. Tyla looked like a sprinter in the last 200, finding a new gear. Eva finished with pride, despite a hip that was not cooperating. And Dani? Dani showed that girl what was up, sprinting to victory. 62. 62. 62. 62. The energy of this race set the tone for the next one.
Our Varsity girls were small in number but mighty in 62. Lauren got out hard, giving her a chance to run with the leaders. Fia knocked my socks off, stepping up in Brionne's absence and helping Rachel set a great pace. And Jana and Alivia? They sharpened each other the whole way, stepping up when the other needed to be pushed. And the finishes? Despite feeling heavy in the last mile, Lauren fought hard to lead us, placing 3rd. Fia had THE RACE OF HER LIFE (and she's not done...) by believing in herself and showing off her fitness. She pressed the last mile, moving up to 7th. If you did not get to see her glorious finish, please go to our Facebook team page: Zion Benton Cross Country and Distance Crew. Jay's dad took some awesome pictures, and you can see the sequence of Fia challenging a girl from Lakes for the entire last stretch. They are shoulder-to-shoulder until Fia inches her out in the final step. And Rachel? Instead of having a fixed mindset about what order we need to finish in, she fought for the whole last mile, driving up the hill, pushing the go-zones, and racing gritty through her sprinter finish. And the Jana-Alivia duo? They kept pushing each other until Alivia pulled away in the final sprint, also challenging a girl from Lakes until the final steps. 62. 62. 62. 62. 62. Our team effort led to a trophy and three medals. Bling is fun. But knowing that you gave your all for your team? Whew. That is some 62 stuff.
And so OF COURSE our Open Women were going to bring the heat in the literal heat. It got toasty for their race, but they didn't focus on that. They focused on 62. From the gun, Chey, Aniya, and Mel showed their 62 grit. Every single time they crested the hill, they looked amazing. The go-zone heading into the woods? Fantastic. And the "fake" hill in the woods? Well, my people report that they wisely used the downhill and attacked the alleged "up." For a bit, Chey and Aniya worked together like Alivia and Jana, pushing each other...steel sharpening steel. And Mel? She was working the people around her, zooming off turns. I'm not going to lie, though. We talked about choices, and each of these veterans faced some choice moments in their races. Coming up the hill for the last time, Aniya struggled with the heat and had to have a 62 conversation with herself. And when Aniya pulled away from Chey, Chey had to have a 62 conversation with herself about being second-half strong. And when Mel was struggling after throwing up, we had to have a 62 reminder. All three of these bees finished with such grit. Aniya placed 13th, earning a ribbon! Chey finished 17th, also earning a ribbon! And Mel finished with an incredible kick, reminding everyone (including herself) how she never quits. 62. 62. 62.
So you can understand why I do not care about times. Your races SCREAMED 62 today. Over and over and over. You fought for the possibility of gritty races. You fought for yourselves. And most importantly, you fought for your TEAM. Speaking of which, I'd love to take a moment to talk about team placing. No matter the race, a team score is created by adding the places of our first FIVE runners, with the LOWEST score winning. In the frosh/soph race, this was Juliana (27), Norah (28), Sophie (31), Mary (39), and Tyla (44). See how close together our places are? That's great because it means that not many people got between us to push up our score.
Check out this screenshot of the scores (scroll down!) Our f/s group placed 7th, narrowly missing out on beating Lake Forest. You can see that their first, second, and third place runners (15, 16, & 21) beat our top three. But you can also see that our 4th and fifth beat their 4th and 5th. That's important and what brought us so close! So why are there seven numbers? Well, a full team is considered to be 5 score-ers and two "pushers". The 6th and 7th runners act as alternates in case something happens to 1-5. But they can also "push up" another team's score by beating a score-er. If you look at our 6th and 7th runners (Alisia & Joi), Alisia beat their 4th, 5th, and 6th, while Joi beat their 6th. Alisia helped to push up Lake Forest's score, which is awesome! If Joi had been 36th, she could have pushed up Lake Forest's score by two points, and we would have been even closer to beating them. That's hard to know in the middle of a race, though, so taking a 62 mindset into the race is what matters: look at every single jersey in front of you as a possibility to help your team!
A few other notes about scoring. We obviously had more than 7 people in this race! Eva, Cici, and Dani had great races, but they did not have any impact on the scoring this week. They could in the next race, though! On the flip side, we only had 3 bees in the open race. Since we did not have at least 5--like we did in Varsity--then we had an incomplete team and could not count in the team scoring. I hope that all makes sense! Thanks for coming to XC School!
Overall, it was a joy to watch you all race on Saturday. We have the luxury of a training week this week, and then we head into the end of the season. Next week on Tuesday, we race at Libertyville's Adler Park, a beautiful site for racing, complete with some hills to help us in the final weeks of our season. At the end of the week, we split: Frosh/Soph and Open Women will race at Lakes' Sunset Invite. This course is fast, and we did SO well there last year. Varsity will head to Sterling for an overnight and invite. We did SO well there last year, too! Let's really focus on sharpening our fitness, celebrating each other's greatness, and coming together as links in a 62-mindset chain!