Saturday @ Sterling
We drove out to Sterling on Friday in order to bond and check out the course. The weather was rude as we drove, and I secretly wondered if we would run fast in these gusty, wet conditions. But when we arrived at the course, we were pleasantly surprised to find the course in great shape! After a great workout on the course and too many pictures, we headed to the hotel to eat and talk. The Friday experience was easy--veterans blended with newbees and everyone enjoyed some great laughter and connection. On Saturday, everyone looked ready, and our sunglass twins started the day right in the Frosh/Soph race. I'm not going to lie: I was disappointed that they did not have more people to compete with. This meet used to be HUGE, with at least 20 complete teams in the F/S and 30 in the Varsity. I'm not sure what has caused the decline in numbers because the course is so fun. Regardless, Juju and Norah took the lack of competitors in stride, and they used each other to push for the whole race. They did a great job of challenging themselves in the first mile and then working the go-zones in the second and third. They both had OUTSTANDING finishes and earned themselves medals for 10th and 11th place. They created a positive energy that the Varsity had no choice but to adopt!
Our varsity pack of 7 took off great, looking awesome as they emerged from the woods for the first time. Lauren was challenging the leader at the front of the pack and looked confident! I love that she sees herself as a lead runner this season! Rachel and Fia emerged next working so well together, and Brionne was only a few clicks back looking fantastic! Alivia and Jana were in tandem in pink sleeves and looked so strong coming up the hill. And Liz rounded out our 7 looking great as she emerged, challenging the girls around her. Through the mile, we looked really good, with everyone taking advantage of the long downhill back into the woods. Brionne and Liz did a particularly good job of running the tangent along this go-zone. Nice job, bees! Alivia started to break away from Jana at this point, but Jana was doing everything in her power to hang onto her racing buddy. Coming out of the woods and heading to the 2-mile, I could see that our team race was really strong. I knew that if we could all stick or pass, we would be in great shape! I was so happy to see everyone maximizing the course and using the cues of Norah and Juliana in the woods to fuel their races. Going into the woods for the last time, everyone looked strong, but I could see that Bri was laboring in her breathing; when she pointed to her side, I figured she meant that her stomach was bugging her. Post-race, she let me know it was a mean side-stitch.
This happens sometimes, and I want to offer a quick bit of advice to everyone about this annoyance. When you are first starting out at a runner, a side stitch or runners' cramp is usually due to your diaphragm (the long muscle that runs along the bottom of your ribs/lungs) is mad at you. It is not used to doing more work to help you breathe, so it cramps up to get you to slow down. As you become more fit, these cramps should subside. When do they come back? Sometimes when you are sick, they can become a problem as you labor more to breathe. The scenario where it can pop up despite being fit is when you are too tense in a workout or race. Let's face it: Running fast is HARD, and some days, we don't do as good of a job of staying relaxed when that pain sets in. Sometimes it isn't pain-induced, but stress-induced. If we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to hit a certain time or accomplish a certain goal, we tense up our shoulders and arms and hands. And that tenseness travels into our core, making that poor diaphragm work even harder than usual. The outcome? A rude stitch that makes relaxing feel impossible. So how do we solve this problem? Well, before the race, it's important to remember that NO MATTER THE OUTCOME, your coaches love you! Second, if you feel yourself tensing up, pull a coach aside and say it out loud. There is a lot of science that shows that simply stating that truth helps relieve some of that stress. If that doesn't work, I'm a particular fan of "The Riley." Riley used to jump in a small circle with her arms loose at her side. It was silly and helped her to get the tension out of her body. During the race, if you feel your breathing getting ragged or feel a cramp coming on, it's good to get yourself grounded by using the 5 Senses technique. Look around you, take a deep breath, forcefully let it out of your mouth while making an exhale noise, and then take in your environment. Think of one thing you taste, two things you smell, three things you feel, four things you see, and five things you hear. This technique gets you out of your head for a moment and lets you focus on your senses. It should be enough to help you relax and get your breathing back to a more comfortable cadence so that your diaphragm can relax.
Ok, back to the race! When our bees emerged from the woods for the last time, they looked SO STRONG hitting the final 400. We practiced the final stretch the day before, and it was as if it was ingrained in everyone's heads. Lauren charged hard to the finish, holding off a girl and nearly catching the 2nd place finisher. Her time was fantastic--almost matching her LPR! She placed 3rd and earned a medal. More importantly, her low stick number helped our team score! Rachel was our second finisher, breaking the 20 minute barrier for the second time in her life. Although I love Sterling, it is definitely more technical than Warren, so this speedy time was impressive from our sophomore! Moreover, she finished in 14th to earn a medal and help our team score stay LOW. FiaFia was only a few clicks behind Rachel. This race was another huge one for Fia. Not only did she look locked in the whole time, but she ran a big LPR! I was impressed to see her battle runners in the final stretch, just like at Grant. We need Fia to keep this gritty racing mindset as we head into championship season! Keep it up, woman! Brionne was our 4th bee with a gritty race. She never quit on her team despite the stitch, and her finish was simply GORGEOUS. She used her sprinter speed and form to nab several girls in the last 200, and it was fun to watch! Nice job, senior! Keep that hungry mentality as we head into the final stretch of the season! Our freshie rounded out our scoring five with a HUGE day. She ran out of her mind, dropping a huge new PR of 21:15, nearly a minute faster than her previous best! It was cool to see Alivia step so big in this meet. Her kick was zooming, and she didn't rest until the finish line. Proud of your growth, freshie! More importantly, your gutsy performance helped keep our overall score at a low 82! Awesome work! Janalise had a heck of a day, too! Like her running buddy, she ran a new LPR, too. To see Jana race this season is like watching a whole new person! She looked so confident emerging from the woods! Her kick was beautiful! Proud of you, Jana! Finally, Liz rounded out our Varsity squad with a new LPR, too! She shaved off a sweet 14 seconds from her Warren time, and she looked great doing so. Like her teammates, her kick was powerful!
Overall, I was really happy with the way we competed. Like the F/S race, this race was smaller, but we still took 2nd place, our best finish ever at this meet! So impressive! Let's keep this positive energy going for the next several weeks! PROUD OF YOU ALL for opening yourselves up to the opportunity of this trip; you embraced every moment, and it was a joy to watch you compete for each other.
Friday @ Lakes
It always kills me to miss this race, but Anesa blew up my phone with all the good news. When Hamilton and I left with the Varsity Crew to head out to Sterling, we drove through some pretty gross weather: first rain, then hail, then gusts of wind that nearly blew the bus off the highway. I worried that all of that mess would be headed to our JV squad at lakes. While the conditions were chillier than we are used to, it was dry for the bronze race. When I look at the results, I am just astounded. The course at Lakes is great, but it is not as fast as Warren, yet so many of you set new LPRs!
Mary was our first finisher, shaving 15 seconds off her LPR from Warren. Her finish looked outstanding--tall, beautiful form, and fast! Awesome work on this technical course, Mary! Aniya was our next finisher only a few seconds behind. She set a new Season Best by 46 seconds, despite fighting off a ridiculously tenacious cough for weeks now. Like Mary, her kick looked fantastic, nearly catching a girl in the las steps. Congrats on a great race, Aniya! Joi was our next finisher, dropping a ridiculous 2:28 from her previous best. She let her hard work and fitness do the talking today! Like her teammates, she looked great coming into the chute, out-leaning a girl right at the finish line. What a big day, Joi! Proud of you! Tyla wasn't far behind. She has struggled with a sore quad lately, but she looked more like herself in this race, zooming to the finish and holding off a girl from another school. I know it's tough to run through an injury, but you really put a great race together today, Tyla! Speaking of injuries, EvaEva has been battling a sore hip for some time now. She has been doing all the right things: stretching and resting when necessary. She put together a HUGE race today, dropping 1:42!!! Her kick was powerful, nearly allowing her to catch a guy at the end. What a performance, Eva! Proud of you, girl! Jazmin was closing fast on Eva in the final steps, dropping a wow-inspiring 57 seconds! Whew! She has improved so much this season, and the look of determination on her face at the finish line says it ALL. Congrats on an awesome race, Jaz! Speaking of BIG PRs, Melanie had a HUGE race today, too. She dropped 1:48, skipping the 28s entirely and finishing in 27:15. Amazing! The growth Mel has had this season is just breathtaking. Not only has she embraced a more open stride, she has really learned how to believe in her fitness. Her finish was outstanding--she ran through the line with a big, open stride. Proud of you Mel! Tati used her as inspiration, because she dropped 65 seconds for a new LPR, too! She did it by staying focused and offering up a great kick. She nearly edged a girl from South Elgin who let up in the final steps. This is why you ALWAYS run through the line! Awesome effort today, Tati! Congrats on the new LPR! Despite sore calves, Sasha had a huge day, too! She broke out of the 30s (skipping 31 and 30) to earn a new LPR of 29:44! What?! She dropped a crazy 2:25 and got herself "unstuck." She kept running very similar times, but today she took a risk and it paid off! Her kick was beautiful--open and powerful and through the line. Congrats on a huge breakthrough, Sasha! Proud of you! Cici must have had the same mindset because she had a huge day, too. She dropped 3:04 to earn a pretty new LPR of 31:45. Like Mel, Eva, and Tati, she has grown SO MUCH since last season. What a gritty race! When she finished, she looked like she was flying! She ran so hard through the line, turned to look at her time, and then high-fived the girl that she beat with that pretty kick. Sportsmanship AND competitiveness--my favorite combo! Cici--congrats on a BIG breakthrough. I am so proud of you! Earlier in the week, Dani had a big breakthrough, running a PR on Libertyville's challenging course. Apparently she was not satisfied because she dropped a team-best of 4:39! Ridiculous! Her new PR of 32:21 is nearly 10 minutes faster than her first 3-mile race of the season. Her kick was beautiful, pulling away from a Mundelein competitor. Awesome work today, Dani! Last, but not least, our newbee Candy had her FIRST RACE of the season. She has been diligently stretching her calves and ankles, silently working through the tightness and pain to get to this moment. Cici was instrumental in helping her through the Darwin earlier in the week, and that teamwork paid off in this race. Congrats on a great first race, Candy!
You may be asking, "Hey, how do you know what our finishes looked like?" Well, Anesa was beautiful and sent me videos, but you can also look at the live feed of the race here. It shows the action of the race and then the finishes so you can see how BEAST we all were coming across the line (and how some OTHER teams don't seem to care about finishing strong!). It was so much fun seeing Anesa's joy over your performances via text. She and Cheyenne were going NUTS over how you ran. Their commentary was absolutely amazing! They yelled things like, "Let me see your go-zone!" "Ms. Di Grazia is watching!" "Oh, she got her!" "That was SO GOOD!" "She really running, though!" "Do you see how that girl is trying to get Cici? Well Cici is tough!" and my favorite, "Um, they passed a boy!" It was even more fun to write this blog celebrating how hard you all worked. It's easy to slack when I'm not watching, but you showed your true ZB PRIDE today. You looked out for one another and stepped up to show off your fitness. Proud is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel after watching all of those videos! I have goosebumps!
Tuesday @ Libertyville
Nestled in the trees along the Des Plaines River, this course is simply gorgeous! It feels like real cross-country, and it definitely has its challenges: it's tricky to attack Bertha twice because she is a longer hill, and it's tough to navigate all the roots in the narrow paths of the upper woods. Despite not having much time to show you the whole course, you all raced this course SO WELL.
Good things I was happy to see: Lauren ran a smart race here, using the hills to her advantage and running closer to Adeline from Stevenson than she has all year. I think the next time they match up, she will beat Adeline! Rachel and Fia worked the woods SO IMPRESSIVELY. They were within seconds of each other, and Rachel passed well going up the narrow path, while Fia worked the downhill by the school to keep contact. So well done! I hear that they both had killer kicks, too! There was a little bigger of a gap between Brionne and these two than I would like, but Brionne NEVER quit on her team. She fought hard, using the course to fix the gap. That's all I can ever ask! I didn't make it back for her kick, but I hear that Bri also had a beautiful finish, nearly nabbing two Libertyville girls. Alivia and Jana continued their partnership, pushing one another to pass opponents. Alivia pulled away in the last mile, and both had great finishes. Nice work you two! Liz was our next finisher, only a few clicks ahead of Juju. She gave Juliana a great visual to help through the woods. Coach Hamilton told me that Liz looked great coming down the path by the river and Juliana had a great kick! After starting together, Norah fell off her sunglasses-twin running buddy a bit in the second half, but she still worked to reconnect with Juju by working hard in the woods and on the downhills. Mary was our next finisher, and she looked really good on this challenging course. In the last woods loop, she tripped on a root that was hiding in the shadows, but she reset SO WELL and used the momentum to keep passing sleepy runners. Nice work not letting that moment rattle you, Mary! Joi was our next finisher, and she had SUCH an impressive day. To come close to your LPR on a course like this says a lot about her progress. She really used her long stride to her advantage on these hills, and she just looked aggressive every time I saw her. Her kick was a full sprint to top off this great race! Awesome work, Joi! Tyla was our next finisher, and I nearly pulled her out of the race after the first 800. Her quad was clearly bugging her, but she waved me off and kept racing. When I saw her again right before the mile, she looked smoother and more confident. She had a great mindset in this race, using the course to her advantage. She fought hard despite a sore leg, and I could not be more proud! Nice work, Tyla! Alisia was our next finisher. Despite having a bit of an off day compared to her recent performances, she still fought hard and kicked like a sprinter at the end. Nice work, Alisia! Mel wasn't far behind her, continuing her fantastic season of racing. She looked so strong on the hills, running an impressive time on this challenging course! Like Alisia, her kick was fantastic! Nice work, MelMel! Tati was after Mel and had an impressive race. She nearly matched her time from our home course, despite the increased difficulty of this course. Like Mary, Tati got got by a tree root in the woods, but she didn't let that distract her. When I saw her again at the finish, she looked like a sprint mechanics video! Her arms were SO impressive, and she looked so determined to finish hard. Definitely the best kick of the day! Awesome work, Tati! Sasha was our next bee, and she had a solid race today. Her legs have been bothering her, but she raced hard today, running near her PR despite the difficulty of the course. Like Tati, she had a great kick on that final flat--nice work, Sash! Our last two bees deserve a few extra sentences. Cici looked SO GOOD today. Not only did she run a season best, but she did it by really attacking the course. She looked so focused every time I saw her. She did a great job of zooming down the hill by the school, and her finish was outstanding! She ran 17 seconds faster than at our course! That's huge! Awesome work, Cici! And Dani? She ran a HUGE PR, dropping 1:16 from our home course (and THAT was a great race for her, too!). Dani's performance is a great example of believing in hard work over time. She let herself get fit both physically and mentally. To PR at Libertyville shows that racing has mentally clicked for her. Awesome work today, Dani! Proud of you!
Overall, we had a good day on this course. I didn't see a single one of you get intimidated by this challenging terrain, and you continued to support your fellow bees. Despite being beaten by Libertyville and Stevenson, I like how you raced strong in the second half. We nabbed Mundelein and just looked sharp today. Proud of you all!