Tierney Wolfgram wakes up nearly every morning, braces for the cold in Minnesota and heads out the door with her mother, Karlotta, where the pair will walk for almost an hour.
These moments serves as a reminder for the Math & Science Academy freshman that for all the successes she racks up as one of the state's best female distance runners, she'll always have love and encouragement -- and perspective -- from the person closest to her.
And seriously, it gets cold out there!
"We talk about stuff and that helps," says Wolfgram, who mentions it was 18 degrees one morning last week. "Before races, I figure out things sometimes, and she helps me."
While Sunday will be an important day for Wolfgram, the month of November is especially critical.
The two-time defending Minnesota State High School League Class A champion will be vying for her first qualification to Nike Cross Nationals at the NXR Heartland Regional at Yankton Trails in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A few weeks later, on Nov. 25., Wolfgram will race Foot Locker Midwest with a spot at Foot Locker Nationals on the line.
Wolfgram will need to be among the first five individuals across the line on Sunday at NXR Heartland, the team race not withstanding, to earn that bid.
Two automatic qualifiers are handed out to the best two teams across the finish, though only five qualifiers are given to individuals.
It won't be an easy task.
While Wolfgram, who finished ninth at this race last year, enters with the top 5K among the field -- she leads Minnesota with a best of 17:19 -- championship racing takes a whole new form.
Not only does Wolfgram have to deal with the best talent from Minnesota -- talents such as Grace Ping, Emily Covert and Anna Fenske, etc. -- but runners from Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska will also toe the line.
The pressure will be brutal. So will the weather.
Wolfgram's team will be running one of the earlier races, so she'll have to solo in the championship outing.
"The big thing for Tierney is that she needs to be focused on the things that she can control," said Brendan Ruter, Woflgram's coach. "She has to run her race. She's fit enough and talented enough, so she just needs to put herself in a position to do that. She can't control the other girls, she can only focus on herself."
But Wolfgram should be as confident as ever heading into the race. She's performed extremely strong as of late, beating Winona Cotter's Grace and Lauren Ping at the Class A championships on Nov. 4 at St. Olaf, and racking up wins in her last four races. Her best performance came at the Jordan Invitational on Oct. 10 with that 17:19.00 effort.
"The beginning of my season didn't go as planned, but then I ran Jordan and I got my PR there, so that went really well," Wolfgram said. "And I kind of just kept going from there."
Wolfgram has endured bad spells, too.
To begin the season, in perhaps her most important race outside of states, Wolfgram fell apart at the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 23, finishing 17th in 19:17.60. Expected to finish among the top runners in the field, she never really challenged the top group -- Ping, Covert and Fenske -- and couldn't make her way up to the front pack in the late stages.
"The heat really affected me," she said. "I felt sick the whole race, and toward the end, when I picked up speed and was catching people, I remember going up a hill and then collapsing. I wobbled to the finish."
A few weeks later, she had another lackluster outing at the Swain Meet, finishing in 19:02.50.
"It lit a spark under her," Ruter said. "It was about working through Griak and working through the rest of the season. The first race we wanted to peak for was states, but the focus is coming into this weekend and then Foot Locker."
But sometime clicked after that meet. Wolfgram started to find her rhythm at Jordan, starting a string of four straight sub-18 outings, including a win at the Twin Cities Athletic Conference Championships on Oct. 17 when she ran 17:25.28.
Her preparation certainly prepared her for this season. Tapering down with mileage at this point, Wolfgram had been steady at about 47 miles per week for much of the season and it was as high as 55 over the summer.
"Once we did a little more sharpening," Ruter said, "we got a little faster."
It's a weird feeling, though. Some part of Wolfgram still feels like she's unproven.
She says even though she won the Class A championship in Minnesota, she doesn't feel like she's beaten Grace Ping yet. The Winona Cotter freshman had an off day at state -- she was racing through a slight injury -- and so that means Wolfgram still needs to prove herself against top competition.
The top returning runner from last year's Heartland region, Anna Fenske, will be competing on Sunday, and she, like others such as Emily Covert, Lauren Peterson and Sophie Whicher, are running at the top of their game right now, too. Ping and her sister, Lauren, will also need individual qualifiers.
If Wolfgram wants to earn her place among Minnesota's best, she'll have to do it Sunday.
"I will have to push myself," she said. "I know I'm running for myself and getting in the top five is my goal."
"I think if I beat Grace in a close race when she's healthy," she added. "then I would like I finally beat her."