Photo Credit: Alan Elfert
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Accountability has been on my mind lately, especially as it relates to the cross country season.
Especially as the two big dream races -- Team XC Nationals and Foot Locker Nationals -- have been been canceled for the fall.
Training is always important. If you don't put in the work day-in and day-out, you won't see the rewards. But unlike any other year, the work has been different, too. Athletes and coaches have had to manage their training cycles in a way that makes sense, allocating bigger groups into smaller ones, spending less time with their teams, and in some cases even handing off workouts and trusting athletes will get those done.
Talent often can't hide deficiences in this sport. But this year, that is doubly true: If you haven't put in the work, it certainly will show.
So the success we're seeing right now in cross country is a product of everything that was done behind the scenes: Months of hard work, long miles and painstaking training, much of it done either alone (for some athletes), or in small groups. Smaller than we're used to, at least.
This weekend, Stillwater's Analee Weaver perfectly encapsulated why all that work mattered. The senior from Minnesota, a Foot Locker Nationals All-American in 2019, ran a state-record time for 5K in cross country -- a somewhat innocuous honor, considering all course aren't always equal -- at the Forest Lake SEC Tri in 16:42.60.
That time is 43 seconds faster than any other female in Minnesota right now. It's the fifth-fastest performance in the U.S. And it's only the third 5K effort under 17 minutes since 2000 in Minnesota.
But you want to know why I'm so impressed?
Most people wouldn't know this, but she did the same thing a week prior ...on her own.
When Weaver had to isolate weeks ago due to contract tracing from a positive COVID-19 test that originated elsewhere, she was forced to continue her training alone.
She had a meet planned for Sept. 25 on a course in Minnesota. But wanting to test herself on grass, she went to that course with her mother (safely) and raced it. She came away with a 5K effort of 17:06.
Her previous best as a junior was 17:27.70. She had only broken 18 minutes five times between her sophomore and junior seasons.
On her own, she willed herself to a PR.
And then for good measure, she did it again against competition on Saturday. Even better: A state record.
To me, that's everything we love to see from athletes in this sport. That's the true representation of hard work, and she was rewarded for it.
But Weaver wasn't the only athlete to race well over the weekend. The same could be said for the hundreds of athletes from across the United States. The hundred or so California athletes and teams that traveled to the Desert Twilight Invitational in Arizona because their seasons had been pushed back. Or the Washington or Colorado or Virginia or Florida athletes who did the same.
Like Eastlake's Emily Van Valkenburg, who traveled 22 hours and then absolutely shattered her personal 5K best and won a major race in 17:15.48, taking down some elite-level girls in the process.
Or like IMG Academy, which made the trip to Arizona from Florida to race in what may be the only national-level competition of 2020.
Or in Georgia, someone like Marietta's Kamari Miller, who continues to show win week after week against some of the best competitors in his state. He hasn't lost yet.
Or on the other side of the coin, an athlete like Jenna Hutchins, who has been the most persistently amazing athlete of 2020. From Tennessee to Alabama to Georgia, Hutchins has made the most of a difficult circumstance by planning ahead and keeping herself accountable.
She's won three big races and run 16:40 or faster in all three races. It's no surprise why she owns the No. 2 time in the country right now.
She hasn't let her foot off the gas.
We all know this year is different, that we have to be cautious and willing to accept the terms by which meets are now run. If we don't do that, we don't have a season and we won't have races.
But in meeting those terms, athletes will also accept their own challenges. And because they've been accountable all these months, they'll be in a position to run for that personal best they've been searching for all along.
- The Weekend Rewind
- Tatum David, IMG Academy wins HS Girls Sweepstakes race at Desert Twilight
- Jenna Hutchins wins Alexander/Asics girls race
- Ben Shearer earned benchmark win at Desert Twilight