Behind Jenna Hutchins' History-Making Run At RunningLane

* Jenna Hutchins cruises into the finish with a historic all-time record for 5K in cross country

Photo Credit: Chris Wells/Alabama Runners

Note: A previous version of this story said that John Hunt Park was a "full-credentialed" 5K course. High school cross country courses are not certified by any sanctioning body.

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"Records in general to me don't really mean a whole lot, just because I love being able to come out and run and enjoy myself. Running has been one of my favorite things since I was little, so just having the passion for it is enough for me. It makes it a little sweeter having those marks to hit, too."

HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA -- Don't think this national record was an accident, a special circumstance or a magical race. 

What Science Hill (TN) High School junior Jenna Hutchins accomplished on Saturday at the RunningLane XC National Championships, becoming the first prep girl to ever break 16 minutes for 5K in a cross country race, was the product of intense preparation and focus. 

Well before Hutchins crossed the line in 15:58.42 -- her GPS watch tracking the distance at 3.13 miles -- ushering in one of the most breathtaking performances in modern girls cross country history, she curiously watched as the boys championship unfolded, with Parker Wolfe using a cleverly-timed last mile surge to take over and score a new meet record in 14:26.94.

WATCH: The girls championship race

And days prior, too, she had been studiously taking note of the features of John Hunt Park.

"I knew the splits I needed to hit and [I saw] Ethan Strand and other people from the Southern Showcase seemed to have great performances here."

She had studied the course layout, noting how elevation gains in the second mile made for a harder effort -- her resulting decision was to take out the first mile within reason, making sure she didn't overcompensate in the final Ks of the course. 

The day before the race, she had focused on figuring out the ideal tangents, knowing that the most crisp race was the one without extra distance.

It also should be noted that course directors said afterward, quite clearly, that John Hunt Park had been measured scientifically down to the last meter. 

"Since it is so wide, you can cut off a lot of distance there," she said. 

But even so, by mile two Hutchins felt the pangs of fatigue after heading through the 2-mile split in 10:16 -- a time fast enough to win some outdoor track and field races. She headed into the final K at 12:49.

Hutchins worked through that pain incredibly well, using encouragement from fans at pivotal points late in the race. Another key moment, less than a mile from the finish, saw Hutchins' mother offer encouragement just as the high school junior was seemingly falling off record-pace. 

As Hutchins rounded one of the final turns and the crowd began to understand the signficance of her effort, the cheers began to boom.

Hutchins turned into another gear. 

"I think it's just such an incredible race," Hutchins said. "I'm really grateful for the people at RunningLane for putting on such a great event and just having a lot of great competition around me. It's amazing to just be able to compete this season at all with COVID and everything. After some time to reflect, I'm grateful to be out here and excited about my performance."

In closing out her final cross country peformance of 2020, Hutchins -- who added afterward that her weekly mileage was only around 38 to 40 miles -- added to her remarkable tally of sub-17 minute performances.

On the season, she logged five overall, including her previous best of 16:25.08 from September at the Chickasaw Invitational. 

But afterward, when faced with the reflection of a new national record -- her second in three months after claiming an outdoor 3,200m junior class record from the Music City Distance Carnival -- Hutchins was reminded that her career was just beginning. Records were just that. 

"I think they're really good marks to show how you're doing compared to other runners in the past and the history behind that is really amazing," she said. "Personally today, my mind wasn't even relatively focused on the record at all. I was just trying to have good race. 

"Records in general to me don't really mean a whole lot, just because I love being able to come out and run and enjoy myself. Running has been one of my favorite things since I was little, so just having the passion for it is enough for me. It makes it a little sweeter having those marks to hit, too."

Just as impressive as Hutchin's mark, though, was freshman Mia Prok's time of 16:56.97, a new PR by 42 seconds and a new freshman-leading mark for the Class of 2024. That mark ranks No. 7 all-time on the freshman 5K girls rankings. Her teammates, Lucca Fulkerson and Madison Shults, were fifth and sixth, respectively, in 17:16.44 and 17:16.46.

Birmingham Seaholm senior Audrey Dadamio, a recent Stanford signee, was third overall in 17:03.37, as she was the beginning of an overall surge of sub-18 minute performances. It was a 6-second PR.

In total, 23 girls broke that mark, including Rhode Island sophomore Sophia Gorriaran, a 2:02.90 800m runner who posted a career-best mark of 17:21 for 5K. Avalon Mecham was fourth overall in 17:05.55, Illinois native Katrina Schlenker was eighth in 17:28.70, Andie-Marie Jones was ninth in 17:29.33 and Leigh Walters closed out the top 10 in 17:33.16.

"I've kind of gotten used to being with some other girls (racing)," Dadamio said of her 2020 season, "but never for the whole race. So it was kind of nice to have people in the second and the third mile to help me push when I'm tired. Having them was really great. 

Meanwhile, the team championships took on a surprise, too. 

While Niwot, the favorite heading into the championship, scored three girls inside the top 6, the Cougars only fielded those three, failing to net a team score. 

That allowed fellow Colorado counterpart Mountain Vista, the fourth-place finisher at the CHSA Class 5A championships weeks earlier -- behind Cherry Creek, Valor Christian and Arapahoe -- to gain traction and pounce for a big win with 61 poibnts. 

Shayda Zarrin led the Golden Eagles in 20th overall, producing a time of 17:55.83.

The top 20 individuals were named All-Americans, while the top four teams were recognized. 

Event 3  Girls 5k Run CC Gold
    Name                    Year School                  Seed     Finals  Points 
Results - Women                                                                  
  1 Hutchins, Jenna           11 Unattached                     15:58.42         
     5:01.70 (5:01.70)     15:58.42 (10:56.72)                                   
  2 Prok, Mia                  9 Real Trainin                   16:56.97         
     5:20.58 (5:20.58)     16:56.97 (11:36.39)                                   
  3 DaDamio, Audrey           12 Unattached                     17:03.37         
     5:20.27 (5:20.27)     17:03.37 (11:43.10)                                   
  4 Mecham, Avalon             9 Unattached                     17:05.55         
     5:22.51 (5:22.51)     17:05.55 (11:43.04)                                   
  5 Fulkerson, Lucca          12 Real Trainin                   17:16.44         
     5:21.14 (5:21.14)    17:16.438 (11:55.30)                                   
  6 Shults, Madison           10 Real Trainin                   17:16.46         
     5:25.15 (5:25.15)    17:16.452 (11:51.31)                                   
  7 Gorriaran, Sophia         10 Unattached                     17:20.50         
     5:24.55 (5:24.55)     17:20.50 (11:55.95)                                   
  8 Schlenker, Katrina        11 Unattached                     17:28.70         
     5:23.25 (5:23.25)     17:28.70 (12:05.45)                                   
  9 Jones, Andie-Marie        11 Unattached                     17:29.33         
     5:23.28 (5:23.28)     17:29.33 (12:06.05)                                   
 10 Walters, Leigh            12 Unattached                     17:33.16         
     5:24.95 (5:24.95)     17:33.16 (12:08.21)                                   
 11 Brady, Mary               12 Pius XC Club                   17:34.14    1    
 12 Edwards, Isabella         10 Unattached                     17:41.35         
     5:24.92 (5:24.92)     17:41.35 (12:16.43)                                   
 13 Beasley, Allison          12 Unattached                     17:45.93         
     5:25.78 (5:25.78)     17:45.93 (12:20.15)                                   
 14 Mehlhorn, Caroline        11 Unattached                     17:48.28         
     5:32.44 (5:32.44)     17:48.28 (12:15.84)                                   
 15 Arrington, Zoe            10 Unattached                     17:49.59         
     5:25.34 (5:25.34)     17:49.59 (12:24.25)                                   
 16 Hayes, Kyra               11 Siegel Running Club            17:50.72    2    
     5:25.80 (5:25.80)     17:50.72 (12:24.92)                                   
 17 Schemmel, Hannah          10 Pius XC Club                   17:53.47    3    
     5:31.65 (5:31.65)     17:53.47 (12:21.82)                                   
 18 Murphy, Kiley             10 Unattached                     17:54.75         
     5:37.26 (5:37.26)     17:54.75 (12:17.49)                                   
 19 Vanderkolk, Kaitlyn       12 Bruins XC (boys)               17:55.75    4    
     5:24.94 (5:24.94)     17:55.75 (12:30.81)                                   
 20 Zarrin, Shayda               Vista Nation XC                17:55.83    5    
     5:26.43 (5:26.43)     17:55.83 (12:29.40)                                 

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