"I feel like I've grown so much as a person and as an athlete." -- Dalia Frias
By Ashley Tysiac - MileSplit Correspondent
With the national spotlight on her, Mira Costa High School senior Dalia Frias has not backed away from outside pressure.
Instead, she says, that's when she's let her seasoned, confident attitude take over.
Take her mile race at the APU Meet of Champions Classic in March. With 200m to go and her eyes set on Ventura (CA) freshman phenom Sadie Engelhardt just meters ahead, Frias began to find another gear. She put faith in her speed, thinking back to tough 200m repeat workouts she had completed in weeks prior.
"I knew I wanted to finish on empty," she said. "If you don't finish on empty, you're going to regret it."
Ultimately, that will to win helped Frias surge past Engelhardt just 50 meters from the finish. The number that flashed on the timing clock as she ran through the line left both her and the crowd shocked -- 4:35.06, a new California state record, a U.S. No. 1 time. It was the second-fastest mile ever accomplished outdoors by a high school girl.
Add her 3,200m win in 9:55.50 at the Arcadia Invitational from two weeks ago and Frias currently sits as the one to beat atop the national rankings. This week, the Mira Costa senior opened up at No. 9 on the MileSplit50 rankings.
But she admits she hasn't always possessed that confident 'star factor' which fans have seen her tap into during recent races. Rather, she credits overcoming significant underclassman naiveté -- that's been her big break of sorts as a senior.
"Now, I feel like I've grown so much as a person and as an athlete," Frias said.
It didn't even really occur to her until her junior year that becoming one of the nation's top distance runners certainly stood within her reach. With that realization in mind, she's made significant jumps just in the span of one year, shaving an impressive 10 seconds off her previous personal best in the mile and 20 seconds in the 3,200m.
Frias went from holding her own as a national-caliber athlete ranked within the top 50 in all distance categories to becoming the runner to chase -- in the span of one year.
What constitutes the formula that elevated Frias's classification as one among many top distance runners to her current status as the best?
For Frias, it's been all about trusting herself and embracing a relaxed attitude amid the frenetic national attention she has suddenly drawn in.
"This year, it's like, 'Why not? Why can't you just try to push yourself and just see what you can do?'" she said. "Having a more open mind for sure has definitely helped this season and not being scared to go out there."
Her evolution into becoming one of the country's best distance runners came as somewhat of a surprise. Frias only gave running a shot as a freshman because a handful of friends wanted to as well. Four years later, she's breaking California state records and wowing spectators at star-studded meets -- and now there's a sense of pressure that comes with that success.
"That's definitely in my head sometimes going into a race sometimes, just the talk from other people," Frias said. "But I don't let it bother me too much or get in my head because I just trust the training that I know that I have under me."
That's not to say she didn't have a knack for the sport from the very beginning. Out of the gates as a freshman, she clocked 4:51.47 for the 1,600m during her debut outdoor season and broke the 11-minute barrier for the 3,200m.
"This year, it's like, 'Why not? Why can't you just try to push yourself and just see what you can do?' Having a more open mind for sure has definitely helped this season and not being scared to go out there."
Yet Frias lacked early on what serves as her difference-maker now -- confidence. Perhaps timid feelings and anxiety made for nerve-wracking races early on, not to mention an unawareness of her true fitness level compared to other competitors as an underclassman.
"Looking at my freshman self right now, it's funny the difference because I didn't really know how to race that well and I held back a lot," she said. "I've definitely learned what it feels like to push yourself and what it feels like to stay consistent and become a better athlete in general."
Once she saw her name climb in the national rankings and other girls clock unforeseen times, Frias asked herself, 'Why not go for those times, too?'
With the mental light switch that went off in her mind came rapid improvement.
No longer was she afraid to hang onto the lead pack in a race -- Frias became the leader herself.
But where does that leave her for the remainder of the season?
Frias plans to take an easy-going approach just as she does with each race -- no specific time goals in mind, but rather an ultimate aim to improve with each meet.
She will hope to end her high school career with stellar performances at the CIF Division I State Track and Field Championships and maybe another postseason meet or two before flying across the country to begin her freshman year at Duke University.
"I never really set huge expectations for myself because that tends to get me more in my head about things," Frias said. "It usually does more harm than good, so I just go into a lot of races or the season with an open mind and just trusting my training and seeing what I can do each race."
Eyes will remain on Frias as she closes out her high school career, which has been marked by significant improvement. But whereas such scrutiny and attention may have derailed her younger self, a more mature Frias says she uses it in her favor.
Putting trust in her training and her fitness has resulted in state records and nation-leading performances.
Frias says she will continue to tackle her remaining days as a high school athlete with the same ferocity and open-minded attitude that helped her slingshot around that final curve for the win in front of an awed Meet of Champions crowd.
"The goals are just keep dropping those times and pushing myself to see what I can do," she said.