* Sofia Day enters the RunningLane XC Championships from New Jersey, and as one of her state's top performers
Photo Credit: Mae Keller/MileSplit
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A long and winding season has led Sofia Day to November, a time of season when the past is the past and the future is what you make of it.
The Mainland Regional (NJ) junior has spent months cultivating and executing precise moments on grass, leading to a succession of PRs, top five finishes and a sense of place within the scope of New Jersey cross country.
Now is the time after all of that, she believes, to step outside the lines and think bigger.
In December, her next quest will be on her first national cross country race outside the New York and New Jersey area, and that race will be the RunningLane Cross Country Championships on Dec. 2 in Huntsville, Alabama.
"RunningLane is a race I've always been interested in," Day said recently. "I know it has a great history. I like fast courses, like most people. I was excited to see who registered and who I'm going to compete against."
Day will be among those looking to drop time and compete on a major playing field.
She enters with a 5K PR of 16:59.37 from the CAL Championships, a race that saw her claim the win. But it also led to her best moments in a Mainland Regional jersey: A second-place finish at Sectionals, a fourth-place bid at Groups and a seventh-place nod at the Meet of Champions.
All those performances are part of a larger, long-term view toward her career. Next year, she says, the outline of her season will be about aiming higher, the stakes bigger.
"My dream is definitely to get top three for Meet of Champions," she said, before adding, "well, yes, of course to win."
And those things are clearly possible.
Day's potential is brimming. Like most cross country runners in New Jersey, she's been tested. She's been among the many who have experienced the pains and joys of Holmdel Park, a course known for its brutal 'Bowl' and tough conditions.
"It's one of the tougher hills I've ver raced on," she said.
But Day has done it nine times since her freshman year, getting better in progressive ways each year since. Her first experience with the course came in 2021; she ran 19:54 at the Shore Conference Invitational.
Four days ago, she had the best outing on the course in her career, netting a time of 18:43 to finish seventh among all girls in New Jersey.
* Sofia Day finished fourth at the NJSIAA Group 3 Championships in November
Photo Credit: Tom Smith
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Part of that improvement came from time spent in the trenches. Over the offseason, Day and her family drove 80 minutes north up the Garden State Parkway to train at Holmdel.
"I've always been into a strong work ethic," she said. "Yeah, it is annoying to drive all the way up there. But once I"m in season and I've seen the improvements, it's all worth it."
This being Day's junior year, it also marks an important period in her development.
College coaches are now able to recruit, call, message. Her ambition at meets beyond New Jersey gives off a certain impression, a positive one. The pursuit of greatness, in some ways.
She's also expected to run at the Northeast regional on Nov. 25 at Bowdoin Park in Wappinger Falls, New York.
"It's a new opportunity and I hope to PR," she says. "I'm a little nervous, but all in all, nerves often turn into excitement for me."
The next step, then, is more training, and waiting for race day. Day will take the flight south to Huntsville with her family and then will get her shake-out on the course.
She says all those pre-race variables make a difference. But has she ever been amid a ridiculously fast mile pace?
What would happen, say, if the race goes out in her mile PR?
"For me, I probably would be ... I guess a little shocked," she said. "But if I'm already going that pace, I would focus on keeping that pace and telling myself, 'I can do this.'"