The weather was horrid, rain slicked and cold Saturday at Lakewood High, leaving behind a field — and its contestants — a mud-stained mess in the aftermath of the afternoon.
It was cross country racing at its finest.
As the clouds rolled by at the Nike Hole in the Wall XC Invite, many local runners put on a strong showing to outlast the conditions and the competition up north as they were pushed to the edge of their abilities.
“I told our kids that today is about you racing the course. Today they got the chance to race against the competition,” Rogers High coach Ken Zentz said to his Rams boys and girls teams before the meet. “The (conditions) made it real cross country ... it doesn’t get any closer than today.”
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That message was clear to all local runners as the conditions made the 5,000-meter (5K) course slow and unfriendly to all. As the day wore on, the field was pocketed with puddles and mud pits, pushing all to their limits entering the second month of the season.
“The rain definitely caused some muddy conditions on the course that made it a little interesting,” Sumner High freshman Emma Sjolund said. “(The weather) is unpredictable and you can’t always plan for everything.”
The invite was split into two heats, with the boys averaging a finishing time of more than 18 minutes in one group and one comprised of runners finishing under that mark. For the girls, it split for those averaging over-under 22:30.
Over the mark
In crowded field, several local runners finished toward the top of the pack, with three Sumner High Spartans hitting top marks on the day.
In the over heat, both junior Joel Mott (17 minutes, 20.7 seconds) and senior Petria Russell (21:12.3) both logged top-10 finishes for the Spartans. Mott finished in seventh for the boys and Russell was eighth for the girls.
“I think I started out too fast. The adrenaline pushed me out front at the start of the race — I expected too much of myself,” Mott said of his lead halfway through the race. “As a cross country runner, you have to know how to run when the weather’s bad and to run consistently.”
Mott’s seventh-place finish was the junior’s highest placement at an invite.
But no runner had a better day than Sjolund, whose third-place finish (20:39.7) was the highest among locals runners competing on Saturday.
“My time wasn’t great and I (feel) had an OK race,” Sjolund said. “I felt a little off, partly because of the weather, and just different stuff. Still, I’m happy with the results.”
Rogers High freshman Madison Egan had the top local 4A finish (10th), finishing with a time of 21:20.4. Not surprisingly, it was her slowest time since she set a personal best (19:56 on Sept. 30) two weeks ago.
“The course was really muddy and kind of slow ... you just have to walk through the course and plan for any conditions,” Egan said.
Even with a slower time at the invitational, it was never about hitting her best time in Arlington. It was about gaining knowledge going forward, both this season and beyond.
“I definitely don’t want to peak until districts,” Egan admitted. “You just have to go out and run your best and be smart about it.”
The look of Puyallup High runner Rachel Kastama said it all with her finish in the last heat for the girls. Racing with some of the best, the Viking junior learned what it will take to finish higher in the coming races this season.
“Today wasn’t my best race ... it was muddy — very muddy,” Kastama said.
With a white uniform and face streaked with mud, Kastama admitted that her 18th-place finish (19:43.5) will not be good enough going forward.
Especially if she can’t avoid being boxed out by opponents during a race.
“I kept being blocked in and I had to go around them,” Kastama said. “Part of it is it’s an invitational and I run better when there’s pressure. I don’t feel pressure at an (invite) ... I’ll have to make myself go harder like at our usual meets.”