Let's say you train all summer. You log higher mileage than you've ever run. You feel great and you come into the season with high expectations and a feeling of anticipation. In 2005 during your sophomore year, you ran a PR 5K of 15:02. You finished 3rd in the state. You then ran a 4:15.49 1600 in the spring after losing five weeks to injury and racing on only five weeks of training.
To put it mildly, you were more than ready to hit the courses this year and have some fun.
15:42.9 after three days of running,
following over three weeks on the bike, eliptical and in the pool.
But then an old enemy – knee pain – rears its ugly head, and you are sidelined again. Just as the season is starting, you're forced to take off three weeks. Bummer.
But you get some good news... a diagnosis of a correctable problem. So you cross-train on the bike. You tear up the eliptical. You swim. And when you're cleared to return to running, you have three days to get ready for a huge invitational against some great runners.
So what do you do? You simply run a time that astounds your competition, amazes your coach, and impresses the fans.
But you're not really surprised. You thought you might be able to go even faster.
You're Vince McNally, a junior at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster County, and you're back. And your race convinces you that you're back and ready for more.
McNally's 15:42.9 is even more impressive when you consider that he went out conservatively, coming through the mile in 5:03 in about 16th. And that's when he started to roll. But more on the race in a minute.
The "correctable problem" turned out to be something quite common – one leg slightly shorter than the other. About 1/2" in McNally's case. For those who just walk through life, it is usually not a problem. But hit the roads for 50+ miles a week, and things can start to go awry. McNally says it was diagnosed when he was in middle school when he experienced hip pain. He got shoes with an insert and when the shoes wore out, he threw the whole thing out and never thought about it again.
During his freshman year he missed time with pain in his left knee. And last spring it was his right knee. He recovered. He got in a great summer of training, hitting 55, 58 and 60 miles in late August and early September. He got in a good base of 450 miles from June through late August.
But then it hit again. Thinking it was a new cause, no one thought to look into the same thing discovered in middle school. But then a doctor did, and the discrepancy was discovered anew.
McNally has a heel insert and may look into orthotics after the season..."but they just add weight, and I don't add anything that will slow me down."
After his furious cross-training, he ran distance three days before the 9/30 Carlisle Invitational, followed by a tempo run on Thursday and an easy run of six miles on Friday. The day of the race, his knee felt fine. McNally says he doesn't think it will ever feel exactly like his left knee, but it's not enough to bother him in training and racing.
Because the Carlisle course is runner-friendly, he and his coach Mike Craighead made the decision to race.
After his conservative 5:03 mile, he came through 2 miles in 10:07. McNally said he started his move after the mile and heading down the hill beside the PA Turnpike. Vince spotted two guys from his county whom he knows and respects, Stan Berkow of Manheim Township and Tim Getz of Lampeter-Strasburg. He focused on them and at the 2500 meter mark, caught them. At the middle school hill, he passed Gettysburg's Bryan Beegle and took aim on Coatesville's Justin Leonard. He ran with them for a short time and then took off. "It's a lot better feeling coming from behind than being passed by people, but that's not a strategy I can use in some of the bigger races coming up."
His 15:42 put him in 3rd just two seconds behind Scott VanKooten of Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Craighead gave McNally a target of 16:00-16:20 as being "outstanding" in light of the lost training. McNally was thinking 15:35. "I always expect more of myself. But I'm happy with my race." He also loved the course. A self-described perfectionist, he appreciated how "well-groomed and marked it was."
McNally would love to win Steel City (set for Oct 7th, where he was 2nd in 2005), but the timing is not right for that style of course this season. McNally will race two dual meets, one today, October 3rd, his Lebanon-Lancaster meet, Districts and then States. But he has a goal three weeks beyond States for his first Foot Locker Northeast Regionals. In 2005, despite his incredible XC season, he moved on to basketball. "Basketball is over for me," he says. "I got all kinds of injuries last season (in basketball), including an ankle sprain, a hematoma, and a ruptured ear drum. Now that was a freak injury."
Craighead says his training plan for McNally has changed only slightly. "We are now going to train through the state meet and try to peak for the Foot Locker regional meet." Craighad acknowledges there are a lot of tough kids in the mix for states, but since McNally has excellent speed. he wants to work on getting him stronger. "We don't want to rush the workouts."
Craighead says nothing McNally accomplishes will surprise him. "Im happy for Vince for staying the course and cross-training so rigorously. He is the toughest kid mentally I have ever seen."