When my mom and dad decided to move our family from the Olympic Peninsula to the suburbs of Philadelphia, one of their concerns was that I wouldn't be able to run for a High School in Pennsylvania. Who knew if I would be able to run for any team out in Pennsylvania. The east-coast job, though, was just what our family needed, so, after a few talks with me, the family decided to go for it. Dad was in Wayne, PA, a month before we moved and wrote the editor of PennTrackXC.com, Don Rich, to see what the state allowed and what opportunities there were for runners not attached to school teams. Mr. Rich talked to him on the phone and explained that Gov. Rendell had just signed a bill mandating that schools had to let home schoolers participate in school sports and music programs. He asked my dad where we lived. Dad said, "Wayne."
Liz Milewski, Hannah Granger, June Farley,
Kelyn Freedman, Shannon Holm, Katie Lally
Mr. Rich just laughed. There are more than 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, he told my dad, and you've moved into the one district with four 19:00 5k runners, the little school that is favored to win the big school's State Cross Country meet next fall. I met Coach Flanagan (and Liz Milewski and Mr. Rich) the next month when I flew east for my grandmom's funeral. Coach, Liz, and the team made me feel really welcome. And they talked about winning State (States actually).
I had run on a team in Port Townsend, WA, that was supposed to win a State Championship in 2005 (albeit for really small schools, 2A). We had a good group of girls that ran all summer, and, for 2A there, that usually is enough to win a State ranking or championship. The coaches at WAtfXC.com ranked us #1 in 2A until the mistakes the Port Townsend Athletic Director made in registering me and my sister (three years in a row…) across school lines surfaced. The WIAA declared us ineligible. The Granger girls' season was shot and the team fell out of the rankings. Two days before districts, the WIAA changed its mind and let me and Sarah run. We ran a bit like deer in the headlights. It was a long, drawn-out and painful process for everyone involved. Kind of like a very spiteful divorce. It was Sarah's first season running, and after our experience with the coaches and school AD during this ordeal, I'm afraid it left a nasty taste in her memories about cross country. We ended up winning Districts, but limped to just a podium finish, without my sister (who ended up breaking her leg at District) the next weekend at Pasco. I put team state championships out of my mind.
After my track season at Chimacum High School (Go, Cowboys!), I flew east to be with my family and start running with my new Radnor friends. There was some talk about NTN but we all knew that was largely out of our hands even if we ran well at Warwick Valley. What Coach Flanagan and his teams talked about was the State race at Hershey. We traveled to the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid for a week at "fast camp" to get in shape and do everything necessary to win the meet my teammates felt they had lost in 2005 partly because they had a rash of freak things happen (I mean, iron deficiencies?). Liz was on the bike and running in the pool for hours. Why? "Hershey." "States."
So the whole summer and this whole fall running season, even with the NTN buzz, has been about getting ready for our State race last weekend. It has been Coach Flanagan's hope and dream, literally since before I knew him. Which has only been from last summer, but still… The girls' team has been learning and adjusting this whole season to just how much pressure is involved leading up to a race where we are the odds-on favorites to win. In our other really big races, Warwick Valley and District 1 at Lehigh, we were supposed to run well but folks weren't saying we were a "lock" to win like they were last week (which was pretty silly considering how well Emmaus was running). No one on the Radnor team was complaining, of course, but we really needed something to do Friday, the night before our last guaranteed high school cross country race, in our hotel to get the State Meet albatross off our necks (and minds). I had an idea.
A couple years ago, I remember seeing a picture in Marc Bloom's Harrier Magazine of a team of girls who were from California or New Mexico, I think. Don't quote me on that, please (all my Harrier issues were lost in the move - ☹). The picture of these girls and how they got ready for a huge meet that they won has been sitting in the back of my mind since I first saw it, just waiting for an excuse to try it out. Liz, Shannon and I talked about it and agreed it was what we needed for a few laughs – and a signature "look" – for the race everyone thought was ours to lose. On the way back from walking the course, then, we seniors stopped at a little store to buy power bars for the next morning - and Liz and I cleaned them out of the closest thing they had to masking tape. Which was electrical tape. Ouch. (See photo below)
Back at the hotel after dinner, the whole team met up in the our room to talk about the race, make sure all the race chips were tied on tight, and then I told everyone about my idea. There were a few looks from the girls in my general direction that I'll never forget after I explained the whole concept, but pretty soon everyone was running around the room in race shorts - with black electrical tape spiraling up our legs and tanning lotion everywhere. That's right; Radnor Racing Stripes. Stupid? Maybe – but the tension was all gone. Killed that monkey on our backs. I was surprised how well the stripes turned out actually, as obviously it wasn't something any of us had done before. I actually forgot about it when I woke up in the morning and was changing into my uniform. Quite the shock when you're half asleep.
We bundled up the next morning, and agreed not to say a peep to the adults about our zebra legs. Coach Flanagan had been implying that it was going to be blizzard type weather. We had brought clothes to dress for the Iditarod race accordingly. In our 5-7 layers each, we drove to the course. It was definitely cold out, but, by our race at 10 a.m., there wasn't much need to be wearing thermal UnderArmor under our jerseys. Kelyn kept hers on, though, because she learned at the District race that she has no body fat and has no way to stay warm. Even running full speed for around 20 minutes won't cut it for Kelyn. The rest of us doffed our warm-ups and the stripes came out for all to see. Coach Flanagan didn't say anything and I'm glad I'm not a mind reader. My thought (I'm sure it passed through a couple of the other girls' minds too): "We'd really better win this race or these tiger lines will not be the laugh we had last night making them."
We all got a less nervous laugh at Shannon during our warm-ups when she got a salute from one of the Coatesville guys. The Radnor and Coatesville teams, despite the two teams being from "just outside Philly," have never really met. Both Radnor and Coatsville are the subject of many threads and numerous post on the DyeStat and PennTrackXC boards as undeserving for NTN bids, in part because we cannot run at the NY Federation meet (please, Nike, make New York its own region so the rest of us on the east coast don't have to deal with their never-ending "speed ratings" numbers game and attitudes…Joke!) The playful salute from Coatesville, though, meant a lot to us. They know what it's like to run with a target on their backs. And thinking beyond the State meet.
And the race? It went pretty much like Coach Flanagan said it would if we ran his plan. Go out fast, but not too fast. Work the hills hard and remember every place counts. Don't let anyone in Emmaus green go by at race's end.
As he predicted, the race went out really fast and some of us ended up going with the semi-front pack. The course was a lot like Mt. SAC in California that I ran twice at Footlocker West. It's flat or downhill for about a mile so the herd stampedes - and then you hit the merciless hills. At Mt. SAC, there are three hills, each enough to ruin a good day. At Hershey, after a mile it just rolls and rolls and turns and up a wall you go again. Flanagan told us to get out from the massive line-up at the start so we wouldn't get stuck later on but not to go crazy in the stampede. Liz and I went out hard (5:35 at the mile) and we were still way back from the leaders. We stayed together until after the 2 mile hill.
How was it? Honestly, running with a teammate and passing other runners at the top of a hill, or anywhere really, in tandem has to be well up there on anyone's list of most satisfying feelings during a Cross Country race. Liz ran away on that last hill and ended up finishing 11 seconds ahead of me and nabbing an individual medal on the way. I missed the cutoff for one of those goodies by two places and watched Emmaus' #1 runner finish a few places ahead of me. But I got what we all wanted: a nice gold medal that says "2006 AAA Girls Team Champons." Yes, they actually spelled 'Champions' wrong on the medal. How hilarious is that? It could have said "Mouseketeers – Tamaqua Invitational – 1959," though, and we'd have been happy. We had a solid race, just like Flanagan said we had to run to win the title. And we won "States." Mission accomplished.
I don't think any of us, outside of Liz and June once again, had a personal best or outstanding individual race, but, once again, we ran strong as a team. I apologize for the title of this article but it fits. Emmaus ran a great race, marking us almost from the start, and there were some nervous moments while we waited for the results (the Radnor dads counted every runner in green as an Emmaus girl so it looked bleak – there are lots of teams in green…). For her big race in the chocolate capitol of the world, a race that pretty much won the meet for us, "Farley and the Chocolate Factory" was irresistible. June ran "out of her mind" as Don Rich said after the race. I heard that echoed all around the Radnor tent for the rest of the day because it was so true. She ran as our newest #3 runner and ran a monster race to pace herself over the hills and come in before Emmaus' #2 and 3 girls, both of whom seemed to have marked her as a target around the 1.5 mile mark. Her time on the hills at Hershey, incredibly, was within seconds of her PR from last year on the table-top, rocketing Lehigh course. June was our "October Surprise," in rehab right up until the big meets where all her hard work (and Coach Flanagan's wizardry) paid off.
The day of State, November 4th, was also the 7th anniversary to the day of my being mauled by a pack of dogs while living in Texas. Not pretty. I ended up in Texas Children's Hospital getting more than 135 stitches (the two surgeons told my dad they stopped counting after four hours) to put my ear, face, leg and hamstring back together again. I know a little of what Liz and June went through this year in coming back from injuries. That our State meet #1 and #3 girls couldn't run but kept training right through the summer says a lot about our Radnor girls team. If I were a reporter writing us up, I'm not sure if I'd choose the "Mighty Mouse -Hoosiers" angle or the "Come-back Girls" feature. Either way, it's a great read, I think, and the heroism of Liz and June should be the lead.
Liz continued as our #1 at State and she looked great. No one had a better view of her than I did as she ran away! One reason she ran so light-footed I think, besides those racing stripes, was that this meet was Liz's first time racing this fall without the college-application weight hanging around her neck. She signed early decision to William & Mary College last week and seemed to run about 10 pounds lighter the morning of State. Shannon, June, and I aren't all done with applications and scholarship hunting yet, and, yeah, we were just a little jealous of her carefree attitude this whole week. We all laughed at her when she came back from her official visit to Williamsport, raving about everything and anything possible, but it's obviously the perfect school for her. I'm glad she's over worrying now. My main college choice is also in Virginia, so now Liz tells me she's all excited about the possibility of me still being able to do her hair before races. She is a hoot.
Nobody talks much about the Radnor boys but they deserve a mention at least. The Radnor boys' varsity team drove out to Hershey Saturday morning to cheer for us. They spent the entire race sprinting from point to point on the topsy-turvy course, popping up everywhere and screaming and yelling for each one of us. I have no idea how they made it from one spot to another so fast but it was awesome to have them there throughout the race. We're going to make some kind of award to give them at the XC banquet, the "Dude Cheerleader" trophy or something like that. They've been hoping we get invited to NTN so they can come along as mentor/cheering squad/bellhops and get shirts that say RBVXC 2006 NAT REPS (Radnor Boys Varsity Cross Country) or something along those lines.
RBVXC? Looks like a choking hazard. Or my best shot at spelling how a sneeze sounds. On the chance we'll get an at-large bid from the NTN mavens on Mt. Olympus, the guys here have been trying to figure out ways to raise money for plane tickets even before State. We had to tell them to give up on the bake sale idea, and, now that it's getting cold, the car wash probably won't go over so well, either. I'm thinking a door-to-door campaign or a mass mailing is their best shot right now at fund-raising. Whatever happens, they have been the best cheering squad a team can ask for, and I really hope we can continue the madness for a little longer.
Liz Milewski and Hannah Granger sporting the 'racing stripes', whose application the night before helped the team relax.
If the Radnor boys can't make it, I could enlist the help of a good size of the Port Townsend running community and both my high school teams from my old town on the Peninsula, to come down to Portland and represent the West coast Radnor fan club. I've been keeping my good friends and USATF coaches, Ian and Alice Fraser, up to date on the weekly North East rankings and Harrier updates. They got me through the hard times last year in Washington during the eligibility crisis between the high school, Athletic Director and WIAA and what better way to celebrate than to turn the tables from last year. The Frasers went to school in Philadelphia and ran for Haverford College and Coach Tom Donnelly, just down the road from Radnor.
I have thought of the Frasers and how much they helped me last fall and winter all season, especially when watching June's and Liz's comebacks from early season injuries take shape. Their hard work under the watchful eye of Coach Flanagan and the payoff are almost a better story than the races we've run and won this season. I think of the Frasers because the High School in Port Townsend had never had a girl runner improve over four years at that school. As a rule, the young girls were faster than the older girls because, when they got injured (and High School girl runners are the most injured student athletes according to Marc Bloom), they never came back. I know that if either Liz or June had been on my High School Cross Country team in Washington, the coach would have written them off as last year's runner. "That's just what happens to girls who run." I heard that as a freshman from one of my coaches to explain why the previous year's star was now running #5 on the varsity and fading. I saw it over and over the next three years on that team and others. I have to thank Ian and Alice for helping to me train smart and not end up as least year's goods.
Which brings me to the conclusion of this article on "States." This whole Radnor season has been a semi-miraculous success story. We lost one race to the defending national champions in a near dead-heat and we "won-out" the rest of the season, beating a team from Emmaus that would have "destroyed the rest of the State" in any other season according to Mr. Rich. I need to say here what's obvious to anyone who knows High School Girls Cross Country.
Radnor was ranked #6 US in Marc Bloom's most recent Harrier poll and where we are now is a tribute to Coach Tom Flanagan's coaching. Yesterday, a committee from the PTFCA nominated the boys and girls Athlete of the Year and Coaches of the Year. Flanagan was named the Pennsylvania Coach of the Year for girls, and after running with him this fall (and four other coaches since this time last year), I honestly can't think of another person who deserves it more.
We like to make fun of him about his nervous pacing habit that comes out at race time, and often tease him about looking a little like a leprechaun, and, wow, when you've run well at a great meet, he's going to pound your back and pat your head so hard in his delight that you'll struggle to remember he's happy with you. But his love and patience and running genius from the old-school Villanova brand is what has brought little Radnor to its first Girls Cross Country State Championship. I don't doubt that he'll win a few more. Another feather in his hat, is that 4 of the top 5 on his girls varsity, are seniors. Not at all that common. Maybe, too, it has something to do with his fear of us catching a cold from running in the rain? Everything else he's told us and planned for us and asked us to do and not do, has worked out. Teasing aside, I wish every girl runner could have coaching even half as good as we have from Coach Flanagan.
Now, we just sit, wait, and pray until the November 18th when the NE NTN bids are called. It's out of our hands at this point, but that's almost worse than wondering if we can help our case. I'll write the NTN bid story in a few weeks, win, lose, or draw, and say "thank you" then to all of the PennTrackXC runner-readers who have written or said nice things to me at meets and by email this year. Keep your NTN fingers crossed. And, however it turns out, thank you, Coach Flanagan, for a dream season, a trunk full of happy memories, and the State Championship I never thought I'd be part of. You're the top.
Radnor - 2006 PIAA AAA State Champions.