My First (and last) High School Indoor Track Season.
I learn what a real relay team is like and experience one more fantastic season ending with a Nike upset.
When I moved here last July, I didn’t even know if I would be able to run on a High School team. It turns out, I would become part of a of a high stakes Radnor High team that not even in my wildest imaginings did I ever think I would be on.
I landed myself right in the middle of the Radnor team’s summer training. I had barely memorized all the girls’ names before we were off to spend a week at the Eastern Regional Elite Distance camp at the Olympic training center in Lake Placid. Fast teams, good food, amazing coaches, and I got to know the returning varsity girls really well. Initiation of west coast newbie complete.
Fast forward through the whole fall cross country season, where our only loss as a team was to the defending national team champion, up in New York by just 9 points. We won-out our season in-state, and captured the first ever State XC title for Radnor. We were also the first team from Delaware County to win a state championship in over 40 years. The last minute snub from Nike, when we weren’t invited to Nike Team Nationals was quite a downer, especially for the four seniors. Despite that, it was a fantastic season we’ll always remember. I know I speak for the whole team on this. Cross Country was a blast.
The season finally ended and it was time to move on. For the last three years, the end of cross country meant for me that winter training started. It was either with a few running buddies who would brave the Washington winters or it meant long runs all alone. Mostly it meant time by myself. I learned this year that Pennsylvania people do things a little differently in the winter.
Well, a lot differently. Not only does everyone run together all winter, but Coach expects all the girls to actually TRAIN, and do speed work, and even race. I was more than a little apprehensive about running the winter season. But I eventually caved in to peer and coach pressure, and decided to take this indoor track thing for a trial spin before I’m off to run in college where I’ll have to run all three seasons.
I didn’t really have a plan, goals or any idea of what to expect for the season, so Coach Flanagan told me a little of what to expect. He planned to put me on a few relays at the beginning of the season and then see what happened from there. “Could be fun I guess.” The only relay I’d ever run, though, was the 4x400 as a freshman. How different would this be?
It was a lot different actually (surprise?). The girls at Radnor actually took the relays seriously. We ran the 4x800 in the first DVGTCA meet on New Years Eve at Lehigh. My first indoor race, and introduction to the strange world of half sized tracks. On my leg, much to my surprise, I matched my outdoor PR for the 800, and we ran the State qualifying time. Pretty cool. Then the next meet in Kutztown, Coach Flanagan has us run the Distance Medley Relay or DMR. I ran the mile leg, and we won the race. One of the officials came up to me after the race and told me I should have been disqualified and with me, the whole team, because I wore a braided cloth bracelet in the race. Delightful official’s comments aside, I was still stoked by the experience of finishing in first place for the first time in a Radnor High uniform. It was another State meet qualifying time, too, and a Nike Indoor Nationals qualifying time to boot. This was a whole new league from those 4x4’s I ran as a lark almost 4 years ago.
After making the times for State, everyone had a few weeks to work on individual races. Or in my case, just figure out with Flanagan what race I was going to work on. I ran a few mile races, and one 3k (where I learned how important it is to keep track of laps to go, as I came dreadfully close to losing count), but mostly just worked on getting solid workouts in for speed and base management.
The highlight of the indoor season would probably have to be running at the New Balance Games at the Armory in New York. What an amazing place! We had to fight off teams from all around just to get a seat. But once the bloodshed was over, the view was worth it. The seats overlooked the track, and it was almost like sitting in a football stadium. The track almost smelled fast. How can anyone help but run the race of their life there? I had also never run on a banked track, so even the hollow thundering sound of each race going off was new and fascinating to me.
In fact, everything was new to me up there. I had the slight feeling of a country bumpkin, going to the big city for the first time, and looking in awe at all the buildings taller than 2 stories. We took the 4x800 up to NY, and amazingly I ended up on the lineup. The 800m has got to be my least favorite track race ever (I can literally count on one hand the number of times I have ever run that event), so I was a little worried about how this could possibly turn out positive. Coach Flanagan said it would be fine, and said I might even surprise myself with a nice time. He really is smarter than you might think. I ended up running a 2:21, about 6 seconds faster than my outdoor PR that night.
After that, it was time to start thinking about State. What relay were we going to run? No team is allowed to run the 4x800 AND the DMR (thank goodness, because Easton just might have swept the entire meet, if that was possible), so we had to choose. First, Coach Flanagan told us our chances in both, then asked the seniors what they wanted to run at state.
Radnor was 2nd after a 3rd in the 1st PTFCA Indoor States DMR
I was put on the mile leg, Liz on the 1200m, Anna Casey on the 800 and Maura Church, our fast little freshman, on the 400m. We cruised at MoC, stayed just below the middle of the list, and off we went to Penn State.
Our goal for the race was to finish in the top three, and set the DMR school record.
It was a very close race without a clear favorite until the last leg. Archbishop Prendergast, Engineering & Science, Henderson and Radnor all fighting for the first-ever DMR state title. Radnor achieved our goals, thanks to everyone on the Radnor team running fantastic races; we finished third in a fast race and set not only the indoor record, but a new all-time Radnor school record.
The winning team, Engineering and Science, was disqualified a few minutes after everyone finished, so by default we ended up coming home with second place medals. Not the same warm fuzzy feeling you might get after earning them straight up. I hope there will be a DMR rematch at some point in the future with these teams running again (can you say “Penn Relays”?).
Fun facts: We were seeded 6th, and given hip number #8, then ended up finishing 3rd, and receiving 2nd place medals. What a hoot. Got all the bases covered though.
A week after indoor State, outdoor practices started. Coach Flanagan had promised us a fun trip to a big meet after our disappointment at the end of cross country last fall. So he entered us in the 4xmile at Nike Indoor Nationals. All I’d really heard about this huge meet, was that the free Nike bags were to die for. This year wasn’t any different. We got these cool silver and blue bookbags, with a little back-to-the-future look about them. Top notch. Really.
The race itself wasn’t as cool. After warming up and getting all ready, we had to stand around in the race area forever, and hardly allowed to keep moving. By the time I finally got the baton on the anchor leg, everything I’d done for warm-up felt like it had been done about 9 years ago. The first half of the race was just me trying to get warmed up again. Not happy.
There was also some discrepancy about the lap count. In both the first AND second heats. One problem was when the teams that had been lapped by the leader were passing the baton on the same lap as the teams that had lapped them. Then half the field handed off a whole lap early. But nothing was recalled, and the results were not revised even after Coach Flanagan spent all the money he’d brought on filing a protest with the meet officials. So we left the stadium a little disappointed, and all chipped in with toll money on the drive home. The man has been watching track meets for close to 50 years now, and notices things about races that I don’t even notice when I’m the one actually in the race. He said he’s never seen a distance relay race like that in his life.
I would pick XC over track any day, but the one thing I think track has going for itself is the apparent objectivity or “un-subjectiveness” of the sport. Times run on the track are solid. Give or take a few seconds for banked or flat track, and there’s no messing with that time. XC courses are a whole different story, which is apparently what got us messed up during last fall’s NTN selection committee. I was disappointed that we were one of the few teams that seemed to run all 32 laps, (8 laps each) but in the end it didn’t make any difference.
In case this comes off as moaning and groaning from the Radnor girls who have a boulder sized chip on their shoulder after dealing with disappointment at the hand of Nike two seasons in a row, there was an interesting (humorous?) link to the 4xmile splits were posted on Dyestat after the race. ( HYPERLINK "http://www.runningmaryland.com/NINDayone.html" http://www.runningmaryland.com/NINDayone.html ) If you go look at the results, there are 2 new girls’ all time high school mile records set, among numerous school records, back-to-back, during the 2nd leg of the race. Those teams apparently made that extra lap up during the next leg, but then is that a real 4xMILE relay? Remember the Pennsylvania race official who wanted to DQ me for wearing my bracelet at the DVGTCA meet. I wish someone with his eye for detail had been recruited to oversee that race.
So…. Cross country left us with a head-shaking bitter feeling about failing to make NTN alongside the joys of a spectacular season and a State Championship. But this feeling after Indoor is almost as irritating. We qualified this time, ran our race, even ran the correct amount of laps, but then had distracted, or maybe just poorly organized, officials make a mockery of the event and the results.
Anyway, we got cool bags, a few T shirts, and Coach Flanagan’s solemn promise that he will never again go to a meet hosted by Nike. Seems he’s been burned two too many times in the last 6 months.
As for the season as a whole, my experimental season, it was hardly entirely like that last race experience. The team is a super group of girls, and Coach Flanagan is the best coach I’ve ever run for (which is saying a lot, as I’ve had five since I started running in 9th grade). I have to say it was one of the best gambles I’ve ever taken. I enjoyed all the running and racing, stayed in great shape, hey, I even got a little faster. I’m honestly looking forward to spring track, something I never said in Washington, and excited for another fun and exciting season with the Radnor girls.