It's not news that Central Bucks East junior Katie Kinkead is one of the top runners in the PA. And now it's not news she is one of the best in the US as well.
The improvement has been pretty steady since her PR of 10:42.40 in the 3000 meter run at last year's indoor DVG Meet of Champions. That translates to about an 11:20 3200.
She dropped even more time from that indoor meet to the outdoor state champs where she won a medal for her 7th place finish in the 3200, going 10:58.63.
While all good times, they were not the type to predict what she would do at the 2009 state cross country championships this past November. Using a patient approach, she steadily surged over the latter stages of the race to nearly catch eventual state champ, and then-future Foot Locker finalist, Sara Sargent... running a powerful 18:44 on the difficult Hershey course in finishing second, just nine seconds off the title.
Patience seems to be her strategy. And it's the plan she used this past Friday in the 5000 meter run at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in New York. Be conservative, and then surge over the latter stages of the race and pick off as many runners as possible. This time she got four of the six that had been way ahead of her for most of the race, just missing out on 2nd in a final 100 meter sprint. But her closing 37 seconds after 24 of 25 laps was quite impressive.
The head of the race this day was senior Marielle Hall of Haddonfield, NJ; a Foot Locker finalist who became only the fifth girl to break 17 minutes in the 5K, EVER.
"Last year the winning time was around 17:15 (in New York), so we knew if I could be around there I would have a chance." (Three-time Foot Locker finalist Chelsea Lea won in 17:17).
From the start of the race, it looked like she was following the plan to the letter. Going out with the top seeds in the outer lanes, Kinkead was 20 meters off their pace by the 150 meter mark. "My coach told me that he'd rather I ran a 43 first lap, than thirty-something."
That kind of patience is impossible to coach sometimes, but Kinkead seems to have the gift.
"I didn't know it was exactly the right pace, but my coach reminded me I had 24 laps to make up for it."
From there, she just stayed patient in the second group of 3 to 4 runners, never trailing by more than 30-40 meters. And as always happens in races with that many chasing a super runner in Hall, the others with the leader began to drop off. And drop off they did.
Kinkead said she wanted to go out in a 5:30 mile.
She went out in 5:30.6.
During the second mile, Kinkead knew she had to continue to be patient. After all, it's 3.1 miles, not 2. "I had to make sure I had enough left for the last mile. She came through the 3200 in 11:03. And then at 800 meters to go, I just ran has hard has I could." (Her 4800 meter split was 16:34.)
The strategy of patience is not as easy as it looks. Kinkead appeared to be holding back during the first half of the race... something she acknowledged after her first all-American performance. But when she got rolling, the form returned, and she began her pickoff procession through the lead pack.
"It's something I've done before. I did the same kind of thing at Hispanic Game in January, so I've seen it work before. Plus, I know this track."
She ran what remains the PA#1 3000m this year in that race, at 10:00.23.
And Kinkead had some extra motivation for this race, because employing a strategy of a controlled start, and then pushing the pace after the mile in the shorter 3000, she had what seemed link an insurmountable lead at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships. With two laps to go, she held a seemingly comfortable lead on super-frosh Sara Sargent of Pennsbury. But with just a ten meter lead heading into the final two turns, Sargent caught her on the final straight to win her second state title in two seasons.
"I was really upset after that race," Kinkead admitted. "I had to make up for it, so I kept telling myself that it is in the past. I had to tell myself I had to be grateful to even have this opportunity."
While Kinkead relunctantly admits she was a bit under the weather at the state meet, you won't find her making any excuses. After all, she obviously believes every competitor faces the same training and racing obstacles. And she definitely focuses on what she can control. "I wanted to PR at States. Second is good, but I had bigger goals set."
As for the near future, Kinkead is hoping she has the opportunity to be in the 3000 at the Penn Relays Carnival. She wants to win her first state title Memorial Day weekend in Shippensburg. And maybe a national meet or two (New Balance or USATF Juniors) is in the cards.
But all she really wanted on Friday night after her impressive 17:12.07, was ice cream. "Double fudge brownie with hot fudge sauce," she said with enthusiasm.
While not the same ice cream choice of another great runner (like Neely Spence's nine scoop Chambersburg monster), it could portend a trend.
Kinkead is a PA and US talent to be watched. Especially because you know she is patient. And you know she is coming on as the race gets tougher.