At the prestigious, absolutely talent-packed Hispanic Games at the New Balance Armory in New York on Saturday, January 8th, Central Bucks East senior Jenny Guidera came out of nowhere.
Well, that was the gist of some of the forum talk after she had finished 2nd to Foot Locker champ and all-everything Aisling Cuffe in a huge 3000 meter PR of 10:02.91.
"That's kind of funny" said her coach, Matt Catinella the day after the race. "She has been here and getting this good all along."
Catinella thinks that it was easy for people to focus on Guidera's fellow senior and star Katie Kinkead. After all, as a runner-up in 2009 in cross country; indoor in the 3000; and outdoor in the 3200 in some epic races; it would be easy to overlook Kinkead's talented teammate.
But the distance running careers of both runners took different paths to arrive as a similar destination.
According to Catinella, Guidera started out ahead of Kinkead as a freshman, with about two minutes separating them on the cross country course. Guidera would finish 49th at states her sophomore year.
"Katie followed the path of a sharp improvement after her sophomore year. Jenny has simply built upon each season."
The point to be made here is, both athletes have apparently ended up in the same place.
Among the high school elite.
In addition to her top 50 finish in cross country as a freshman - out of nowhere included a 22nd place medal in cross as a junior, an 8th place medal in the 3000 at indoor states last March, and a near medal in outdoor states in the 3200.
(Photo by Tim Fulton, ArmoryTrack.com)
But the steady improvement took an even steeper turn this fall when she reached a season goal of breaking 18 minutes for the first time at her Conference Championships. A week later, she clearly demonstrated that it was no accident, when she posted an 18:00 in the District championship. And a week later, she moved further up the podium with a 12th place finish.
But while she was achieving personal goals and helping her team to their first-ever trip to the state cross country meet, she and her family were undergoing an incredibly stressful period.
In early October, her mother had an accident after putting Jenny aboard a train bound for an official visit to her mom's alma mater, Yale University. When Jenny could not reach her mother by phone, she felt something was wrong.
She returned home, and learned of the seriousness of the injury. Following surgery and months of rehab, her mother is now home.
The situation makes her October and November achievements that much more remarkable.
"I had so much support," Guidera says. "From family, and the track team. But it is running that kept me sane. This really has changed my life perspective."
During all this, Guidera had four wisdom teeth removed in the week between cross country and the start of indoor training.
So continuing to focus on her own goals during all this would seem like it would challenge anyone.
"She is very disciplined" understates Catinella.
National Honor Society. Musician. And as this is written on January 11th, her short list of several Ivy League schools, got very short. When all is signed and sealed, Guidera plans to become a Princeton Tiger this coming fall.
Catinella says that when you combine Guidera's intelligence with her passion for the sport and her self-discipline, you get the perfect kind of coachable athlete. "She sees the facts, and she knows where she was and where she is now," he says. "So when I told her that her training said she could run under 10:10 in the 3K now, she knew it was true.
"We don't race a whole lot" says Catinella. "We rely on training."
A year ago, Guidera's lactate threshold mile workout was at 6:25 pace. This year, it is in the 6:05-6:10 range. That is a three-by-mile with a minute recovery. That was followed by four 200's in the 37-38 range. Add a separate interval workout of three sets of 3x400's, dropping from 79's to 77's, and you get the idea.
Guidera's other runner's gift is a great sense of pace, says her coach.
The discipline necessary to achieve even pacing throughout a race can make it look like a runner is out of it early on. But on Saturday in the 3000, as others slowed, and Guidera maintained her even pace, she soon found herself alone in second.
38.6 - 40.9 - 40.5 - 39.4 - 40.1 - 39.9 - 39.2 - 40.2 (5:18 for 1600m), 39.5 - 39.9 - 39.9 - 40.4 - 41.1 - 41.9 - 40.4 - 10:02.91
"My goal was to run as many 40's as possible. There were a lot of girls in front of me at the 800, but that is when I started passing."
She soon caught the two girls who had gone out with Cuffe, and thought she might have some difficulty staying with them. "But when they started slowing down, I just left."
She shifted her focus from the competitors behind her to the only remaining one ahead - Cuffe. "I did try to catch her. I knew that wasn't realistic, but I could see I was gaining for a few laps."
Then Cuffe took off.
(Photo by Tom Eagan)
The other benefit of chasing another runner is it leads to a great time. During the race, the venue clock told her she was on pace and she thought she had a shot at one of her season goals, to break ten.
She finished within three seconds.
But the time has made her rethink her season-ending goals as well. She had set one goal to finish in the top three at states in the 3000. Suffice it to say, she has lowered that number.
And she wants to break ten.
She'd also like to use her 10:02 to get her first-ever trip to the Penn Relays in the Championship of America 3000. Not just the Penn Relays, but her first-ever visit to the meet, after just missing qualifying for the elite field last spring.
This year; after four years of steady improvement; she is easily among the country's elite.
Guidera credits training partner Katie Kinkead for pushing her and for sharing the running experience as a teammate and friend.
But she reserves her highest praise for her coach. "He is so even-keeled. So patient. So genuine," she said. "We're so lucky to have the best coach in the U.S."
Out of nowhere, indeed.