Let’s be clear. On any given race day, a distance runner brings his or her preparation and determination to the starting line and those will go a long way in deciding the quality of their performance. But there are also external factors.
In Spring track, those external factors are kept to a minimum. From March to May, distance runners key on one data point to judge progress. Wind or intense heat are about the only external factors that can affect performance.
Performance in cross country is only very loosely connected to time. The terrain, topography, and the weather combine to create a complicated recipe of variables that will be added to the athlete’s training and will. If a course is accurately measured--and many are not--there are still so many elements that will blend with the fortitude of the harrier on race day to determine quality of performance. Reading and making sense of all these metrics is a big piece of the inner game of cross.
To illustrate just one of many variables, think about grass. Harriers racing over a short-cropped lawn which has not seen water in a couple days find a much more responsive surface than those racing on a well-watered, loam covered in long wet grass. This single distinction in a 5 kilometer distance will be expressed in much slower times in the case of the second example.
At Freeman Park, along the Snake River in Idaho Falls, the grass was long and succulent, on Saturday, and the sprinklers ‘TCHUT-TCHUT-TCHUT’ every night, slowing the running surface. There are also 5 major hills after the halfway point. Four of those hills have corresponding drastic drops that I think of as ‘dives.’ There are sharp turns around trees and branches that reach out to poke your face or block your vision.
The Tiger Grizz Meet is not a fast course but it yielded a good outcome for the 4 Teton squads that took it on. Both JV Wolfpacks implemented pack running to a new degree this season. Madeline Pentz went on a tear in her second high school cross race ever. The 3-pack of Timberwolves that followed her, Kalia Moncur (fr), Taylor Amey (fr) and Brooklyn Godfrey (so), were separated by a mere 7 seconds at the finish. Kalia surgically removed 7 minutes, 23 seconds in her second outing.
The men’s JV put its first 4 across in 58 seconds which greatly aided them in realizing a third place finish in a nine team contest. Brennen Bates (sr) went under 20 minutes for his first time this season and Alexander Pentz launched his high school career a mere 10 seconds behind Brennen.
In the women’s varsity race, perennial team leader, Sara Bagley was absent from the competition and only 5 Timberwolves scorers toed the line. Four would realize season best times. Breah Hunter (so) chased the lead pack and earned a medal in the process.
Jenna Letham and Mackenzie Lee, who both tend to race like lone wolves, found themselves pacing each other for the length of the course. It paid off for both and for the team in a 6 second gap in their finishes. Kylie Hunter (jr) was chased to the end by a charging Eliza Wilson (jr). If Madeline Pentz’s time from the JV race is inserted, 3 lobos would cross the line in the time it takes to breathe in and out once.
Seven TImberwolves took the starting gate in the men’s varsity, despite the absence of fleet-footed James Allen. Gavin Berhens (sr) filled the vacancy.
Lance Safiran is learning that time and place are recorded only at the finish line. He rationed out his exertion and that helped his teammate, CG Woiwode (jr) who kept sight of his jersey. In the last 1500 meters, CG launched a courageous space shot bridging past a large number of athletes, including Lance, and finishing as 1st man on the team for his first time.
The Teton top 5 were within a minute and a half of each other. The only sophomore among the varsity men was novice, Alex Ortiz, who cut through the 20 minute ribbon, nearly matching Brennen’s time in the JV race. Ben Adams had his season best time as did Noah Machen who scorched the grass in the last 200 meters.
The plot thickens on Thursday the 17th in Pocatello. The Blake Stephens Memorial Invitational will be held at Portneuf Wellness Complex in Pocatello which is where last year’s state meet was held and where it will be again in 2022. This course is the venue where 8 of 11 women veterans and 8 of 15 men raced to overall 5k PRs.
Times at Portneuf always pleasantly surprise our athletes and coaches. Despite significant elevation changes, the finish line is about 20 feet lower than the start. It is a verified 5k but at 1500 feet elevation lower than Teton Valley. It has a grass surface but is often mown quite low which makes it responsive to the quick stride.
Our harriers will visit Portneuf twice this season. This first trip is for a small meet and then 2 weeks before District, the Timberwolves will return to the same course for the huge Bob Conley. In two visitations this season, I will go on the record and predict we’ll have an even larger contingent of harriers with an affinity for Pocatello than we already have.