September 18, 2019

The First XC Race of the Season (a Nail Biter!)

I wanted to get this posted last night, but I was physically and mentally exhausted when I got home from the race and I just wanted to not move a muscle. I know I wasn't racing it myself, but I totally felt like I was--I'm sure I take it way too seriously, haha!

(Before I write about this, I'm just going to explain the way I write about the kids on the team. I have always used first initials and I blur faces for privacy. It never occurred to me to ask parents if I could post names/pictures, but from now on, if I do post a child's first name and/or photo, it means that I've gotten permission from his or her parent(s). In the future, I'll just ask the parents at the beginning of the season on the waiver they sign.)

Since this is my first year coaching solo, I felt a little pressure to make sure that the kids did well (in comparison to their own times, I mean). If they were to run and not improve at all from our first practice, I would feel like I was definitely doing something wrong in their training.

I think I've written about this before, but there is a boy on my team named Aaron. This is his fourth (and, sadly, final) year on my team because he'll be moving up to the middle school team next year. When he was in first grade, too young for the team, he would still come to practice with his older brother and do a little running. I could tell he was going to be fast, just like his brother.

When Aaron started running on our team, I began to notice at the races that there was a boy from another school who always seemed to finish very shortly before Aaron. Each race, the two of them got closer and closer to the top finishers. For the last couple of years, Aaron was regularly making the top 10, with this other kid (we'll call him Ferris) just seconds ahead of him.

At the beginning of the season, I like to give each kid a goal to work on for the season--it may be a certain mile time, or running a particular distance without stopping, or running their longest distance to date, etc.

For the last two years, I've given Aaron the goal to "Beat Ferris" in a race. At practices, during speed work, I yell at him that Ferris is right in front of him or right on his heels to get him to go faster. Aaron is competitive, and at races, he really gives it everything he has. Once, he even lost a shoe during a race and still finished in the top 10!

Last year, when he was in fourth grade, I was thrilled to see him run his first sub-7:00 mile (6:58). And then a PR of 6:50. It's interesting to see the difference between the first day of the season and the kids' best races. Aaron's time trial at the first day of the season this year was 7:52 (pretty slow for him, but all the kids are relatively slow after taking time off).

I usually give Aaron more or tougher work than the other kids because I know he can handle it (and he is competitive enough that he wants to put in the work to win). With this being his last season with me, I told him that this is the year he HAS to beat Ferris, or I'm retiring (kidding).

I was nervous for yesterday's race, considering it was the first of the season, and I wanted all the kids to do well. The kids who have never raced before are always a bundle of nerves, too, because they aren't sure what to expect.

I put tags on all the kids (like bibs used to keep track of timing) and we did a warm-up. Then we sat in a circle so I could quickly go over the details of the course and explain race strategy. (I also told Aaron and Harper, our fastest runners, to try to get toward the front of the pack immediately because this is such a large race).

After the kids lined up, the announcer fired the starter pistol, and the kids were off. There were 140 kids in the race, so the beginning is a little chaotic when you're trying to see what is happening.

About a quarter mile in, I saw that Aaron was in about fourth place. With a 1.5 mile race, I was curious to see how he'd do--he tends to do great for a mile, and then starts to slowly break down on longer distances (he really pushes himself to the limit). This year, as his coach, it was my goal to get his endurance built up--more long, easy runs. I hoped it would pay off.

I was standing about half a mile into the race to cheer the kids on as they went by, and as they made the turn toward me, I saw that Aaron was in the lead! There was a kid (Ferris) RIGHT on his heels. I was used to it being the opposite--Ferris in the lead with Aaron just a second or two behind him. I hoped Aaron could hold the lead, but I honestly expected Ferris to pass him before the mile mark.

Since I was cheering on the rest of the team at the half-mile point, I couldn't see anything that was happening. Finally, I ran to the finish line before the kids started to come through. There is a building about 0.15 miles from the finish line, and it blocked my vision of the lead. Seconds later, I saw a white shirt come around the building--it was Aaron! And I was shocked to see that he had a fairly large lead. I thought maybe I missed Ferris going by, but a few seconds later, Ferris rounded the corner.

I was STILL worried that Ferris was going to fly past Aaron at the end (a lot of action happens in that final push to the finish line). I was just praying that Aaron wasn't going to try to turn around to see how close he was or anything like that--I just wanted him to focus on the finish line and run faster than he ever had.

And HE DID IT!! He crossed the finish line in 9:12, and Ferris came across at 9:18. Aaron's finish time of 9:12 meant a mile pace of 6:08--faster than he's ever run. I will be so psyched to see if he can hit sub-6:00 soon. Since this was 1.5 miles, a 5:59 finish for a mile is certainly possible.

This is Aaron with his place card (as they finish, they are given a finish number).

One contribution to his great time was because he mistakenly thought that he was finishing the race about half a mile before the actual finish line. The kids have to run past the finish line once and do a loop and THEN they get to finish. When he saw the finish line, he ran like hell only to realize he wasn't done. He just held on to the lead for dear life, and managed to keep his pace.

I felt SO excited when I saw him win the race--this is my fifth year coaching, and I think we've only come in first at one race before.

Aside from that, all of the kids did really well! I was super impressed with a lot of their times and improvements. Harper (the girl who demonstrated the running parachute in a video a few posts back) placed 4th of 64 girls and 9th overall. She ran 10:08, which is a 6:45/mile pace. Her (self-proclaimed) goal is to beat Aaron this season ;) She is super determined, so she just might do it, too!

One of the boys, who I think has the potential to end up being one the best cross country runners all through school, ran a pace that was FIVE MINUTES faster than his time trial just two months ago. As a whole, I think our team is faster than any previous year. The average pace of the whole team yesterday (there are 11 kids now--one of the girls dropped out several weeks ago) was 8:08/mile. And that was for a mile and a half race! I'm hoping they can keep that up for our next race... this Saturday :)


  1. Great Job Coach! I felt like I was there with you watching the race - thank you for sharing. Great start to your season, looking forward to reading about how the season goes for your team.

  2. Very exciting! Congrats to all the kids! And to your coaching!

  3. AWESOME update! So proud of you and all your kids! Congratulations to all!

  4. So exciting! My 9th grade son is running XC this's become my favorite sport. I got the mug I won yesterday. Thanks so much :) Now I'm gonna start dressing for the job I want!!

  5. OMG I may have teared up a little but reading Aaron's story!! Way to go kid!!!! And way to go Coach!!

  6. My daughter ran XC in 5th and 6th grade (her league ran 5th through 8th grade all boys and girls together). Her first year, she would always be just a shade outside of medal contention usually finishing in the top third even though some of these kids were much bigger and stronger (huge difference between 5th and 8th graders). It was a lot for her to juggle with also playing volleyball in the fall (her first love), but our coach worked with her schedule and forgave some missed practices when they conflicted. I had to kind of cajole her into running the next season, but I so wanted her to experience the success I knew she was capable of. She ended up medaling almost every race (they typically gave medals to like the top 25). I was so proud of her, but a bunch of the girls she had enjoyed running with the year before had "graduated" and we didn't even have enough kids to get a team score so she was pretty "over" it and the juggling of two sports. She now is a full time volleyball girl, but I know it was a good experience for her. Thanks for all you and all the other youth sports coaches do.

  7. What an exciting first race of the season! Way to go runners, and good job, Coach!!

  8. This is so great! Well done to yourself & the runners.


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