Cross Country Runners Achieve Personal-Best Times, Honor Seniors with Golf Balls
December 17, 2021
After the last race of the Cross Country season on Nov. 5, after the coaches honored each senior individually with the ceremonial presentation of orange roses, the freshmen started a new tradition. Not roses, not balloons, but golf balls!
Angel Fernandez and Gerardo Santana pulled out seven golf balls that they had collected from Cooley Landing and around the Baylands where the team runs practices, and where golf balls turn up on paths and bushes having gone astray on a missed shot from the Palo Alto Golf Course.
With a season of experience behind them, many runners in the final WBAL Cross Country meet at the Crystal Springs Race Course that Friday came to the race less antsy than in the past and set personal records.
The WBAL Finals race also determined which varsity runners could qualify for CCS competitions — anyone who ran the 2.95 mile course in under 19 minutes qualified. This year, senior David Martinez, who had qualified for CCS three times in the past, again met the mark with a personal record of 18:11, or about six minutes a mile. He ran the CCS race on a Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Crystal Springs Race Course.
The Cross Country team raced into October with two league races, one at Crystal Springs on Oct. 6 and the other at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale on Oct. 22. With 15 days between the meets, the Sunnyvale meet demonstrated the team’s improvement as a whole, after the many challenging practices and runs they had completed to prepare.
“We saw the results, and the overall reflection was that we had a much faster speed rate for each runner,” said junior Alondra Lopez. “We had more time to reflect on what we did good or bad in our last race and fix that and improve our fitness level.”
The first league meet in Crystal Springs started with a 2.95 mile run over a bumpy and hilly course. Although the weather was perfect for the difficult race course — cloudy, with a bit of wind but no sun — racers faced roadblocks. Just after they had conquered a big hill at the first mile, the second mile hit them with an uphill battle at “Cardiac Hill”, notorious for slowing down runners with its steep incline midway through the race.
The team was split into boys and girls, and then into Junior Varsity and Varsity. Eastside’s three JV boys raced first, then four JV girls, followed by five Varsity boys and finally, four Varsity girls.
Jasmine Kelly-Pierce, Humanities teacher and Cross Country coach, attended the race as a spectator, coach and fan who cheered the runners on the whole way through. The Crystal Springs race was her first race since the pandemic, and it reminded her of why she enjoys the sport so much.
“I find it emotional, considering how it feels like it’s the kind of sport where anyone can do it, and it’s also really hard,” she said. “I think the coolest, best people do it, so I just get really inspired by all the people around.”
Jasmine also highlighted the immense support she saw among the runners during the race. Since the races were spread out by time and groups, racers who weren’t running could rest in a tent or become spectators, and the Eastside runners all stayed on the sidelines, running along and cheering their teammates.
“I just love hearing kids cheer for each other on different teams and on our own team,” Jasmine said, remembering a “magical moment” when she overheard one Eastside runner turn to someone at the finish line and say how much fun they were having.
The Oct. 22 meet was also lively and full of support, with a 3.1 mile flat course that many still found challenging. Humanities teacher and Cross Country coach Cal Trembath said that many runners tend to want to go fast during their first mile of that race and then slow down along the way, so consistency and control played a big role.
Senior Ricardo Enriquez Mancia, who demonstrated a 30-second improvement in the Baylands race compared with his Crystal Springs time, said he had expected the Baylands meet to be easier than the previous meet because of the difference in the topography of the course.
“That wasn’t the case,” Ricardo said. “Honestly, it feels like in the last race, I had more excuses about why I was going too slow going down because of the hills, and I was more familiar with it because that was my third time doing that race.”
Racing takes a lot of mental and physical strength, and for runners disappointed in their times, Jasmine likes to think of the TV character, coach Ted Lasso, who tells his soccer players, “Be a goldfish” because goldfish don’t remember anything and it doesn’t help athletes to dwell on their disappointing results. In the same way, Jasmine said it is best to move on from a bad race and go on to the next one. She remembers when she ran a marathon during the pandemic and almost wanted to give up.
“I felt so bad about myself afterward and it did not feel good,” she said. “But literally the next day, I was like, okay I need to do another one to redeem myself. The beauty in Cross Country is you always have another one.”