The first time Lake Braddock Secondary School runner Sophie Chase reached the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships National Finals in 2010, the then-sophomore had no idea of the challenge that awaited her.
Morley Field’s two-lap course in San Diego, a trek littered with sloping hills that strain even the best cross country runners, dominated the Northern Region’s top runner.
“I didn't do as well as I wanted to. I got 38th last year, but from that experience I learned how to race this course,” she said. “It’s all about positioning from the start.”
So in her return trip to the national finals, Chase vowed to improve upon her poor finish on the national stage and set a goal of obtaining an All-American time.
“Being a sophomore meant I was one of the younger ones on the course last year,” she said. “Now, as a junior, I have experience on the course and I positioned myself better.”
In her second trip to the national finals, Chase completed her goal by finishing 11th overall with a time of 17:44, good enough for All-American classification at Saturday’s race.
Chase said she noticed an immediate difference in her two races, starting with her understanding that she needed to race with a plan.
“After the gun went off last year, I went into panic mode and I saw everyone ahead of me. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there,” she said. “This year, I was able to know the race would be very hard and get that positioning.”
Fairfax’s male representatives in the race, Chantilly High School’s Sean McGorty and Annandale High School’s Ahmed Bile, also joined Chase in reaching All-American classification.
First-time national champion contender McGorty finished 10th overall with a time 15:28. Just as Chase experienced in her first race in San Diego, McGorty noted the course’s difficulty as the biggest challenge he faced in the race.
“The course was very hard and the sloping hills were very tough,” he said. “It’s just a hard course, the hardest I’ve run.”
Morley Field’s race also is defined by a large hill that all three competitors noted as the toughest portion of the course.
“There’s this one hill on the course that is the toughest hill I’ve seen all season,” Chase said. “It’s a 1.5 mile loop, so you have to do it twice. That hill can make you or break you.”
Adjusting to the elite caliber of racing was another challenge for McGorty. In the Northern Region and Virginia state competitions, McGorty is used to being one of the fastest - if not the fastest - racer on the course. At nationals, he found himself struggling to keep pace with the race’s leaders.
“Everyone was just bunched together and I ran next Ahmed [Bile],” he said. “We were among the faster guys in the race, but there were some fast kids there.”
Annandale’s Bile finished 14th, taking All-American status with a time of 15:30. Bile said that it wasn’t his best race, and that the pace set by the leaders created an intense atmosphere to compete in.
Bile also found himself in a situation he isn’t used to: chasing down other runners. After falling behind the leaders, Bile said he had to make up ground on several runners to reach his 14th-place finish.
“For the first mile, the pace was about 4:51 and I was shoulder to shoulder with the leader,” he said. “But I was dying out there and falling behind, so I just started chasing people down, trying to work my way to the finish that way.”