As I drove to NXN, I thought about what I might expect. At the beginning of the week, it was rather wet; however, it had been clear and sunny. It wasn't as cold as it had been a couple weeks ago, yet it wasn't unseasonably warm either. In 2005, the course at Portland Meadows was extremely muddy. The past couple years, the colder weather made the course rather nice. Since October 30 when we went to the muddy Westside Classic, my joints have been rather tender, so I was hoping for nice footing.
I arrived at Portland Meadows a little later than I wanted but parked much closer than usual. I noticed buses rather than team vans. I wasn't sure if that was the reason I was able to find such a close parking spot. I walked in noticing that there was standing water but not as bad as other years. Until the start of the girls' race, I didn't get my answer about the conditions. As I went from the start to the backstretch, I found my answer. The young man next to me ran and left both shoes in the mud. My papers didn't make it more than 2 minutes into the race before they were covered with mud.
As anticipated, the girls from Manlius went to the front. Fortunately for me, I ran into a Manlius fan who knew all of the runners and corrected the announcers. Christie Rutledge took the lead early. At the first split, Rutledge had the lead and was followed by Haley Pierce of Wilmington, Allison Woodward of the Midwest, Rachel Johnson on the South, and Shelby Houlihan of the Heartland region. With 3 runners in the top 10, it wasn't a surprise that Manlius had the lead. Kinetic was second followed by Wilmington, Newhall, and Ft. Collins.
The pack started to spread out as the runners hit the camelback hills. Johnson started closing in on Rutledge, but the Manlius runner did not give in. The second and third Manlius runners pushed closer to the front. The second split had Rutledge, Johnson, Pierce, Woodward, and Julia Fanning in the top 5. The teams were Manlius, Kinetic, Newhall, Wilmington, and Ft. Collins. The battle for the individual title was between Rutledge and Johnson with neither girl conceding. They separated a bit more before the second set of hay bales and then Johnson closed again as they hit the rise. By the time they hit the backstretch for the second time, Rutledge and Johnson were running shoulder to shoulder.
By the third split, Manlius had 3 in the top 5 as Katie Sischo moved up. Woodward dropped to sixth while Pierce remained at third. The Manlius team score which was 82 at the first split and 72 at the second split dropped to a low 59. The team race seemed to be for the remaining podium positions. Kinetic, Newhall, and Ft. Collins were in the second through fourth spots. The screen splashed that Portland was now in fifth. The top 5 at the fourth split remained the same. Brittany Winslow of New York had moved into seventh. Katie Knight of the Northwest moved into eight.
The announcer asked the crowd to bring the runners home. Johnson drove home in 18:18 followed by Rutledge in 18:21. After those two, the girls were jockeying for position. Amy- Eloise Neale of the Northwest put in a strong surge to move up in the top 5 and continued passing runners. Neale crossed the line in third with a time of 18:48. Following Neale was a pack of closely spaced runners. Sischo, Pierce, and Fanning took fourth, fifth, and sixth. Shaylyn Tuite of New York finished in seventh. Rounding out the top 10 and all breaking 19 minutes were Knight, Caroline Hardin of Bozeman, and Winslow.
To no one's surprise, Manlius won the team title with a low 27 points. Kinetic was second with 104 followed by Newhall with 117. Portland was fourth with 227. Rounding out the top 10 were Wilmington (244), Fort Collins (247), Carmel (260), Palantine (262), Glen Head (267), and Western Cary (294).
After the race, I caught up with Neale to find out what her strategy was and how she found the course conditions. Her plan was to stay with the top pack, but she lost contact. She wanted to place as high as she could and was pleased with her finish. Neale didn't mind the hay bales and found the camelback hills to be the easiest part. The mud made the footing difficult. Neale is known for her finishing kick, and she said the mud made it difficult to pick up speed. She felt more relaxed this year as she had the experience from last year.
The start for the guys' race was a fast sprint. There was a large group of runners in the lead pack. At the first split, the top 5 were Edward Cheserek of the Northeast, last year's winner Craig Lutz of Highland Village, Spencer Wenck of the Southwest, Zach Wills of the Midwest, and Elias Gedyon of Los Angeles. The top 5 teams were Arcadia, Manlius, Columbus, Ft. Collins, and Los Angeles. Lukas Verzbicas of the Midwest moved up significantly on the camelback hills. Before the hay bales, he had positioned himself into second.
The top 5 were Lutz, Verzbicas, Sam Pons of California, Cheserek, and Ammar Mousa of Arcadia at the second split. The top 5 teams were Arcadia, Manlius, Columbus, Fort Collins, and Lincroft. Gedyon moved into third before hitting the hay bales. Moussa then went into the lead. By the second set of hay bales, the top 5 guys had broken away from the rest of the field.
By the time they hit the backstretch, it was Lutz, Gedyon, Moussa, Verzbicas, and Cheserek who was running by the rail. At the next split, it was Lutz, Cheserek, Moussa, Verzbicas, and Gedyon. The top 3 teams were Arcadia, Manlius, and Columbus. The commentator mentioned that Manlius must have been closely packed as the first runner was around 20th.
Verzbicas took the lead on the camelbacks. Only Lutz and Cheserek were within striking distance as the rest of the field were at least 7 seconds back. Verzbicas had a nice fluid stride and was looking over his shoulder often. Many times, a runner looks back when he is hurting. This was not the case with Verzbicas. Lutz then put in a surge before the hay bales with Verzbicas continuing to look back.
Verzbicas crossed the line breaking 16 minutes. Cheserek overtook Lutz for second. The top 3 had a 12 second lead of the rest of the field. Moussa and Wenck took 4th and 5th. Lane Werley and Ryan Urie of California were 6th and 7th. Rounding out the top 10 were Brian Gohlke of the South, Tony Somaragiewicz of the Hearland, and Kenji Bierig of Central Spokane. In the team race, the top 3 remained the same. Arcadia won with 92 points. Manlius and Columbus followed with 135 and 165 points. Fort Collins finished in 4th with 171 points. Rounding out the top 10 were Lincroft (179), North Spokane (186), Dana Point (188), American Fork (195), Wayzata (266), and Highland Village (267).
After the race, I spotted Katie Knight and the ever smiling Korey Krotzer. Both enjoyed their experience and the opportunity to compete against a quality field. Both are looking forward to track and returning to NXN next year. Knight said that track is more definite. You are able to compare times much better. Both runners enjoy competing on the 4 x 400 (the longest relay in Washington) as they like the team aspect of a relay.
To all who ran well, congratulations. To those who did not place as well as desired, read the program especially the responses to the question What advice would you give to a high school harrier?