Running in the 'Meda: Teen runners shoot for spots in state meet

Running in the 'Meda: Teen runners shoot for spots in state meet

Marty Beene

Photo by Marty Beene.

One of the great running-related features of "The 'Meda" is that we have a terrific collection of teenage runners here. I know this because I'm an assistant coach at Alameda High, so I am keenly attuned to the high school running scene. Right now is a tense time for these high schoolers because the section meet (the "North Coast Section/Les Schwab Tires Championships presented by Farmers") is coming up on November 22 at Hayward High School.

While smaller cross-country meets are often most enjoyable because of the organic sportsmanlike feel, the section meet is an event that you won't want to miss because of the amazing quality of the running itself, not to mention the drama. This is the meet in which teams and individuals can qualify for the state meet (the "CIF State Cross Country Championships presented by Farmers") held the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Fresno.

The top runners are truly spectacular athletes, with many of the boys running the three-mile course at only a little over five minutes per mile and the girls only a little over six minutes per mile. There are usually a few runners who even dip below those outstanding times.

The team-oriented drama comes from the limited number of teams that qualify for the state meet. From about 20 to 25 teams in each division, only a few get to go. Often, the point differential between the final qualifying team and the first non-qualifying team is quite small. Last year, in fact, in the Division II boys race, there was a tie for third place between College Park and Livermore. College Park's sixth runner finished ahead of Livermore's, so their team advanced.

Last year, there was a chip reader (the runners wear transponder chips to determine their finishing times and places) at the one-mile point of the race, so the meet announcer was able to report team placings during the race. One of the dramatic team-related events was that Alameda High's girls team was in fourth place at the one-mile point, but was able to improve to second to qualify for the state meet by the end.

This year, Encinal High's young teams have a tough road ahead at the section meet. Their boys team has no seniors, which has them looking to the future. Likewise, the Encinal girls team sported four freshmen while winning the Shoreline League title at the WACC conference championship meet, and has high hopes for upcoming years. St. Joe's is hoping that their boys team can bring home a third straight state title, so there may not be too much drama for them at the section meet (they should qualify for state easily). But their girls team has improved dramatically from past years, and is hoping to qualify for the first time this year.

Getting both girls and boys teams to state in the same year is a difficult task. Alameda High's teams are underdogs to qualify for state this year, albeit with tangible potential to make it - the Hornets have sent either a boys or girls team to state each of the past five years. The boys team relies on a strong pack with no superstars, so the performance of their fourth, fifth, and perhaps even sixth runners may determine their fate. The Lady Hornets are young, with a sophomore team leader and two freshmen, but hope to squeak into the top two in Division II to qualify.

The wild card for the section meet may be the weather. It seems like a tradition now that it rains in even years, and it seems that our weather pattern may be changing to bring in some storms (which we need, of course). The Hayward course becomes treacherous with rain, however, and even one runner slipping and falling can make the difference between qualifying for state or not.

The Alameda boys run in Division II at 8:30 a.m., followed by the Encinal boys in Division III at 9. Those schools' girls teams will then run at 9:30 a.m. and 10:05 a.m., respectively. St. Joe's girls will compete at 11:10 a.m., with the Division V boys race at 12:50 p.m.

Come on out and enjoy this amazing event!

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups, as well as Alameda High Hornets. Marty can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.