Cross country runners in New York can expect to compete in any combination of difficult conditions. Katherine Lee of Shoreham-Wading River has raced through rain, frigid temperatures and wind.
But she had never quite experienced what awaited last weekend in Oregon at the Nike Cross Nationals.
“I haven’t really raced a race in which it was that muddy,” Lee said. “Usually, no matter what the weather conditions are I can still open my stride and try to go fast.”
She may not be a mudder, but the standout junior still posted an impressive finish. Lee finished 10th out of 199 runners Saturday at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Ore. to earn all-America honors. She finished the five-kilometer course in 17 minutes 57.1 seconds. She became the first Shoreham girls to ever compete at the national cross country meet.
“It was a really great experience,” Lee said. “I enjoyed going out there and racing even though I didn’t have my best day.”
Times for the race were down across the board compared to a year earlier. Only one runner finished under 17:38 this year compared to 22 runners a year ago.
Lee said her style of running made it particularly challenging in the mud.
“I’m more quick leg speed instead of strength,” she said. “So it was really difficult to get through the mud for me.”
The runners got a preview of the course on Friday, but weren’t permitted to run on the actual course so it wouldn’t be torn up. Lee said she almost slipped while running on both days.
Lee qualified for the national competition by virtue of her victory one week earlier at the New York Regional.
Heading into a race with so many talented and unknown competitors presented a unique challenge. Lee said she knew a handful of runners who were also from New York that she met at the regional race. But otherwise, it was a field of mostly unknowns.
“A race like this you really have to go out and see what happens,” Lee said. “You don’t really know who’s going to do what. You just have to wait and see.”
Lee raced in a pack with fellow New York runners Jessica Lawson and Katelyn Tuohy. Lee finished third among the five New York runners. Kelsey Chmiel, a sophomore from Saratoga Springs, finished fifth overall and Lawson, a senior from Corning, was eighth.
The race capped an exceptional season for the state champion Lee, who had won every race she competed in until Saturday. Her goal for the national meet was to earn all-America honors, which did by finishing top-21.
“It makes me really happy to realize that even when goals seem impossible they can be reached,” Lee said, reflecting back on her season. “Even though I had the that season I wanted to, I leave it wanting to work harder and be better.”
Lee said she’ll take a few days off before turning her attention to the already started winter track season. More races await.
Photo caption: Katherine Lee competes at the New York Regional two weeks ago. (Courtesy photo)