Katherine Lee typically doesn’t run against other cross-country runners so much as she runs ahead of them. Often, far ahead.
Blowing away the field, in and of itself, can pose a challenge for a runner. When someone is running alone and not being pushed by the competition, the mind tends to wander. Focus tends to drift in and out.
“When you’re doing something that has such a toll on your body, your mind’s telling you, ‘You got to relax,’ ” said Lee.
More than any opponent, maintaining focus may have been the greatest challenge Lee faced Thursday as the Shoreham-Wading River senior cruised to her fourth straight title in the Section XI Division Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park.
Lee won the girls championship race, completing 3.1 miles in 18 minutes, 24.45 seconds. The next finisher, Bay Shore sophomore Roshni Singh, crossed the line about 42 seconds later.
Referring to the four-peat, the Georgetown-bound Lee told reporters, “It’s surreal.” She continued: “To be winning something that so many other great girls won and competed in, to win it four times, too, is just so exciting for me and I don’t know how I could have gotten so lucky to do that.”
Shoreham junior Alexandra Smith finished fifth in Division III in 20:10.21 and a teammate, eighth-grader Emily Cook, was eighth in 20:53.71. The Wildcats (33 points) were second in the division to Mount Sinai (30).
Riverhead sophomore Christina Yakaboski snagged seventh in Division II in 20:41.14. Another Riverhead sophomore, Megan Kielbasa, took 10th in 21:11.87.
This season has been an adjustment for Lee, who in previous years has enjoyed the benefit of high-caliber teammates pushing her in training and races. With the graduations of Allie Hays (Columbia), Payton Capes-Davis (Bucknell), Amanda Dwyer (Monmouth) and Maria Smith (Marist), Lee has had to adjust.
“It’s affected me a lot,” Lee said. “It’s probably the biggest change in my career so far. With the other girls, it wasn’t even that I was like progressing by myself. We were always just getting better together.”
Sometimes Lee runs with the Shoreham boys team in practices to be challenged physically, but it’s the mental part of the running game that concerns her more now.
“It’s been kind of difficult for me to really get into that race mode during the race and not have my mind wander, like I was doing today,” she said. “I think more than physically, I have to work on my mental state at the moment.”
Lee said she was happy with her time, but noted that it wasn’t her fastest. Last year she set a course record in the state qualifier: 18:10.37.
“I feel like today gives me hope for the rest of the season,” Lee said. “I think it tells me you are in decent shape, you’re not doing horrible, to not worry, but it really tells me what I have to work on, too, and today was really a big reminder of that mental aspect.”
A reporter asked Lee what she thought about her final race ever at Sunken Meadow — the upcoming Section XI Championships on Nov. 3.
“There were a lot of times where I’ve been like, ‘I never want to run at Sunken Meadow again. It’s too hard,’ ” she said. “But I feel like I’m going to miss it. If I’m being honest with myself, this is such an amazing place, not only because of the course, but this is the place where you see all the kids from other schools, you make friends with the other teams. Part of coming to the Meadow for me is just being like, ‘Who am I going to see today? Am I going to make friends?’ … I’m going to definitely miss this place.”
Beyond that, Lee plans to compete in a regional race and hopes to run in a national meet. “I’ll see how things go within the next month, but I think that this is definitely a starting point for the championship season,” she said. “I think it’s a good start, but I think there’s still work to be done.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Katherine Lee left the pack far behind early in Thursday’s race before going on to win her fourth straight division championship. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)