Battle Creek Lakeview’s Maggie Farrell finished a disappointing 97th at last year’s Division 1 cross-country state championship in a time of 19:29.
But last week, Farrell spent the first half of the Spartan Invitational in East Lansing a step behind Traverse City Central leader Sielle Kearney — before passing her and winning the event.
So, how did Farrell get from there to here?
“I get asked that question a lot,” she said, laughing.
There is not a simple answer, like she increased her mileage.
“Now I work on taking the easy days easy and the hard days hard,” she said. “My easy days might be substantially slower than my hard days. Back when I was running 19s, they were pretty much the same, so I wouldn’t really hammer the hard days. I would just stay the same.”
Finishing 97th at states did not seem disastrous to Farrell. But she thought she could do better.
“I knew that it’s great to go to the state meet, but it’s even better to go and compete with the top girls,” she said. “I definitely thought there was something more I could do with my talent and ability. I really knew that if I put my mind to it and trained really hard, I could have a more positive experience there.”
Over the winter, she worked with a strength coach and changed her diet. Lakeview coach Becky Pryor also worked on increasing her mileage.
In June, Farrell finished sixth in the 1,600 meters (4:59.23) at the state meet and took it as a sign that her work was paying off. But Farrell really didn’t know what to expect when she entered the Portage Early Bird race recently.
The race attracted a good field, and she was hoping to finish in the low 18s.
“I wasn’t sure what the extent of my summer training would provide me in races,” she said. “I was hoping from that to get a good baseline. I was just hoping to stay consistent and the time would drop with competition.”
You can imagine her surprise when she won the race in 17:39, which at the time was the second-fastest time in the state.
Farrell’s confidence skyrocketed after that, so entering the Spartan Invitational she knew she could compete with the top runners in the state. However, she never had been in a big race where she wasn’t significantly behind the leaders. She never had to try to take the lead in a big race.
Farrell made her move halfway through the race and all of a sudden there was no one in front of her.
“It was a different experience to know that there’s people back there and you don’t know where they are instead of being able to see who you have to catch,” she said. “I could tell a little bit from the cheering how far back they were, but you don’t know for sure, and if you look back that could mean a few seconds, so I had to hold on and keep the pace and make sure not to slow down.”
Farrell didn’t slow down until she crossed the finish line in 17:39, a couple of seconds ahead of Kearney.
It was a monumental moment for a girl who no longer is satisfied with being in the middle of the pack.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.