Mary Cain splashed through the puddles and trudged through the mud on the infield of an Oregon horse track, trying to chase down a California girl in the second half of their Nike Cross Nationals race.
But the girl from Bronxville just couldn’t quite catch Sarah Baxter in what became a two-horse race. Baxter successfully defended her championship Saturday at Portland Meadows in Portland. Cain had to settle for being a national runner-up in cross country and the accompanying all-America recognition, pretty nice consolation prizes.
“I’m very excited,” Cain said. “Being a miler, it’s kind of hard to shuffle in the mud. But I closed well in the last 300 meters, although sadly that was the muddiest area, so I couldn’t really go too fast. But it was good. The meet out here is such a great experience.”
Carmel had runners in the boys race for the first time. Sophomore Benito Muniz came in 90th, finishing in 18:36. Senior Eric Holt arrived 130th.
Cain arrived only four seconds behind Baxter and improved from last year’s sixth-place showing, which was also good for all-America status. Still, the junior’s 19:21 run was 1:24 off her 2011 pace in the race. Blame the Northwest rain from Friday night.
“It was funny; when the race started, the girl right next to me fell right in front of me, like the second the gun goes off,” Cain said. “So I’m like hurdling people in the beginning and stuff like that. By the first 100 meters, I was something like dead last. I was already covered in mud. And I was thinking about it: ‘It’s so sunny and nice out, and yet I’m freezing cold because I’m soaking wet with mud.’
“But after that kind of first 100 meters, I was able to hustle my way up in the front. … Physically I felt really good and I felt on it. But if you try to run faster in the mud, you slipped more. So it was just hard trying to do a balancing act and trying to run on the right areas. If only it was a little bit drier, but at the same time, it was just such a great race.”
After the girls race, the 5K course was even mushier. Now it was the boys’ turn. Carmel coach Harold Cargain said, “It was the worst conditions I’ve ever seen — ever.” Holt, who won the Section 1 Class A title in 15:48.92, a section record for Bowdoin Park, finished in 19:04. He finished frustrated, too, saying his style of pounding his feet didn’t fit with the state of the course, which negated his speed.
“Muddy was just an understatement,” Holt said. “The race was unbelievably muddy. I couldn’t move.”