By Jeremy McDonald
PORTLAND, Ore.– It was the headliner race of the Nike Portland XC in the 5K Danner Championships.
In the girls race, two Nationally-ranked athletes were in the race along with the nationally-ranked Sunset team, a team from Alabama and other schools from up-and-down the coast racing for that title of Champion.
So, the race got underway in the grass infield at the Portland Meadows Race Track and the ladies came down the back straight away for the first time, and up with the lead pack was Mountain View’s of Idaho Lexy Halladay and Sunset’s Ember Stratton, some of the best runners in the area let-lone nationally.
But, up with them, was a little less-known runner at the National Stage in Sprague’s Ginger Murnieks, and the junior hung tough with Halladay as they hit the 1K, the 2K and coming back around for the 3K mark.
“I was just really excited that I was still able to stay with her as long as I could,” said Murnieks on the strategy on staying up with Halladay. “I knew she was going to go at some point, my coach just told me just stay in the lead pack so I just tried to stay with her for as long as possible.
Coming back down that back-straightaway for that 3K, about the 1.8 mile mark, Murnieks had a few-step lead on Halladay for the race lead as both battled back-and-forth exiting the rolling hills for the last time.
Murnieks, along with Olympian teammate Kaylee Mitchell who was a few runners back and finished 10th in the race, both agreed that this race was grueling to the nth degree coming around for those hills and jumping over the hay bales one last time.
“It would have been a lot better if we didn’t have those up-and-downs, those…they don’t look like they’re very big or anything…the first time isn’t too bad, but the second-time when your already on two miles and your tired and you have to go up-and-down those,” starts Mitchell on the grueling task on the track.
“Those hay bales, they don’t look very big at all, but when your on your second mile your trying to jump over those, your trying to conserve every little extra energy you have and you have to use that to jump over hay bales, it makes it harder.”
But, in the final stretch of the race, about half-mile to mile left in the race, Halladay showed why she was one of the Nation’s best in kicking it into high-gear in her final kick, pulling away from Murnieks for the 17:19.6 win.
With Stratton final-kicking herself Murnieks knew she couldn’t focus on the lull of Halladay as she dug deep and crossed the finish line at 17:25.7 with Stratton finishing third at 17:39.7.
“Just mentality you just have to be in it because I knew she was really good going into it so I backed down a little bit. But kind of trying to think, ‘You can stay with her, even though she’s going to go, she’s going to kick at the end’,” starts Murnieks.
“Just mentally going into it, ‘Well, I’m good enough to stick with her for two-miles, so if she drops me after that, that’s what I’m going to do’, instead of thinking she’s going to be way out in front of me in the beginning.”
As runners behind her trickle in, Murnieks hung back for her teammates and helped Mitchell to a shaded area to get off her feet and get some water. The two traded words and hugged of their accomplishments.
“That is why I love cross country so much is my bond with my teammates, my little family,” said Mitchell on the bond she has with Murnieks on her teammates. “We tell each other before the race, ‘No matter what happens, we all get to see each other at the end. We’re all greeting each other at the end’. It’s my absolute best part of the whole race of the whole thing
“I’m so proud of her, we train together all the time so we talk about everything, so it’s really exciting when we both do well,” said Murnieks of Mitchell. “Just happy for each other, I know how hard she works and so when I see her do well it makes me really happy.”
With all of the different racing styles around them, it sure does give everyone there with the State Race in Oregon or going through your League Championships to Section Championships to even qualify to State in California, a taste of what it’s to come here in a few weeks.
Almost like a State Preview as Mitchell puts it.
“It’s really helpful because we don’t get to run against all the people we run against in the State, so it’s almost like a State Preview, it’s not a easy course so we just have to tough it out and see how mentally strong we can be,” said Mitchell. “Like at State, it’s not nesscarily about times anymore, you need to place and so we have to practice. We have to catch the extra person, go that extra mile.
Sprague as a team-finished tenth with Elise Abbott finished 56th (19:35.9) in Saturday’s big race.