Crystal Lake Central’s Ryan Pitner was actually surprised by his demeanor before last year’s Class 2A boys race at the state cross country meet.
Everything is magnified, several times over, at state. There are way more people, more runners and it is, in many ways, how a runner will define his or her season. Yet Pitner remembers blocking all of that out.
“I don’t know what it was,” Pitner said. “I didn’t pay attention to the runners or the people. I set myself a goal and thought about that. It wasn’t’ as intimidating as I thought it would be.”
Pitner remembers locking in on his race, thinking about his game plan and a bet with his brother Jordan, who agreed to give him $50 if he broke 15:00. Pitner earned All-State status with a 23rd-place finish and the dough from his brother by hitting 15:00 on the nose.
Pitner is one of the top local runners, hoping for a top performance Saturday at the state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park. Races run each hour, starting with Class 1A girls at 9 a.m., then finishing with Class 3A boys at 2 p.m.
The tension before state races is almost palpable. Competitors gather at their starting boxes, practice run-outs, and, if their team is running, huddle together for one final pep talk.
“I think about what I’m trying to do and my goals,” said Jacobs junior Lauren Van Vlierbergen, who was seventh in Class 3A last year. “I get nervous, but I get into my racing zone. I try to think of it as just another race, but obviously it’s a bigger race. The second the gun goes off, I don’t think about the nerves any more, it’s all putting the energy in running the race I can.”
The better a runner can focus and block things out, the better they are likely to run.
“I’m able to block it out,” Woodstock senior Maura Beattie said. “You realize it’s like every other meet and focus on what you’re going to do, what you have control over.”
McHenry junior Jesse Reiser showed his ability to handle pressure last year when he finished seventh in Class 3A. Reiser should be one of the top runners again Saturday and has lost only one race.
“I feel very confident in my capabilities of doing well because my last couple meets have gone well,” he said. “I’m definitely looking at all the race scenarios and what could happen and enjoying the time before the race. My nerves come out when I’m on the [starting] line, but when the gun goes off, my nerves are gone.”