The young people from Hamilton County and surrounding counties who call themselves high school cross country runners have endured several weeks of hot, humid condiitons for their Chattanooga Cross Country League races, but they finally got a decent day weather-wise on Tuesday at Baylor.
Temperatures felt more like fall and the humidity level was quite a bit lower as well. Add to that overcast skies and the conditions were about perfect for some lickety-split fast times.
Many responded with their fastest times of the year on a course that includes some shade and lends itself to fast times.
Signal Mountain's Mallory Young and Bradley Central's Harold Smith continued their dominance with winning efforts once again as Young broke the 19-minute barrier while Smith posted his best time of the year with a 16:25.
Both of these standouts had been at Percy Warner Park on Saturday for the Tennessee Classic and both finished as runners-up, so it's safe to say they had a little bit more incentive than normal to run fast under such ideal conditions.
Neither of these runners were seriously challenged as Young beat runner-up Kathryn Vradenburgh by 58 seconds while Smith's margin of victory over Garret Flores was 27 seconds.
"That was my best time ever as I felt great today," said Young as she took a break from cheering on her teammates to make a few post-race comments.
"The change in the weather was nice, but my race on Saturday motivated me a lot as I didn't run very well there. And I think that having the wind at my back today really helped. I don't think I could have gone out any faster, but every one of my teammates are dropping their times and that's what I'm excited about," the 16-yar-old Eagle junior added with a smile.
While the biggest question was whether or not she would break 19 minutes, perhaps the biggest surprise was the girls' runner-up, who happened to be Kathryn Vradenburgh, a 12-year-old seventh-grade member of the Chattanooga Patriiots, a homeschooled team.
She's a petite young lady and probably doesn't weigh 75 pounds, but she came bouncing toward the finish line with a smile on her face, looking like she could have gone twice as far as the 3.1-mile course.
"I felt like I should have gone faster today, but a gel I got from Fast Break really helped and I think I run better on cool days," she said, not quite sure how to handle questions about her race and the way things turned out.
Older sister Karla isn't quite as shy as Kathryn.
"I can't believe I'm already a senior, but it's fun being her older sister. She ran awesome today," Karla nodded.
Baylor's Grace Carlson was third in 20:05 while Karla Vradenburgh, Kathryn's older sister, was fourth in 20:20. Signal Mountain's Madison Drennan completed the top five girls in 20:23.
Carlson is still working her way back into shape after taking more time off than she would have liked to let an inflamed joint in her toe heal. She had a 20:57 on Saturday at the Tennessee Classic to finish fourth, but her time on Tuesday was her best of the season.
"I shouldn't be disappointed with my time today because I had a great race. I'm getting there, but it's taking longer than I thought it would. I've never seen the young lady who finished second today, but I'm really happy for her as she ran really well," Carlson said while pondering her race afterward.
Smith had a time of 16:28 on Saturday when he got outkicked at the end to finish a second behind the winner, but he came back strong three days later for his best time of the season with a 16:25.
Ooltewah's Flores was second in 16:52 while Baylor's Jackson Goodwin beat teammate John Carlson to the finish line by four seconds with a time of 16:55. Coahulla Creek's Walt Douglas was fifth in 17:14.
"I was just trying to work on my speed in the last half-mile as that's where I got outkicked on Saturday," the Bradley senior expressed.
"Running on the gravel was terrible as it's hard to run on, but I was just wanting to maintain my pace. I gave it all I had," he nodded.
Flores has three second-place finishes in three league races and all have been behind Smith.
Despite that fact, Flores was happy with the results.
"It was a lot of fun as there were a lot more runners up front than normal. I was hoping to start with a 5:30 first mile and to run negative splits after that. I came pretty close to doing that," he said, noting that Tuesday's time was a personal best by some 20 seconds.
"I started my kick with about 800 meters to go and it paid off," Flores added.
Baylor's Goodwin has been running in teammate Carlson's shadow for the last few weeks, but the Red Raider junior took off on Tuesday and never looked back.
"I just went out there and ran hard today, but it's nice running on a familiar course. I'm pretty pleased, but I'm sure that I can do better. I just tried to not think about how bad I was hurting in that final mile," Goodwin said later.
With Young leading the way, Signal Mountain's girls were first with 49 points. Drennan was fifth while Becca Umbarger was ninth for the Lady Eagles with a time of 20:43.
Heritage and Baylor both finished with 58 points, but the tie-breaker goes to the number six runner and that happened to be Mallory Edwards of Heritage, who was 22nd in 22:11. Baylor's sixth runner was Jennie Kwon, who finished five seconds behind Edwards in 23rd place.
The Baylor boys were easily the team winner with 38 points while Coahulla Creek was second with 122 and Northwest Whitfield third with 132.
While Goodwin and Carlson were the front runners for Baylor, teammates Alex Sumida and Anders Pokela also had strong races to finish seventh and eighth with times of 17:17 and 17:19, respectively.
Next week's race will be in Dayton at Fort Bluff Camp, which is the same course that the Region 3-AAA meet will be held on Oct. 24.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)