Local runners shine in national spotlight

Twelve-year-old John Rodeheffer races ahead of the 250-person pack at Saturday’s meet.  - Tim Adams/Whidbey News-Times
Twelve-year-old John Rodeheffer races ahead of the 250-person pack at Saturday’s meet.
— image credit: Tim Adams/Whidbey News-Times

A chilly Saturday morning Dec. 13 brought together approximately 3,000 of the nation’s best young cross country runners at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic National Championships at the Pole Green park course in Hanover County, near Richmond, Virginia.

Catie Rodeheffer, coach of the Whidbey Island Running Club, reported the course was mostly flat and grassy, and meandered beside a Virginia forest.

“Idyllic sounding perhaps, but funneling 250 runners per race onto a 10-meter wide trail after a 100-meter sprint for position from a two-sided starting line, caused many runners to fall or be pushed to the back of the pack,” she said.

The bantam (10-and-under) girls were the first runners to break the frozen ground with their spikes when the starting gun went off on the 23-degree morning.

Representing the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District’s newly-formed Whidbey Island Running Club in the race was 9-year-old Laura Rodeheffer.

Rodeheffer said the start wasn’t as intimidating as it appeared, but that it took her extra energy to zig-zag around the slower runners.

She was able to put herself in approximately 50th place as the pack of runners exited the starting area and on to the main course.

The rest of the race was routine work for Rodeheffer as her coach said she followed the same strategy that worked to bring her to the championships.

She maintained her focus of picking off runners and the long stream of competitors always gave her a new target. By mid-race, Rodeheffer had moved up to 35th place.

With the hope of making an All-American ranking, that required a finish in the top 25, she powered herself into 30th place with only 300 meters and a slight downhill homestretch to go before reaching the finish line.

Unleashing her final saved speed, Rodeheffer sprinted into 27th place, coming just two short of her goal. Her time of 12:33 (6:44 average pace per mile) however, was a personal best on a flat course by 12 seconds.

Rodeheffer’s efforts in Virginia moved her up in regional rankings from 11th to third place, and nationally ranked her fifth among 9-year-old cross country runners.

First place in the event was won by Julia Bounds from Palo Alto, Calif., in a time of 11:34.

As one of 15 number-one seeds coming into the 11- to-12-year-old midget boys race, 12-year-old John Rodeheffer said he knew he had come to race for the win. Being in the back of a 250-person pack was not an option as the 3,000m race was on a flat course, with many hopeful runners entered that would not forgive any tactical errors.

Rodeheffer reported that although he sprinted the slightly uphill start, he felt contained and was pleased with his 10th place position at the convergence point.

Knowing he had to be in position to cover any surging runners, he cruised up to third by the 800-meter mark. Over the next mile, Rodeheffer said that he had to cover “at least six surges” by various runners in the lead pack. The lead pack went through the first mile in a time of 5:23 and stayed together over the next half mile.

With 600 meters to go, Samuel Blake from Northern California made his move from the back of the lead pack to burst into first place. This move instantly put five meters on the others and broke the pack into a thin string. Rodeheffer showed his determination and strength by sprinting to cover the surprise surge by the California runner.

Over the next 200 meters, Blake and Rodeheffer struggled for the title of National Champion.

Rodeheffer came up short of his goal when Blake finally pulled away and Trevor Capestany from San Diego, Calif., found another gear and passed the spent North Whidbey runner in the final 100 meters of the race.

Blake finished first in 10:17.18, Capestany was second in 10:20.58, and Rodeheffer came in third with a time of 10:22.13.

Afterwards Rodeheffer said that he was pleased with his race because he had nothing left at the end. He had found it necessary to cover all surges in the middle of the race because, he said, “you just don’t know if they’ll come back to the pack or not. Blake was the better runner today, he was just faster. But, I’m going to train hard and come back stronger.”

Rodeheffer did achieve All-American status and retained his number-one regional ranking.

Adrianna Royal and Allison Duvenez both members of the Oak Harbor High School cross country team, also competed in the event.

Royal, just a sophomore, earned All-American honors with her 25th-place finish of 19.36:01. Her time was a personal best in a 5K event.

Duvenez, another sophomore, also had a strong race, finishing 29th out of 190 Intermediate runners in the a 15- and-16-year-old age division. Both girls run for Federal Way Track Club.

For more information on joining one of WIRC’s three practice groups, call the John Vanderzicht Memorial Pool at 675-7665, or Head Coach Catie Rodeheffer at 679-2196.

WIRC’s next event is a team race scheduled for Jan. 10 in Seattle.

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