Fixing the Disparate Impact of 1B/2B Cross Country

Something that disturbs me every year is watching the 1B/2B girls lining up to race and seeing how few toe the line. To put it in perspective, 73 girls ran this year. The boys field saw 141 racers. This doesn't represent an anomaly - the same thing happens every single year. The numbers over the last four years are: 73/141, 66/137, 72/125, 62/129. I could go back further in the records but that rough 2:1 proportion remains.

Relative to the remainder of the divisions, and even compared to the 1B/2B boys, a smaller percentage of qualified female runners get the opportunity to run at the Washington State meet. I'll get to what I mean by qualified later. I'm afraid that there will be some math, but nothing complicated. Promise!

I finally had time this year to do some research. I used the numbers from to generate my statistics. The numbers inside the raw results were fascinating and when broken out, indicate that the best way for a 1B/2B runner to get to State is to be male. Given all the Title IX implications, I was surprised. So, to the numbers. . .

Entries to the state meet are based on an allocation model devised by the WIAA. Each division and district gets a set number of teams that can advance from the regional meets to the state meet. Individuals can qualify if they place in the upper bounds of the runners. This bound is defined by the WIAA as the team allocation times five.

For District 7/9 here in Eastern Washington, our allocation this year was four. Asotin, Reardan, Northwest Christian Colbert, and Tri-Cities Prep all had teams make the cut. The meet also had twenty individual slots (4x5). Those slots are not reserved, though. Any person finishing in the top twenty filled one. So, from this meet. nine girls went as individuals with the other eleven spots taken by runners from the qualifying teams. For District 1-4, the allocation was for three teams and fifteen girls. They had five individuals crack the top of the standing to get to state. District 5-6 got one team, five girls total. Three of the top five were not on the winning team and moved on. Each team is permitted up to seven competitors which swells the ranks of the field a bit in favor of the teams.

The total number of allocations for the girls is eight. For the boys, the allocation is sixteen. Part of the reasoning for the difference is that more boys participate in cross country than do girls. The numbers at back this up. Based on their numbers, there were a total of 468 boys in the 2015 season versus 217 girls. Seems to support the case for halving the field of runners on the girls side at the superficial level.

What the raw number does not tell us is why there should be such a discrepancy. While it is true that the participation rates for females increases with school size, to have 1B/2B cross country get less than fifty percent rates of the boys rate suggests that other factors underlie the issue.

I dug deeper, looking specifically at the individual qualifiers. That when I thought things got quite interesting. I looked at this past season and found that the last individual girl qualifier, Jessica Mitchem of Toutle Lake, finished in 47th position. In percentage terms, she finished at the 64th percentile (with State Champion Madie Ward at the 1st percentile.) Performing the same calculation on the boy's side had Gunnar Johnson in 122nd place, and at the 86th percentile.

Compared to her male counterpart, Mitchem had to a better runner relative to her peers. I did the same calculation for the preceding three years and found the same result. The boy's value was always higher than the girl's. I had to go back to 2011 to find an example of the girl under-performing her field compared to the boy, and in that case, the girl ran three and a half minutes slower than her qualifying race, suggesting she was sick. 2010 saw a return of the pattern.

So, in the matter of individual qualifiers, the selection process obviously weeds out girls that would be as competitive in their field as their opposite number would be in the boy's field. Remember, too, that the boys get twice as many teams, which means that more of the girls qualify individually. Six of the top eight runners in District 7/9, for example, were individual qualifiers in arguably the toughest 1B/2B district in the state. (Eight of the top ten finishers came from that district in 2015.)

Even more interesting to me was the median pace. I looked at this to see whether there might relative movement in the quality of the runners. I chose the median versus a mean to remove the outliers such as a Chandler Teigen dynamiting the state record or the afore-mentioned young lady who ran while ill. I looked at four years, 2012-2015 (representative of one high school 'generation') and found the boy's to medians to be 18:44, 18:31, 18:22, and 18:44. Pretty much a flat line with what appears to be normal deviation.

The girl's results for the same period: 22:27, 22:45, 21:54, 21:42. The girls aren't flat-lining, their flat getting faster.

I contacted Andy Barnes from the WIAA who was listed on their website as the go-to person for questions regarding allocations. In the first email, I just asked for information on how the allocations were assigned. Between email exchanges, I had started to look at the breakdowns a bit more thoroughly. Andy sent me a prompt reply that it was based on the participation rates within the divisions by teams, suggesting that the individual component was not addressed.

I checked the information on the site as Andy suggested and sent a follow up.  I did not send him the full data, just pointed out the disparity that I was discovering. I also suggested a potential remedy that would not otherwise reduce the speed of the field:


Digging into the numbers, it appears that the depth of the men’s field is extended by the individual allocations (the lowest boy ran in the 86th percentile) while the girls field does not get that same benefit (the lowest girl ran at the 64th percentile.) This would appear to restrict the participation rates for the female athletes of comparable ability to their male counterparts.

Wouldn’t it make sense to try to increase the participation by increasing the individual qualifier slots to fill out the middle of the pack. The additional individual qualifiers would maintain the overall speed of the field while serving to increase the competition for the middle of the pack, advance the opportunities for the girls, and perhaps encourage more participation at the small schools. For example, opening the individual qualifiers to 20 in District 4 would have resulted in three additional girls at the meet, all of them freshmen and within the upper two-thirds of the overall field. I think you would agree that the chance to earn a spot at the state meet can be a powerful motivator and that success for one athlete can encourage others to follow.

I would be interested in your thoughts.

Andy responded again. Here is the text of that email:

Paul, you have obviously done an extensive review of the entries and we appreciate that.  However, the member schools believe that the process outlined in Handbook rule 25 is the process they wish to use for state tournament entries.  

Every year the rules of the Association are reviewed including the Allocation process.

If you feel that a change is necessary I suggest you work with your local school to suggest a change to the current process.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I understand the position of the WIAA in that they need to have consistent rules, and I further understand that Andy is standing up for the process that they have in place.  Where I suggest a problem exists is that they have a process that can be documented as creating a disparate impact on female athletes. In this day and age, not to seek to proactively correct that seems unfair and outside of the WIAA’s stated core principle of “Provide access to equitable, fair, and diverse activities.

For a female athlete who is young and on the cusp of qualifying, especially those who run without teams to provide encouragement, missing the state tournament could easily be demotivating. To have to meet a higher standard than a male adds injury to insult and is not equitable.

While it would increase participation, I do not believe that the solution is to add more teams. The net result of adding teams would be to slow the entire championship field. Most athletes perform better in direct competition. With a field as strung out as the 1B/2B girl's race, most of the athletes are running on islands as it is. A better solution, one that increases the level of competition in the middle of the pack, is to increase the number of individual qualifiers. 

I went back to the regional races to see what impact altering the allocation schedule to the number of teams, plus one, times the five already used by the WIAA. The net result? Six additional entries into the state race. From District 6, Caitlyn Ball (Riverside Christian), Katie Henneman (Tonasket), and Victoria Cole (Riverside Christian) would have joined their fellow athletes in Pasco. The other three come from District 1-4, Sarah Loven (Mossyrock), Amelia Kau (Orcas Island), and Meleah Kandoll (Toutle Lake) would be in. In the hyper-competitive District 7/9, no additional qualifiers would have made it out of the regional.

The last of the six, if they ran to form, would still be slightly ahead of the boy's equivalent, but the overall disparity would be in single digits from a percentile perspective. In the case of Kau, she would have likely placed similarly to teammate Stephen Hohman. Why should he go and she's done for the year?

Another factor is that four of those six are freshman and the other two are sophomores, exactly the kind of developing runners we should be encouraging. Qualifying for state, legitimately, is the ultimate encouragement. And, to the girls around them, inspiring. One of them just might decide that "if 'so-and-so' can do it, so can I."

Why, the next thing you know, the participation numbers just might grow. Wouldn't that be great?

Congrats to the Asotin Panther Ladies - 2nd at State!

I'm not sure if the tears from the freshmen were of joy - taking second at State your first year is pretty special - or disappointment, because these young ladies came in with a belief that they could win. Either way, they had help and guidance from the other runners on the team, the junior class.


The race started on time and in a fog. Madison Ward and Marika Morelan, the very dynamic duo from St. George's, pulled into an early lead, with Shania Graham of Republic, Emily Adams of Waitsburg-Prescott, and the Asotin pair of Dykstra and Eggleston, Ellie Summers of Northwest Christian-Lacey, and Athena Milani of Liberty Bell.

I did a fast check. I thought Asotin was the youngest squad. Turns out, I was wrong. Liberty Bell brought six freshman to the meet.

Makayla Miller, yet another splendid freshman, and a pair of Northwest Christian-Colbert women paced out the next group, and then the main pack ran by. Ocosta put on a pretty display of team running and did a beautiful job of maintaining a pack.

By the halfway mark, the field thinned and the women headed out to no-man's-land at the back of the course where no one cheers and the sound of runners breathing and the footsteps next to you are all you have to anchor yourself to. Madie Ward (19:11) and Marika Morelan (19:15) ran wire-to-wire in the lead positions and never conceded an inch of ground.

Right to Left, to the best of my ability. Marika Morelan, Shania Graham, Maia Dykstra, Carmen Eggleston, Ellie Summers, Megan McSheffery, Anna Ruthven, Emily Adams, Athena Milani, Rebekah Henry. Photo courtesy of Suzy Cowdrey

Right to Left, to the best of my ability. Marika Morelan, Shania Graham, Maia Dykstra, Carmen Eggleston, Ellie Summers, Megan McSheffery, Anna Ruthven, Emily Adams, Athena Milani, Rebekah Henry. Photo courtesy of Suzy Cowdrey

The order at the top of the pack stayed relatively stable until just after the big hairpin turn just past the second mile mark. Maia Dykstra and Carmen Eggleston were still pacing each other, but on the descent from the green, Eggleston found another gear and went hunting for runners to take down. The last mile of the course, with its roller-coaster ride of never ending small hills, played to Eggleston's strengths. She may be the only Asotin runner ever to declare she loved the state course. Most just cuss it.

The team race, though, was decided down ticket, in the three, four, and five spots. Ocosta seniors Sararosa Gallo (21:09) and Rachel Saul (21:15) probably won the race for their team by running so strong together in the middle of the pack, while junior MacKenzie Ballo iced it with a 21:39.

In a surprise to the Asotin squad, Adrienne Washington, running in her first campaign and finally without a cast on her wrist, took third for the team. Her placement made the team race much closer, as did Katerina Stephenson's terrific kick that edged out the aforementioned Ballo. Samantha Nicholas took the fifth spot for Asotin. All the Asotin juniors ran PR's for the state course. Fun thought for the Panther partisans - Asotin is the only team in the top five that does not lose a graduating senior.

Northwest Christian-Lacey finished third among the teams, a position that they aren't used to. The eight-time defending champs finally had a slight down year, but what a terrific run they had. They'll be back and soon. 

Reardon was the fourth team on the podium. The team ran well, but in a field this fast, their pack running was not quite able to make difference in the standings. Still, the team graduates three seniors and it's nice to see these classy ladies get their shot on the stand.


Last Race?

A short little story that I thought I'd post after watching a young lady in Moscow running in the cold to keep up with her mother who was on a bicycle.

Last Race?

She didn’t quit so much as stop caring, so stopped trying.

I saw it happen, the moment she discovered she didn’t care about the race. Her head drifted sideways as the realization hit her and I watched as her stride faltered. She slowed almost imperceptibly.

It was the last race of the season for Elisa, the end of cross country season, at least for the junior high. You could sniff the air and smell the fall, the leaves turning, feel the crackle of frost that broke underfoot in the morning. The afternoon was warm enough, though, and sky was mostly clear except for clouds painted perfectly white against the azure blue. Glorious.

Elisa was running a strong third. The course was two loops around the park, all grass and wood chip trails that were easy on the kids' joints. She looked smooth and lithe and strong, her pretty face red and sweaty with effort. The uniform was too baggy for her; most of the kids had the same problem. It bothered the girls a lot more, old enough to be self-conscious of the changes in their bodies. Elisa had pinned the back of the singlet to take up slack and make it more snug, but it must have loosened as she raced across the grass.

There was no way to tell how good these kids would be in four or five years, I thought, when they were on the high school team. These junior high runners—boys and girls runners jumbled into puberty together when everything got exciting, scary, and weird at the same time—right now were good little runners, though none of them looked like future Olympians.

Her parents attended every meet and watched, like me, her fall behind a girl from the next town over. With shouts, they urged her to pick it up, compete, you can do it.

But the race doesn’t lie. Elise couldn’t do it, not today anyway.

Not that she didn’t have the physical tools. Elisa came into the short junior high season super-fit, trained up in the off-season by her dad. Miles and miles and interval after interval. She had also grown about four inches since last season and it showed in her coordination.

Heck, all of them had grown and all of them were spending half their energy battling knees and elbows to get them all going the same direction at the same time. And that puberty thing swept through the team. The sixth graders from the previous season weren’t kids, boys and girls, anymore. It was startling how fast the changes came. It showed more in the girls, the changes, than the boys, but I’d see it in the guys, too, about the eighth grade. By the time they reached high school, they almost weren’t recognizable.

But with the girls it started earlier, and not just their bodies but their minds, the new doubts. Life got complicated.

And Elisa was right in that spot, stuck between a girl and a woman, a child and soon-to-be adult, when she decided the race wasn’t worth it. She fell another step behind the other girl.

Her parents, closer to me than to her. cheered harder as she ran towards them, practically pleading for her to go faster, hurt more, catch that girl.

It was cross country, so I what I always did and cheered on all of the girls, our team and theirs, as Elisa ran to where I stood waiting.

We’re all runners,” I’d remind the team. “some fast, some slow like me, but all runners.”

Elisa wasn’t a runner anymore, though. She had been rebuilt into a racer. Miles and miles, interval after interval, she had become faster and stronger at covering ground but there’s a cost to everything, and, for Elisa, it was to make running, something toddlers do for fun, a job.

That’s hard for a young lady that’s thirteen. A fair number of adult runners never manage it, even if they do have the talent to make a living from their feet.

A line of dialogue from Chariots of Fire flashed into mind as she passed her mother, then her father. “And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  It was my second most favorite quote from the movie, attributed to Eric Liddell.

Elisa lifted her shoulders in a quick movement, a teenage shrug, as she passed her folks. I could see the frustration on their faces. They didn’t understand. She could be good, Elisa’s mom and dad had told me, really good, maybe get a scholarship. You could read it in their expressions: Why wasn’t she trying harder?

Of course, there aren’t scholarships for thirteen year-olds, but facts can be inconvenient to dreams.

Teenagers think they’re masters at hiding what their feeling. Mostly they’re pretty bad at it, though. Every muscle, movement, twitch, and slouch sends a message, even if they don’t know it yet, and Elisa was sending a message of her own.

I’m done.

I directed some encouragement to the runner ahead of Elisa. Elisa a quick glance my way and made eye contact. I nodded that I understood and her awareness that I understood stained her face. She looked away hastily.

When she was close enough, I said, “Good girl, just finish it out.” I kept my voice low, no point in shouting.

Elisa looked startled.

My directive to the kids was simple. I didn’t care if you ever won a race. I just wanted you to do your best, to honor yourself and the other runners. It usually took a year for the new athletes to realize how much I was actually asking; sometimes, winning was easier. Sticking it out when everything went to crap was harder and required more guts than racing away from the field to break a tape.

She accelerated, going after the girl that had passed her, but I couldn’t watch her finish, I had more runners coming past.

Honor yourself, Elisa, I wished after her, but I didn’t say it aloud. I turned to face the next group of runners.

“Great job,” I shouted to a little sixth-grader named Kate and got a smile in return, a quick one because she was fighting off two other runners here near the end of the race.

One by one, the runners came past. I could hear the cheers from the parents and teammates behind me. I waited until each runner of the team had passed before I jogged toward the finish line, cutting the corner of the course. If I hustled, I could watch the last couple finish. . .


 Elisa waited until most of the team had loaded up their gear. She fidgeted with her bag and blanket, stalling. I saw her and waited myself, looking out to the course. Her parents had already left.

The head coach herded the kids toward the bus while I stood there. The sun was dropping over the only hill on the course and the flags at the finish line drooped and looked lonely. High on the hill amid medium tall pines and backlit by the sunset, I could see volunteers rolling up more flags marking a turn.


I turned to face Elisa—or would have, but her chin was tucked into her chest and she was staring at her toes.

Without warning, she stepped forward and gave me a hug. A muffled “Thanks” came from the region of my left elbow as I gave her a hug back. My rule on hugs was simple. I don’t initiate hugs but I do return them.

“You did good,” I said, and I meant it.

I felt her nod on my side and then she let go and hurried to the bus. She still didn’t look up.

I wondered if I’d see Elisa next year.

Dang it, I thought. Running’s supposed to be fun.

I turned back to the sunset and wiped a hand across my eyes and hoped so.


Freshmen Girls and Senior Women

freshman girls

I was doing the write-up for the Undeberg Invitational this past April when it dawned on me - of the top ten finishers in the women's 1600m, seven were freshmen. One was a sophomore.

The opposite held true in the men's 1600m which was dominated by the upperclassmen.

I was standing next to one of the coaches at the end of the women's race and complimented him on the way his runner finished. She ran hard and shows tremendous upside. I commented on this, too.

He shrugged, almost apologetically. "She's running great . . . but she's a freshman. We'll have to see  . . . "

And there lies a big question that confronts every young female runner, one that the guys will never need to deal with to the same extent. My youngest daughter had her fastest season and showed the most progress as a freshman. That partly was due to injuries that she got in the weight room, but also because she grew. Already 5'9" as a freshman, she kept growing to a slender 6' woman. Along the way, she put on about 25 extra pounds. Some of it was muscle, but most of it was necessary fat for a healthy female.

And there lays the issue for young female runners. In many cases, their bodies haven't yet finished developing. Until they do, there is no way to definitively determine their ceiling in racing (not running!) a given distance. Hence the uncertainty from the coach.

It's not just a series of physiological changes that take place. Many of these women have invested enormous effort and emotion in getting to the upper ranks of the running hierarchy. To them, the weight gains, the widening of the hips, and other changes can almost seem a betrayal of their bodies against them.

Runners are consistent. I constantly reminder the youngsters that I coach that most runner's injuries come from three primary causes - too much distance, too much speed, too much stretching. To the list for women, you can add too much diet modification. The psychological need to perform well can trigger behavior issues that parents and coaches can be slow to catch but should be alert to, among them, eating disorders and amenorrhea (a lack of a regular period, often due to low body fat.)

This isn't a new problem or evenly newly noticed. The Seattle Times ran an article (Growing Pains . . . ) about this same issue in 1998. The Washington Post did a similar one in 2006.

As parents and coaches, we fight a battle to let our kids know that the effort is more important than the finish order. One thing I insisted on with my daughters was that they give me their best effort and support their teammates. I ask the same of the junior high kids I help coach.

I exchanged emails with one young lady I know who has the potential to be a very good runner except . . . yeah, she's young and we simply don't know how things will work out. In the conversation we had, I pointed out that she and her friend would have done well in that group of freshmen girls. Then I add this advice:

". . . things change over time and both of you ladies may as well. It may make you faster, it may make you slower. Ya do the best ya can with what ya got. So, focus on the process, have as much fun as you can squeeze out of the running, and let the results take care of themselves."

We can't change biology - if we could, I'd be six inches shorter and a heck of a lot faster. It's more pronounced with the women. There is some resignation there. I recall listening to one girl who just got beat by a freshman at the State Championship during her junior campaign state, "Yeah, just wait 'til you grow some boobs."

The girls around her nodded. They're not stupid - they know the score even if they can't change it.  Most of them accept it, even if it's a bit reluctantly.

I would love to watch all these ladies go on to be top-notch runners but here is a truth - I'll be cheering for them, and their teammates, and the young men regardless of how fast they are or where they finish. So will their parents and their friends.

I also have a perspective that these young women don't have, not yet. They see themselves getting slower instead of faster, at the same time the sport is getting faster at the top end. The perspective I have is watching these young ladies come back to running, post-high school, and running as well as ever, and with the stress of competition gone, enjoying it more than ever, too.

I know that their best years are almost certainly ahead of them if they will just trust the process. Now we have to make them believe that. 

Summer Reading for Runners

For those of you visiting the blog for the first time - which will be the majority of you - thanks! I am assuming that you found your way here from the nice little blurb that Running Times magazine put out in this month's issue. While I knew that there was the potential for a bit of exposure, I was very happy to see the way the folks there presented Finishing Kick.

They also had very nice articles on two other books by very accomplished writers. One, Rachel Toor, lives and works nearby (as we measure things out here - a couple of hours away, at most.) I've already ordered her book, On the Road to Find Out and I'm excited to read it. Runners should have more fiction to call their own.

After I'm done with Rachel Toor's book, I'll move on to Brewster: A Novel" by Mark Slouka. This book has won numerous high honors and I'm looking forward to the change in viewpoint, going from a female protagonist to male, from a contemporary story to one set in 1968.

I also have a slate of  books that I'll be reading to get ready for cross country season. Just as the runners should be putting in the miles (intelligently, please) so the coaches try to get better at what they do. Speaking for myself, I have loads of room for improvement.

Up first is Pat Tyson's Coaching Cross Country Successfully. He's been one of the most successful coaches in the country and again, he's close by at Gonzaga University in Spokane. With this book, I'm looking to become a better assistant to the head coach of the junior high team and develop better skills at teaching the kids running form and good habits. At some point, I may drop. Bashful I'm not. Before I do that, I'll try to absorb everything in his book.

In that same vein, Jason Karp's 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners"> 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts should provide a good foundation of material so I can correctly help the athletes to improve. The Asotin JRHS team has a wide range of experience so finding ways to individualize the workouts while maintaining a strong team concept is huge.

Which leads me to my last book as I prep for the season, Bruce Bowen's Teaching Character Through Sport: Developing a Positive Coaching Legacy. While not exclusively a running book, Coach Bowen has tremendous insights on the role of athletics in a young person's life. His organization, Proactive Coaching, has a wealth of materials. The team there travels the country lending their collective wisdom to the coaches, athletes, and parents that they meet. They are one of the few organizations I follow on Facebook. Almost daily, they see an angle or have a positive story that makes me go, "Hmm."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get out the door for a run. I've got some youngsters who will fly away from me if I don't get my miles in. And running always makes the day go better.

Run gently and have some fun!




Windy day at the District 9 Meet, Sun and Good Sportsmanship Breaks Through

I had a chance to get to the District 9 meet in Clarkston yesterday, mainly by ignoring my usual activities like work. It wasn't the best weather for a meet-the wind was definitely a factor, gusting to 20 mph-but I'm sure the athletes weren't complaining about the mid-60 temperatures. Almost any of the seniors can rattle off a list of races where the skies soaked them with 35 degree rain, pelted them with hail, or lit up the skyline with lightning. A little wind can be tolerated pretty easily, even a headwind into the home stretch.

I snuck in early, Goldfish in hand for the Asotin gang, and settled into the stands to watchFootball before the meet Coach Sal Lopez directing the kids on getting the field events set up. He had them organized and the 'work' ended early, leading to a couple of athletes tossing a football in the infield. Turns out that the girls can throw a pretty tight spiral.

The meet started on schedule with a unique opening by Lucas Johnson, one of the English teachers at Asotin (most of the volunteers were Asotin teachers and parents since they were hosts.) I pestered him, and he agreed to let me print it, so it's below, in its entirety.

“Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome this fine spring day to the district 9 1B/2B track meet. I am the illustrious and ever-humble DJ Johnson, the voice of Panther Athletics. Join me and my melodious voice as I narrate the trials and tribulations of the dozens of talented athletes you see before you today. You can expect to see running in an oval pattern, various dangerous projectiles being hurled (usually in a safe direction) and even those brave souls who hurl THEMSELVES forward in gravity-defying acts of valor. It is my hope that you will make some noise as these athletes battle gladiator-style for  honor, prestige and glory with the ferocity of warriors, but with the respect, sportsmanship, camaraderie and humility that makes the events of track and field all the more special and unique. Give these fine folks a hand!”

Probably a good time to slip in a disclaimer. I'll be doing these posts this year in preparation for setting up a website to do cross country. Essentially, these are practice posts. It took something over a nanosecond but less than ten minutes of the meet to figure out that track and field can't be covered by one person. I didn't get to all the events and, since I'm not yet very good with my new camera, I have some pictures but not many really good ones.

On to racing. The first race was the lady's 4x200m relay.4x200M Clarkston 4-9-14 Asotin won the race but the athletes battled for the remaining placements. Pictured are of TO-GP in the yellow unis, with of St. John to the right and WWVA in maroon to the left at the second exchange. It was the first of a host of solid hand-offs. No one dropped a baton or missed a handoff in the transition zone all afternoon.

Field events were going on simultaneously. I missed a lot of these, unfortunately, though I did watch some of the discus (my event in high school) while the women's 3200m race was under way.

The 3200m was a little thin on competitors with Heather Siegel of St. John winning, a result she's familiar with. Several of the Asotin runners that normally participate were spread out in other events. WWVA didn't have a runner in the 3200m, nor did Rosalia. (Rosalia, which used to be part of the TOR - Tekoa, Oakesdale, Rosalia - has formed their own team this year. Garfield and Palouse join Tekoa and Oakesdale to round out their side, hence the TO-GP.) Zoe Robertson of TO-GP took second place.

Men's and women's hurdles came next. I always considered hurdles to be the NASCAR part of a track meet. Lots of speed and grace, with a constant threat of catastrophe lingering. Maria Eggleston Clarkston 2014Part of playing around with the camera led to the discovery that head-on pictures of hurdlers  are tough to nail and a good side on picture can be pretty darned good. Even if it was a "what the heck" attempt from the far side of the track. No disasters to record. Walla Walla Valley is very strong in the hurdles with Wesley Hendrickson and Abbie Underhill winning both the high and intermediate hurdles.

Back to discus. Results were announced and Asotin dominated both the men's and women's result. Coach Sal Lopez, a former collegiate thrower proves that he has a knack for imparting the technique to his younger athletes. Dirk Whitmore won with a nice throw of 131'6", edging his teammate Jacob Swearingen. Piper Loop won the women's side with a hurl of 104'10".

Over in the long jump pit, Nate Prior won both the long jump and triple jump on the men's side. The women were split, with Abbie Underhill winning the long jump to complete a trio of first place finishes while Olivia Pakootas of TO-GP edged her out in the triple jump.

TO-GP women javelin throwers came close to matching the standard set by the Asotin discus throwers. Annie Bailey of Javelin Thrower from St. John-EndicottSt. John-Endicott won but the next five placements were all TO-GP. The Asotin men toss javelins nearly as well they do the disc with Dirk Whitmore winning with a throw of 145'3" and the Asotin men taking the top three slots.

The most competitive race of the day took place in the women's 800m. The two young ladies paced each other around the track and jockeyed for the lead coming out of the final Eggleston Duelturn with Madeline Eggleston swinging wide to pass her sister, Lucy Eggleston. Lucy matched the kick, though and won by a half second. The next finisher, Katarina Stephenson of Asotin, was 17 seconds back of the Eggleston sisters, holding off Katie Holbrook of TO-GP.

The duel between Katarina and Katie was a repeat of the 1600m. Both of these runners are underclassmen so we should have a lot more to look forward to over the next couple of years.  Lucy Eggleston won the 1600m in a time of 5:42.

The men's side was far less competitive with Chandler Teigen winning handily in both the mile and 800m. Asotin  took the top three spots in the 800m and the top four in the  1600m with Thomas Weakland placing second 800m, and Brian Strobel and Spencer Williams taking second and third respectively in the 1600m.

The top three finishers in the 100m, 200m, and 400m for the men followed the same pattern. Eli Richardson of Rosalia won all three, closely followed by Caleb Atkins of Walla Walla Valley. Chasing them in all three races was Jacob Koerperich of Asotin.

The women's races were a little more diverse. Julia Ristau won the 100m while Rebecca Reyes of WWVA took second, beating out her teammate, Rachel Thiel. Sarah Nicholas from Asotin won both the 200m and 400m with Reyes pulling another second in the 200m and Megan McCain from Asotin taking third. Second place in the 400m went to Maddie Bogenrief from TO-GP. Alyssa Hendrickson was third.

The wind made for a tough day high jumping but Olivia Pakootas, state runner-up last season, seemed to be the only one unaffected and slightly limited by gravity as she easily won 2014-04-09 Clarkston Meet Olivia Pakootasthe high jump to add to her win in the triple jump. Jessica Ford of Rosalia and Rose Debruin (Asotin), competing in the event this year for the first time, rounded out the field.

I somehow managed to miss the men jumping but Connor Madden (Asotin) won with two TO-GP jumpers, Tanner Dingman and Tristan Smith, pulling second and third.

The highlight of the meet, though, didn't occur in any single event. Brady McKay of Asotin raced and won the 3200 meters in 10:46. I checked with him after the race as he was grabbing his knees but he said he was just "a little tired." Understandable. What he did next was more impressive than his race.

He started cheering for his competitors, not just his teammate Brady Mulikin, but all the other athletes in the 3200m. He was loud and enthusiastic, drifting down the track to meet them as they finished. It reminded me of a small snippet from Born to Run by Christopher McDougall who tells the story of Scott Jurek, one of the truly great ultrarunners. Jurek won almost every ultra he ran but would wait at the finish line, wrapped in a sleepingBrady McKay Clarkston Meet bag in cold weather, to cheer every one of the competitors to the finish. He'd be out there hours after his race ended. It also reminded me of the Asotin coach, Tim Gundy, who I've had the pleasure of joining on a couple of relays teams.

Brady McKay was, whether he knew it or not-and I think not because he looked surprised when I high-fived him for being so classy-was exemplifying sportsmanship. I don't think it crossed his mind to behave any differently.

And he wasn't the only one. I saw a couple of the WWVA ladies doing the same thing. Ditto for a TO-GP runner.

And those were the ones that I saw or heard. I'm betting that others, our of my earshot, acted just as openly, honestly,  and enthusiastically in supporting their fellow athletes.


This is my first effort at writing up a track meet. The plan is to build a website for cross country that will give race reports, course information, and a little bit of recognition for these young athletes throughout the Inland NW. If you like what you see, or have suggestions for making it better, please let me know. Leave a comment or send me an email at thatguy at paulduffau dot com. Just insert the appropriate symbols - many, many thanks. Paul Duffau

The "I'm not dead!" Update

Sorry about a lack of blogging lately but I've managed to contract a sinus infection from a flu bug. So, from March 3rd until I broke down and went to the doc on the 20th, I've been slowed a touch. Now that the meds are kicking in and I'm feeling better, I thought I'd do a little housekeeping. First, to the kids who want to know if I'll be showing up to their track meets - yes. It's already baked into my schedule. Can I be at every one? No. The dog likes to eat and I'm partial to red wine so I should work at least a bit. That said, I've raised my rates because working six and seven days a week is not part of the life plan I have going forward. My problem, no worries, it's fixable. I'll see you guys at the meets.

Second, marathon training. Losing nearly three weeks of training when you're already under-trained is a prescription for a tough marathon. Meh. It'll hurt - or Adric and I can drop at the half, give each other a high five, and drink a beer while planning next year's assault. Still planning on being in Pagosa Springs in June.

On the writing front, I've submitted Finishing Kick to the Washington State Book Awards. It is highly unlikely that I'll win. The book can have wide appeal but is pretty narrowly targeted. The folks that I wrote it for have already read it, loved it, and pestered me for more. From here everything is gravy.

The new novel, Trail of Second Chances, is getting close to done on the first draft. I'll need to blow some stuff up in the beginning as the story changed a bit while I was writing but I'm getting excited. Also figured out the opening scene for the next book, The Lonesome Mile. Still looking at an August release date for Trail and hoping for a February release on Lonesome Mile. I'll have a better idea on that one once I get busy writing it.

I also have some plans on for a non-running series - three actually. Two action/adventure and one sci-fi. (See why I need to stop working so much - I have too much other 'work' to do!)

By the way, Hugh Howey has a great post on how to make it big as a writer - or most other things. In another post, he links to a NPR article on what makes great 'art'. The answer might depress you - luck. Not great writing or painting or virtuoso technique. Luck.

I like to make my own luck. Will I create a blockbuster? Unlikely. Can I sell enough to eventually do this full time? Probably. It'll take a lot of hard work, putting in the time to write, and to write better. Luck doesn't count if you don't show up. Many people who count themselves unlucky aren't unlucky - they've tried to find a shortcut to hard work, sacrifice, and, most importantly, caring.

John Denver, in a concert in L.A. back in the seventies, talked about his old guitar, about how he'd go to the beach at night and practice his songs, and long for an audience to sing to.

If you don't care about something, want it so bad you'll run through walls, ache to put your work in front of people, to put up with the laughter of your friends who tell you to be reasonable, if you don't pour all your heart into it, you probably won't get 'lucky'.

That much - and only that much - you have control of.  It's up to you to seize it.


Snake River Canyon Half Marathon

Asotin XC Helping at Snake River Half MarathonWorking an aid station at the Snake River Canyon Half Marathon in March has become enshrined as a ritual for Asotin Cross Country. Normally it's a warmer ritual, not 29 degrees with a stiff wind. Tough day for the runners and workers alike. The kids at my station - Jessica, Megan, Kyle and Nate - worked hard and were awesomely upbeat with the runners. It was cold enough that ice was freezing back in the cups. Gatorade, too. By the time the first rush was over, our hands were resembling the ice, so I fired up the FJ, turned up the heat, and rotated kids into it. My youngest daughter fired up the iPod and speakers to treat the runners to some classic rock as they came back with the wind.

The runners were wonderfully appreciative and sported great attitudes. The leaders didn't slow down long enough to do more than grab water but the middle and trailing packs freely indulged. Many of them probably pushed too hard into the wind and were a bit worn by the time they made it back on the return trip.

I grabbed some pictures of the leaders but after that, it got too busy to pull someone out of the line. I'll post them when I get a chance. In the meantime, I'm awfully proud of the kids for helping out and giving back to their sport.

A side note: great job by Morgan Willson taking second overall in the women's division. It was just a couple of years ago I watched and cheered for her as she won the 2B State Championship. Nicely done, Morgan.



Starting a new Pacific NW Cross Country News Network?

I was contemplating trying to build a website around Cross Country news in the Pacific Northwest – kind of a one stop, here’s what happened this week at the meets and maybe the occasional feature on a runner. The question is (well, one of the questions, anyhow) would runners and their parents be interested?

The easiest option is just to run it through my author blog but I could create a site dedicated to the ideaquestion_mark_naught101_01.

Anybody that has some ideas is free to comment. Share the idea around with runners you know and see what they think.

If you prefer, you can send me an email at that guy at Just combine it all, swap the @ into it. You get the idea.

Eventually, I’d like to cover the whole region which means building a network of volunteers to help with the reportage but in the meantime, we could at least spotlight our little corner.

Run gently, friends,


PS. Somewhere in the midst of all these plans, I need to figure out how to keep making a living.

Races around Asotin

Time to look at some local races around Asotin. The holidays are over and, if my scale is correct, the damage was minimal - except to the habit of running. Since I have a marathon that I need to be ready for (running, not racing), I need to get it going. The nice thing about marathon training is missing a day won't break you. Trying to do too much, too fast, might. Patience, perseverance, and a good sense of humor will get you to the start line. In the meantime, we have a bunch of local races on the calendar. I'll only probably do two, one as a training run, the other as a benchmark to see where I'm at.

Here are all the races I could find in the area for the late winter/early spring.

Feb. 8 - Sweetheart Run, Lewiston ID - 4 mile run or 2 mile walk, benefits local youth charities.

Feb 15 - Edge of Hell, Lewiston ID - 4 or 8 mile trail run in Hells Gate State Park. Beautiful scenery and one of my favorite areas to run in the Lewis-Clark Valley. If you look across the river, you can see my house.-and most of Asotin.

Feb. 22 - Celebrate Life, Lewiston ID - 7K run, 3K walk, benefits kids with cancer.

Mar. 1 - Snake River Half-marathon, Pullman, WA- 13.1 miles of running beside the Snake River, sponsored by the Palouse Road Runners. No traffic and a course elevation chart that looks like this: ________________. If you run it, I'll be at the 4 miles aid station cheering you on. The rest of the Asotin cross country team will be there along with Coach Tim Gundy, manning the 4 and 6 mile stations.

Mar. 15 - St. Patrick's Day 5/10K, Clarkston WA - Your choice of distance on a fast course. You have to wait for the holiday itself for the green beer.

Mar 21/22 - Snake River Triathlon, Lewiston ID, The swim is Friday, the evening before the ride/run. Check the website for details. The race is put on by Lewis-Clark State College's Cross Country program. Mike Collins, the coach, does a great job of organizing the event and it is chip-timed.

Mar 22 - Hells Canyon Adventure Run and Ultra, Idaho - A self-supported run of either 15 or 28 miles depending on which version you choose. 100 percent on trails in Hells Canyon. This is the one on my list as a training run.

Mar 30 - WSU 100K Relay/Solo, Pullman WA - Got some friends? Grab them, put together a team and have some fun with a relay. If you don't have friends crazy enough to join you, you can always run it as an Ultra. I heard a rumor that since this is the 25 Anniversary, the Palouse Road Runners are planning  25 percent weather. We'll see how that goes.

Apr. 5 -  Mike Jensen Memorial 5K, Lewiston ID -  Another charity run, this time for grieving children.

Apr. 18 - Twilight 5K, Lewiston ID - Another of Coach Collins events, it's a fast, flat course on the levee. This will be my "where-am-I-at?" race as I get ready for the marathon in Colorado.

Apr. 26 - Seaport River Run, Clarkston WA - I'd put up a link but the City of Lewiston hasn't posted it yet that I can find.

Apr. 26 - St. John Hog Jog, St John WA - I haven't done this one and maybe it's time I headed up. 2 and 5 mile options in one of my favorite little towns. Also the chief competitors for Asotin Cross Country girls and really nice kids.

So that gets us into later spring. Pick a couple and have some fun.


Holiday Fun Runs

Yep, Christmas is coming, so it's that time of year: the holiday fun run in frigid temperatures and, for the more adventurous, costumes. The Asotin Cross Country team is sponsoring the Joy to the World Run on December 21st. Last year, it was the End of the World run but apparently the Mayans were wrong. It's a 2- and 5-mile fun run that starts and finishes at the Asotin track. You can download an entry form here --> JTTWFunRun13 As an added bonus - and a surprise to the Race Director, Tim Gundy, since I didn't bring this up to him yet - I will be sponsoring a "Best Costume Award" which is probably a $15 gift certificate to Tri-State Sports.

There are other relatively local holiday fun runs as well:

The Seaport Striders have their Santa Run this Saturday, December 7th, at Swallows Nest Park in Clarkston. Entry form --> 2013santarun. They also have their annual New Year's Day Hangover Run - which I have never run but not due to hangovers. Entry form

Want something more challenging? How about a winter 50K. Pullman is holding one on the 14th (though you don't have to do the whole thing). Pullman Winter Ultras. Kindly, they include this informational notice. IMPORTANT: The Pullman Winter Ultra Series is a no-fee, low-key, no-support, slip-on-ice, freeze-your-toes-off, drink-a-beer-afterward-or-during, fun-run-style event.

If anybody knows of other fun runs at the holidays around here, let me know. Colfax used to have one (the Santa Run, where I dressed up like a reindeer with a couple of friends and pulled Sara around on a sleigh. Lance had to wear the red nose.)

Up on the Palouse Divider, they used to run the Mangy Moose 5K and 10K but that disappeared a couple of years ago, unfortunately.

Run gently, folks, and bundle up. It's a mite nippy out there (single digits this morning) and a white Christmas looking more likely by the day. Perfect for trying out new running gear that Santa brings.

Yesterday I watched a girl run the best race of her life - and cry.

Both the girls and boys teams qualified at the District meet last week and lined up yesterday to compete against the best runners in the State of Washington at the State Cross Country Championship in Pasco, Washington. For me, it marked the end of an era. I had no children of my own racing for the first time in nearly a decade but, for a decade, we've made the trek west. We did it again yesterday.

The girls ran first, at 10:00 under a single patch of clear sky, the only one of the day. At the previous editions of the Championship, I sped from point to point to cheer on the team and, specifically, daughters. This year, I camped at the two mile mark, out past no-mans-land and cheered.

One girl suffered from a lingering cold but the team ran well, competed hard and took fourth place in the State. The race for placement was almost impossibly tight. A single point separated the second through fourth place finishes.

The boys team faired better, placing second overall with Chandler Teigen just missing the course 2B record. Given some serious competition, the record probably would have fallen. It will next year. All boys ran well, confident and aggressive and proud. And they deserved their place on the podium.

But the lasting memory that I carry away isn't the girls or boys on the podium, the freshmen running so well, or Chandler running away from the field.

It was of a single girl, a team captain, a senior, holding onto her dad and in tears, not from disappointment - at that point they didn't know the scores - but because it was over. A team that she has been a part of for four years, the relationship with a coach that she admires, the memories of the girls she competed against resolved into a single moment - and was over.

Sometimes the kids don't realize how special their teammates and their competition is. But some, a few, they indeed realize that an important marker just passed, one that can never be recalled except in memories.

I coached this young lady five years ago and the images from that time still make me smile. At least one element of her will eventually make it into a book of mine - one of my favorite memories of coaching, a little waif of a girl with steady, wise eyes and a question.

Last year, I held my daughter while she cried, and I had no words other than 'I love you' and 'I am so proud of you.' I said the same things to another daughter on her final high school race, though it took her two years to understand fully.

So yesterday, I watched athletes run with beauty and grace, with strength and heart, flying towards that finish line. For one moment, I saw a scene of beauty, family, friends, teammates, bound up in one hug and some tears.


Asotin - District Champions

Asotin girls cross country went to Plantes Ferry with a girl banged up, two recovering, and high hopes - and came home district champions. It was a crowded field and St. Johns/Endicott, their rivals all season, gave them a great race but it came down to the number five runners - Asotin's was a bit stronger than St. Johns' - and the difference was a trophy. A reminder that cross country is a team sport scored by individuals.

The Asotin boys finished third in a very close race with Tri-Cities Prep and NW Christian-Colbert. It's measure of how far Coach Tim Gundy has brought the program that the boys were disappointed. Expect them to come out at State and battle for the lead.

Congrats to both teams. See you next week in Pasco . . .