STATE XC PREVIEW: ‘The kind of hills in your nightmares’
By BRANDON HURLEY
In the end, all the pain and suffering was well worth it.
A match with her own worst enemy couldn’t keep Greene County’s lone state qualifier down.
Haley Hall persevered through a grueling state qualifying course that nearly took away her will.
But a career’s worth of training led her to the finish and a rare feat.
Through the 12 hour days, the 4:45 a.m. wake up calls, barely a moment for dinner or homework, training, grueling practices and competitions, Greene County cross country state-qualifier Haley Hall would certainly do it all again if given the chance.
The senior is the definitive multi-sport athlete, excelling at two, endurance heavy sports in the same season. The two-time swimming state participant, 2017 North Central Swim Conference athlete of the year and one-time cross country state qualifier pulled off an incredible feat this fal, swimming for Boone High while also leading a young Greene County cross country team.
All her dedication and loyalty paid off, as Hall placed 12th overall at the 2A state qualifying meet Thursday, Oct. 19 in Lake City, punching her ticket to this Saturday’s state meet in Fort Dodge.
She ran a time of 22:41.54, one of four top 30 runners for the Rams as they missed the state meet as a team by eight points, finishing sixth overall.
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The magnitude of the moment spilled over Hall like a powerful waterfall as she crossed the finish line. Physical and mental exhaustion combined with pure elation sent Hall crashing to the ground, unable to take even one more step. She had conquered her enemies, the grueling hills and the doubts. In less than a year’s time, she had achieved her goal - she was headed to state after exerting all her energy.
“They had to roll me out. I couldn’t get up. I rolled until I was out of the way,” she said with a small laugh. “I’ve never been hit by a car, but I imagine that’s what it feels like.”
Hall’s distaste for hills is common knowledge at this point. It’s her least favorite part of cross country. The treacherous landscape of last week’s course almost meant her demise. It’s a battle of wills as Hall climbs to the top.
“If there are hills, I mentally cry when I go up them. Physically, some times it comes out,” she said. “That last hill was awful. The last two miles were hilly, huge hills. The kind of hills you have in your nightmares.
I said if someone was trying to abduct me and I had to run that course again, I’d just let them take me.”
In reality, Hall’s most feared competitor is her mind. She battles doubts, anxiety, physical pain and, surprisingly, boredom.
In the pool, it’s just her, the water and her own lane. She’ll – get this – solve math problems or go through Spanish sentences to push herself through the mundane laps.
It’s quite the contrast when it comes to cross country. There’s more scenery, she’s outside and has to battle the terrain. The senior has to shake off the pre-race nerves, first of all. She was especially on edge leading up to last week’s state qualifying race in Lake City. She knew she’d teeter on the border for state. The long-distance runner formulated a plan in her head as to how well she had to perform.
“I kind of psyche myself out. I write everyone’s times out before hand. I wrote down the first 12 spots and thought, ‘this is going to be rough,’” she said. “There were only three other spots that could be filled.
It’s just something she must do prior to each competition. She has to come prepared, and if that means knowing what steep, figurative and literal hills lie ahead of her, so be it.
Once the girls toe the starting line, the nerves begin to bubble and spill over the edge. There’s so much pressure for a quality start, she said. Her anxiety is at an all time high as she awaits the gun blast.
“I personally hate the beginning of the race, all of the nerves,” she said. “It was awful. I hate that feeling and it was all day. From the moment I woke up.
Other people love it, I hate it. Everyone goes out fast, you think they are going to slow down, but they never do. They go the same speed.”
It’s the nerves coupled with the realization she won’t be the leader that kicks her mind into overdrive. Eventually, she calms down and gets into a groove, knowing she excels more at being the hunter.
“I try not to go out too fast because I don’t have much sprinting ability,” Hall said. “I’m more of an endurance runner, I know not to waste my energy because I’d rather hunt people down rather than have them hunt me down.”
To push her through the most grueling part of the race – mile two – she’ll call on her motivators. Last Thursday, the senior drew mountains on her wrist followed by a straight line. Every time she’d pump her arms while climbing a steep hill, she’d glance down at her arm and its reminder.
“(The line represents) not all hills last forever. There won’t only be hills, you can’t just keep going up,” Hall said. “I’d see that and tell myself I was fine.”
The hills made the course feel even longer than it was. She was unfamiliar with the landscape and didn’t know how much race was left.
“I kept asking the people next to me how much further, and I know they knew the answer but they just looked up,” Hall said. “I was getting super irritated.
You can see the finish, but it’s like 800-meters away. Everyone is yelling and that’s where you make or break the race. If it was another 400-meters, I wouldn’t have made it, I was dying.”
Hall swam at the varsity level all four years of her high school career, making the daily 35 minute drive to Boone, often while it’s still dark outside as Jefferson sleeps.
She last ran cross country in middle school, but because she runs long distance during track season, the bug caught her again. Almost every day during the fall there was some type of morning and afternoon practice, often with the two sports alternating. She’d set her alarm for 4:45 a.m. and was out the door by 5:15. She’d leave practice a few minutes early so she could make classes in Jefferson, then it was off to cross country practice followed by lifting. Once it was all said and done, she’d finally be heading home around 7 p.m. That left little time for dinner and homework before bed time at 9:30. It’s a grind she doesn’t regret. And why would she? The accolades speak for their self. She is one of Boone’s all-time best swimmers, a two-time state qualifier, multiple conference champ, including the 2017 North Central 500-meter champion, and now, a state cross country participant.
She said she first got the inkling to dabble back into cross country in the summer. She was working out with both teams at the time when she approached her Boone coach, Chris Mann.
“I missed it, and at first, he said no,” Hall said. “But once I explained I was already practicing with both, he was OK with it.”
That routine and training did little to prepare her for her biggest test. Hall had just one full day to recover from the rigors of the state qualifying meet before she’d join her teammates in Luther on Saturday at the conference swim meet. It barely gave her any time to recover. She stretched a lot, drank water and relaxed as much as she could.
The one down side of qualifying for Saturday’s state meet was she wouldn’t be able to join her Boone – and Greene County teammates – at the 2017 regional swim meet in Johnston. Her career ended at last week’s conference competition in Luther.
“I was really nervous knowing that it was my last time swimming,” she said. “It was sad, but I used it as an opportunity to leave it all in the pool.”
And that she did, trimming two seconds off her season best in the 100-meter butterfly and four seconds off the 500-meter freestyle and helping her squad finish runner-up to conference champion, Decorah.
“I wasn’t upset, I was content with making it to state twice,” Hall said. “Some people don’t get that chance.”
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Swimming and long distance running, frankly, aren’t that different. Besides the obvious physical variants, they present many parallels. Perhaps it’s why Hall has gravitated toward the two sports.
“They both have things I like about them, there are different aspects.They are both individual sports that are team sports,” she said. “Swimming, you’re the only one in the water in that line, so you’re doing it for you. But then, everyone on the team is relying on you for points or in a relay.”
Team sports that rely on each athlete to carry his or her own weight. There can’t be any weak links. You can’t hide a slow runner or swimmer with a deceiving play call or pass up shots. There’s pressure to perform and come through.
“(They are) individualized, but everything you do is about the team. And I think that’s what I like about them,” Hall said. “Your teammates all have your back and they support you. Everything you do, though, is all up to you.
It adds a little more pressure and I think that’s why people like it. Pressure helps.”
The vigorous practice schedule is not as strict as one might imagine. Of course, she’d miss one sport’s practice because of a meet and vice versa. Thankfully, the rigorous endurance aspect of each sport kept her ready for the seamless transition.
“They go pretty well together, both are pretty aerobic movements,” Hall said. “If I missed swim practice because of a cross country meet, I didn’t really miss that much because I was still working out. I wasn’t sitting at home.”
The Greene County homecoming queen enjoys the slight differences between the two sports, besides the obvious.
“The training is pretty much the same, both (are) horrible. In swimming, you don’t have the ability to breathe all the time, and that’s more challenging. It’s more mental than physical,” she said, despite her two trips to the state meet and trophy case worth of conference titles.
“It’s also a bit more boring,” Hall added. “You’re looking at a black line (at the bottom of the pool) the entire time. In cross country, you have hills and stuff to look at.”
The girls’ 2A state cross country race is set to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28 at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge. Hall will run out of box 21 along with 22nd-ranked Emily Treptow from Jesup, Estherville-Lincoln Central’s Riley Christoffer, Jesup’s Mara Moore, New Hampton’s Olivia Burke and Underwood’s Karley Larson. Hall will wear bib number 478.
Crestwood’s Ellie Friesen (18:30) ran the fastest qualifying time at the Dike-New Hartford course while last year’s defending champion, Anna Hostetler of Mid-Prairie, ran the second fastest qualifying time (18:42) at the Pella district site.
Hall will prepare for Saturday’s meet just like any other, with a double ham sandwich with every veggie except jalapeños from Subway and a steady dose of Post Malone blaring through the ear buds. She’ll stretch an unnecessary amount, on the car ride down and on the course as she readies herself for the last run of her high school career.
The impact of Hall’s milestone, Greene County first-year head coach Jeff Lamoureux said, has a far reaching impact. She’s an athlete the entire cross country program can look up to.
“Haley has been a great example of hard work, effort and dedication,” the coach said. “She put in the time this summer and juggled the difficult task of competing in two sports at once, and performed exceptional in both.
You can be assured I will use her as a positive example to future (cross country) runners.”