Sports

Langley girl takes 12th place at national track race

Elizabeth Donnelly lays out her track and cross country medals from the past few years as a runner for Langley Middle School. She earned a spot in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Championship in Houston.  - Ben Watanabe/ The Record
Elizabeth Donnelly lays out her track and cross country medals from the past few years as a runner for Langley Middle School. She earned a spot in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Championship in Houston.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe/ The Record

Elizabeth Donnelly got a taste of the limelight in Houston, Texas this past week at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships.

The 14-year-old Langley girl had qualified to race against some of the country’s top young runners in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter events between July 21-27. She missed out on a top spot in both races. Not enough racers attended to warrant a semifinal race in the 800, which she would have qualified for and had another shot at securing a final berth.

But she finished in 12th place in the 1,500 after an admittedly bad run. Part of the blame for her 5:21.07 time—nearly 30 seconds slower than her personal best 4:55—was the 100-degree heat.

“Before we started the final, we could see the heat waves in the air,” Donnelly said in a phone interview while on vacation with family in Maine.

To even get to the final, where she was one of 12 racers out of a total 42 girls who attended the national event, was a major battle. Most of the athletes at the national championships were part of a running team or club; Donnelly attended as an independent from “the Pacific Northwest” as the announcer said.

In her flight against 13 other girls, Donnelly started at the back of the pack. She said she was surprised how quickly the other racers ran in the first lap. But she stuck with her pace, trusting that the hundreds of miles she put in training on Whidbey Island would work in the Lone Star State.

“I kind of expected everyone to go out really fast,” she said. “Whenever I try that, the crazy pace doesn’t work so well.”

Through the first two laps, she was stuck in eighth place. By the third lap, the top two racers pulled ahead several strides, leaving the others to sort out who would join them in the final.

Watching the professional broadcast video online, the jump Donnelly makes to finish third is incredible. Here she comes, hitting the final 200 meters, rounding the bend. Nearly elbow-to-elbow with two other girls, Donnelly tries pulling ahead, but the other two stick right with her, each trying to edge the other for a coveted third-place finish.

“I usually have a strong finish lap with a kick at the end,” Donnelly said.

Boy, did she.

The camera pans to the finish line as the top two racers cross. But the announcer quickly returns to a neck-and-neck three-way race for third place right up to the end where Donnelly gets a stride ahead of the others to claim third place and a spot in the final heat.

“Elizabeth Donnelly had been back in the pack, made a big move in the first part of the last lap, got kind of caught up with Mooney and Curtis, but had a big kick at the end,” the announcer says.

On Wednesday, Donnelly was with her family relaxing on a beach on the East Coast. She said she went for a short run/walk with her 6-year-old cousin, the first time her legs hit their stride since the final race Sunday.

It will not be long before she returns to her training regimen of daily runs in preparation for the upcoming South Whidbey High School cross country season which begins in August. For now, however, she’s enjoying a little break from the rigors of high-speed distance racing.

“I’m really bad at getting up early to run,” she said. “I’ve been trying to, but I’m taking a few days off. I’ll get back, soon-ish.”

 

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