Kreunen Advances to State for Cross Country

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Kreunen Advances to State for Cross Country

Carley Walker, Staff Writer

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It was a grey, cold day in the Busse Woods Forest Preserve in Schaumburg, Illinois. Clad in shorts and a tank top despite the 40 degree temperatures, junior Skyler Kreunen struggled to stay warm before her race.

Despite having an amazing season with impressive personal records, Kreunen did not have high expectations for the race.

In fact, Kreunen was feeling worse than ever on race day. Even once she started running, the cold tingling sensation hitting her legs, arms, and neck would not lessen throughout the race. Her head full of negative thoughts, urged her to stop.

Around 140 other girls cross country runners from the region were racing Nov. 2 alongside her, all fighting to qualify for State.  Going into the race, Skyler did not expect that she would be one of the 11 girls who would be advancing to State.

But she persevered. Skyler will be the sole runner from Lake Forest High School at State in Peoria this weekend, and one of only two girls in the entire NSC Conference to advance to State.  Her main goal this weekend is to place in the top 50, and her teammates expect her to succeed.

“Everyone on the team is so proud of her and excited to see her compete at state,” teammate Chloe Tzau said.

Prior to starting Cross Country her sophomore year, Kreunen ran track and field in the spring of her freshman year. Kreunen mostly ran the two-mile race, her personal record freshmen year being a 13:20, later improving to a 12:10 personal record her sophomore year,  along with the 4×4 relay and the 4×8 relay as well.

Each race is about three miles. For Skyler, at the beginning of this season, her race time was 19:30. Right before Regionals on her home turf at West Campus, Kreunen’s personal record was 18:12. At this race, Kreunen managed to beat her PR by over 20 seconds, landing her current PR to be 17:46.9.

Cross Country itself is among one of the most physically and mentally challenging sports out there. All of the power to keep going is in your control, and you are the only one responsible for how well you do, and how much motivation you have to keep on pressing through the race.

“You don’t magically drop three minutes. The racing never gets easier, but the better you get, the better you get at channeling your focus and energy into the race,” Kreunen said.

This summer Kreunen trained for her Cross Country season by trying altitude training on her family trip to Colorado. She ran five miles each day for four days a week for three weeks while in Colorado, greatly helping her endurance and stamina in preparation for the Cross Country season.

Once her Cross Country season started in August, Kreunen and the 13 other girls on the varsity girls’ team practices five to six days a week. One or two workouts each week were on the track.

“We don’t just go on a run 10 miles. We have a specific mileage, times, and pieces to stick to. It is very structured,” Kreunen said addressing the misconceptions there are about Cross Country practices.

Kreunen did have a minor setback this season when she was diagnosed with an inflamed plantar fascia, causing the bottom of her foot to be in pain to the point where she couldn’t run on it for a week. She believes it must have done something with her running 40 miles a week for two weeks, a number which she has since lowered slightly.

Despite her setbacks, Kreunen still pressed on through her season and shown how successful she has been. Besides the success she has had in her races, Kreunen has had a loving and supportive team by her side.

“She is one of the most talented people I have ever met by far. She came into track her freshman year with no record of running and then all of a sudden she rose to the top and she did it all with grace. Skyler is truly an incredible person and one of my Cross Country rocks. I could not have done Cross Country or Track, for that matter, without her,” says teammate and close friend, Ava Schumann.

There is a strong bond between the girls on the Cross Country team. They would get together almost weekly to do team breakfasts, dinners, and sleepovers. Right before their season started, they had a pool party.

“It’s a lot more than just a team. We are all really close and have inside jokes .It is such a good community that you can talk about whatever. It is like a support group. And we are all sticking through it together, because running does suck sometimes,” Skyler stated.

At the beginning of race day, all the runners are filled with pure adrenaline and anticipation just waiting for the race to start. For the first 400 meters, the race becomes extremely overwhelming because of all the people surrounding you, and your legs hitting against the ground with your calves hurting a little bit. As the race continues, Kreunen says she gets into the zone, and just blanks out during the race.

“I think, wow my legs really hurt, but I can’t just stop. I never had a race where I didn’t want to stop. Sometimes, you might really want to stop, but you don’t.”

There is always some challenging part of the course. Whether it is mental or physical. When nobody is surrounding you, you are just running by yourself challenging yourself mentally. Or, you can be physically challenged by the hills you have to climb up, or the mud you have to trudge through.

“Skyler is an amazing runner who works so incredibly hard. She is so fun to be around and always puts a smile on all of our faces. She is so dedicated to the sport and is crazy good, improving with every race, even finishing a race with one shoe one time,” said Tzau, referring to a dual meet against Libertyville and Warren when Kreunen lost a shoe during her race and still managed to place second overall.

For the majority of her races, Kreunen is in the zone and tends to blank out. She doesn’t look at her watch during the race, because her main and only thought is, “Okay, you have to catch that girl, she’s close,” she said.

No matter how mentally and physically draining Kreunen may feel during a race, she continually pushes through allowing her ambition and drive to shine through all the mud and sweat clad onto her body after finishing her race.

“Races are always painful, but they are always worth it when you finish.”