Writer gets first-hand experience on trail with Alexa Efraimson

Keeping up with elite runner is not easy

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CAMAS — It's one of those story problems we all despised in math class: an elite runner and an ordinary guy start the 3.5-mile Lacamas Lake Heritage Trail simultaneously.

a) Who will get to the end of the trail first?

b) How long will the first runner have to wait until the second runner gets to the finish?

c) Will the second runner, pushing too hard to keep up, pull a hamstring, throw up, or look for a shortcut?

Answers: a) Duh; b) About eight minutes; and c) Yes.

DECISION NOT TO RUN FOR CAMAS A DIFFICULT ONE

We won’t see Alexa Efraimson in any high school cross country races this fall, and the plan now is not to run the high school track season next spring.

“I need to peak later in the season,” Efraimson says of what she admits was a difficult decision.

She has specific, lofty goals and a need for more elite competition that high school competition doesn’t provide.

So she won’t defend her two 4A state cross country titles, nor her back-to-back 1,600- and 800-meter titles in track.

But, while she will run against professional athletes, she herself will not turn pro — yet. Efraimson plans to keep running as an amateur, which keeps her eligible for a collegiate running career.

­— Carl Click

Your math teacher will excuse you for not knowing the answer to b) because two factors are missing.

The elite runner is Camas's Alexa Efraimson, and her pace is 6:45 per mile. She calls that "easy training."

The ordinary guy — me, runs a mile in about nine minutes.

Alexa is 17 and is among the premier high school-aged runners in the country. I'm 54 and go for a run a few times each week. So technically we're both in the same club. We're runners.

I was among those standing and applauding when Alexa set a national high school record at the state meet in May. She ran the 1,600 meters in 4:33:29, breaking the previous mark by more than a half second.

When she crossed the finish line, the closest competitors were still in the far turn — more than 100 meters behind.

If the Camas High School junior was that much better than the other best runners in the state, I wondered what would happen if she ran with an average runner?

This summer I found out.

• • •

After crossing the country in June and July for five elite-level races against premier competition (she won two), Alexa took me on a training run.

It was her second workout that day, coming after a three-hour morning session with her coach Michael Hickey. Workouts like that include distance and speed training, weightlifting, plyometric stretching, and yoga.

On the other hand, I prepared by tapering three runs that week down to two, and I carbo-loaded the night before — Pizza!

Ordinary guys like me just tie our shoes, close the garage door behind us, and take off. Extraordinary runners like her warm up.

So I joined Alexa in about seven minutes of leaping, and skipping, and bounding and leg swinging exercises. She looked like a ballet dancer; I looked like I was playing Whac-a-mole with my feet.

Alexa: "Now we can start running."

We settled on the first mile at my pace — you know, to see if she could keep up.

Her coach actually was concerned that a nine-minute mile pace would be too slow for Alexa. It could actually be detrimental. I would need to pick up the pace.

• • •

Time to compare and contrast. (Mostly contrast)

• Alexa runs up to 60 miles a week. Ordinary Guy — 15 miles a week when I can find the time and energy, and the weather is absolutely perfect.

• To work on speed, she'll run eight 400 meter laps in 64 seconds each with only short breaks in between.

I tried this. I ran one in 83 seconds. The second one took two minutes. The third one might happen in September.

• She runs in Nike Pegasus — \$99 shoes that wear out after four months on her feet.

I change out shoes whenever I'm lucky enough to have a 50 percent coupon at an employee store — which is about once every two years.

• She avoids white flour in her diet and any added sugar.

The only thing I avoid is the word "diet."

• As a high school runner Alexa can receive no more than \$300 in gear or gifts at a big race. She gets many "goodie bags" at events and often has to give things back.

I get a "Finisher" T-shirt when I pay the registration fee for a 5K. They don't even wait to see if I finish, or for that matter — show up on race day.

• She says she is not good at Wii Dance. Neither am I.

• And I felt good about this. My mouth gets dry when I run. It can be hard to swallow on the go, so occasionally I spit while I run. Does she?

"Yes."

She is honest, sheepish and embarrassed all at once.

• Alexa never wakes up and says "not today." At worst, faced with a coach's difficult workout she'll "push it to later in the day. Sometimes it's just getting started. But I always know I'll run every day."

For me, there's always tomorrow.

• • •

Alexa checks her watch at one mile — 8:05. I'm quite impressed with myself.

Remembering her coach's concern about not going too slow, I asked, "How was that?"

"OK," she said, and not at all patronizing, even if I deserved it.

Hickey calls Alexa the perfect storm of physical ability and work ethic, but adds she is humble and is always kind to her teammates.

"She's always building them up," Hickey says. "Always."

Now I know how her teammates felt.

After one mile our agreement was she would run her speed, and I would have to do my best.

A quarter mile later, I lost sight of Alexa.

Now I know how her high school competitors felt.