As a general rule, Lara Carrion is not a huge fan of virtual running races.
“I didn’t do any virtual racing over the summer,” the Seton Catholic High School junior said. “I would much rather wait for a real race. Yes, virtual racing can help get times for athletic.net, but it’s not going to show your full potential. It’s more of a time trial, and time trials don’t really show what you truly have in you to race that personal best.”
But virtual racing can be an important tool in team building. And that’s what Carrion was hoping to do with her Seton Catholic girls cross country team, which is heading into a pivotal year as the Cougars hope to develop into one of the top Class 1A teams in the state.
“Since I’m the team captain this year, I wanted to get us together and run in way a little more like normal,” Carrion said. “So I’ve been able to help set up a time for the team to meet up and run in what is kind like a time trial. But in this time trial, we did it for the virtual meet.”
Seton runners are participating in the Nike Cross Virtual series, hosted by the Nike Cross National series.
In the first week of the series, Carrion led the way for the Cougars, placing fifth out of 86 valid results in the Northwest Region in 18 minutes, 18 seconds.
Seton runners completed their virtual run with an out-and-back run along the Salmon Creek Trail.
“We just did it as a team, and we ran it like a normal race,” Carrion said. “We warmed up together and we stretched, and then we went out and raced, cheering each other on. And it worked pretty well. It’s definitely not the same as racing, but when you have people on your team you can run with and against, it helps.”
And the Cougars have the runners. Last season, the Seton girls placed seventh at the 1A state meet with Carrion placing second overall. The Cougars return their top-four runners from last year and have added some talented freshman.
The virtual race allowed Carrion to see what her new teammates can do, and she liked what she saw. Two freshmen, Alexis Leone and Sara Cordova, posted the first- and third-best times out of 53 validated times in the region in Week 2.
“It was a chance get to get out and see where were at in our training,” Carrion said. “It was nice to see where we are as a team and how good we might be.”
A pesky foot issue kept Carrion from running in Week 2 of the virtual series last week, but that allowed her to focus more on her role as team captain, organizing meet-ups for training runs.
“It allowed time to take a step back and help out with the incoming freshman,” Carrion said. “I can help them adjust to what they didn’t think their freshman year was going to look like.”
Seton Catholic High School has opened the school year with a hybrid system of learning, which consists of alternate days of in-person and online schooling. And Carrion has adjusted well to that schedule.
“Actually, I’m not super opposed to making our own schedule at home, and we kind of have our freedom” with online learning, Carrion said. “But not being able to go into school and have our regular activities, a normal schedule, and not interacting with all of our classmates, that has definitely been a challenge.
“That’s why I think it’s so important as a cross country team to meet outside of school to get into a group so we can communicate and interact with each other in person rather than over a text, or a call or a Zoom meeting.”
And that’s why Carrion is OK with virtual racing this fall. It keeps her teammates connected so they can have success during what will be a very different cross country season in March and April.
Carrion pointed out that revised schedule will require an adjusted winter training schedule, different racing with restrictions and an overlap between cross country in Season 3 and track and field in Season 4. But as long as the Cougars get to run together, Carrion will be happy.
“The weather in the spring is going to be crazy different,” Carrion said. “We’re used to running in the fall, when it’s got a bit of the heat in the beginning, then a little bit colder toward state. But never super wet and muddy at the beginning stage like it will be in during the spring, if we get to run that season.
“We’re holding out hope.”