After finishing 1-2 in the Bartlett Invitational cross country meet on Saturday, Kodiak runners Levi Thomet and Cole Christiansen were stoked. Thomet, the winner, shaved 25 seconds off his personal record. Christiansen, the runnerup, missed his personal best by three seconds. Both were psyched to be running so fast so early in the season.
But no one had a better day or a bigger PR than Kenai's Allie Ostrander, the winner of the girls race who lopped 24 minutes off her previous best effort on the Bartlett trails.
Yes, 24 minutes. In a five-kilometer race.
Yes, there is more to this story.
Ostrander is a pint-sized runner with super-sized talent who has made a name for herself by repeatedly winning and setting records in the Mount Marathon junior girls race.
As a freshman last year, she dominated the high school cross country season and was considered a sure thing to capture the state championship. Her undefeated season ended in shocking fashion when she got dizzy while running up a hill a little more than halfway through the state meet at Bartlett. She completed the rest of the race in a fog, walking and stumbling the rest of the way. She finished in 42 minutes -- some 23 minutes behind the leaders in a race almost everyone predicted Ostrander would win -- and left in an ambulance.
"I was hypothermic and dehydrated," Ostrander recalled Saturday, almost a year later.
She was also burdened by the stress that comes with being 14 and the overwhelming favorite to win a state championship. Now she's 15, and by dominating Saturday she is again the early favorite to take state, which means more pressure, if not stress.
"I'm a year wiser," she said, "and hopefully I can handle it better now."
It should help that she has exorcised her Bartlett demons.
Ostrander finished in 17 minutes, 58 seconds to claim a comfortable 43-second win over Brooke Lizotte of Lathrop. She never faltered, not even when she raced up the same hill where her collapse began a year ago.
"My dad was at the bottom of the hill and I could see it in his eyes as I was coming down -- he was, like, 'Yes!' '' Ostrander said. "It was a mental struggle for me today because I have a lot of bad memories of this course. State is at Bartlett this year and I feel confident now that I have conquered this course."
Thomet and Christiansen also enjoyed a confidence booster as they set the pace in the boys race. Thomet, a sophomore, won in 16:01 and Christiansen, a senior, was right behind in 16:07. Christiansen led early and Thomet led late, but much of the time they were close enough to talk. When they were done, they talked about how easy it felt to run so fast.
"I didn't think we were going too fast," Christiansen said.
"It felt smoother than it should," Thomet said.
Finishing third in 16:19 was Peter Noon, one of four West Valley boys in the top 10. Kodiak placed three boys in the top 10, showing that it's still one of the top programs in the state three years after the graduation of standout Trevor Dunbar, now an All-American at Oregon.
"There's a bunch of new freshmen coming in every year and everyone loves to run in Kodiak," said Thomet, explaining what makes the team flourish.
"And hills. Lots and lots of hills," added Christiansen.
Bartlett's course offered plenty of hills to test the 700 runners from 25 schools who turned out in droves Saturday to check out the state championship course. They turned Bartlett into a festive place by putting up canopies and tents, many in school colors, to serve as home base for the day.
You can't have that kind of a turnout without there being at least one only-in-Alaska story, and this one comes courtesy of Kotzebue.
When the Huskies flew from Western Alaska to Anchorage on Wednesday, windy weather necessitated that the plane shed some weight, "so they kicked bags off instead of people," coach Lance Westing said. While the runners got to town in plenty of time, not all of their gear did.
"We just got our uniforms this morning," Westing said, "and our tent didn't make it."
Girls -- 1) Wasilla, 93; 2) West, 102; 3) Lathrop, 128; 4) Grace Christian, 129; 5) Dimond, 145.
Boys -- 1) West Valley, 33; 2) Service, 75; 3) Kodiak, 94; 4) Grace Christian, 150; 5) Kenai, 202.
Top 10 individuals
Girls -- 1) Allie Ostrander, Kenai, 17:58; 2) Brooke Lizotte, Lathrop, 18:41; 3) Rachel Roelle, West, 18:58; 4) Audrey Michaelson, Colony, 19:01; 5) Hope Steffensen, Kenai, 19:08; 6) Jenette Northey, Service, 19:11; 7) Mariah Burrough, Wasilla, 19:12; 8) Jenna Ford, Wasilla, 19:22; 9) Megan Kubichek, Lathrop, 19:40; 10) Grace Graham, East, 19:42.
Boys -- 1) Levi Thomet, Kodiak, 16:01; 2) Cole Christiansen, Kodiak, 16:07; 3) Peter Noon, West Valley, 16:19; 4) Erich Hoefler, West Valley, 16:29; 5) Max Donaldson, West Valley, 16:33; 6) Miles Knotek, Seward, 16:37; 7) Kuba Grzeda, West Valley, 16:38; 8) Levi Fried, Kodiak, 16:39; 9) Lucas Schlemme, Service, 16:48; 10) Gilly Szweda-Mittelstadt, Service, 16:50.