At windblown Kincaid Park on Saturday, a biting headwind slammed runners as they raced the final few hundred meters on the exposed straightaway that led to the finish line of the Cook Inlet Conference cross country championships.
Not that many were complaining. They've seen worse. The events of the last couple of weeks -- windstorms that toppled giant trees, downpours that flooded creeks and soaked the ground -- tested and toughened runners while offering evidence that what doesn't kill you maybe really does make you stronger.
"Two weeks ago, when the rain was coming down and the wind was knocking us over, we did a hill-repeat workout and there was a big puddle at the end," Service High senior Lucas Schlemme said. "At the top of the hill, you're soaked. At the bottom, you're soaked. And everyone's tired.
"Even the football players said, 'We're gonna do a strength workout inside,' but there was never a day when we called practice off. Our whole team, from varsity down to the open runners, we were out there every day."
Schlemme was part of a Service boys team that captured its seventh straight CIC championship in authoritative fashion.
John Farr deprived Service of total domination by winning the 5-kilometer race to become the first boy from East to win a CIC championship since Sean McMahon in 2000. He cracked the 17-minute mark to hold off two-time runner-up Gilly Szweda-Mittelstadt, the first of four consecutive Service runners to follow Farr across the finish line.
The girls race belonged to Rachel Roelle and the West Eagles. Roelle pulled away from a pack of about a half-dozen runners in the final kilometer to win decisively and help the Eagles repeat as team champs. Her victory marked the fifth time in eight seasons a West girl emerged victorious.
"The last hill on the straightaway was hard, especially because I didn't have anyone to draft on," said Roelle, who gained command on a downhill and ran alone in the lead for about the final kilometer.
"I needed to make a move earlier (than usual) because of the wind, so I'd have enough space in front of them," she said. That gave her some room to spare in case the headwind slowed her down.
Though not as bad as most teams faced in recent weeks, the wind factored into race strategy Saturday.
"I told them it would be the smartest runner to win, not the fastest," Service coach Danielle Dalton said. "I told them, pay attention to drafting, stick in a group and not to lead."
Farr said the frontrunners in the boys race stuck together for the first four kilometers, "so on a downhill I let myself glide down as fast as I could."
That turned out to be the winning move, one that gave Farr the edge he needed to fend off Szweda-Mittelstadt, who has a reputation for fast finishes.
"The past few races Gilly has outkicked me," Farr said. "I wasn't expecting to win it."
But he had the desire, one fueled by a wall at East High that bears the names of past CIC champs from the school -- people like Kikkan Randall and Don Clary. He wanted his name on that wall.
The Cougars were similarly motivated by the past. Schlemme has been part of four straight CIC championships, the first three of which came with big-name runners leading the way -- Silas Talbot, Jani Lane and Max Romey, all of them CIC individual champs.
"It's nice we could step up and fill some of their shoes," Schlemme said. "As a senior, you want to be able to step up and pull it off."
By putting four runners in the top five, the Service boys won the team title with 31 points, well ahead of runner-up West (58 points). Chugiak (79) and South (98) finished third and fourth, respectively, to earn spots in next Saturday's state championships at Bartlett High.
Roelle was joined in the top five by teammate Lydia Blanchet, the defending champion who placed fifth to help the West girls win with 61 points. East was second with 76 points and Service edged South for third place, 85-88.
While Farr's winning margin was narrow -- his time of 16:58.17 put him about 2.5 seconds ahead of Szweda-Mittelstadt -- Roelle's time of 19:40.66 left her pursuers fighting for second place.
East's Grace Graham won that battle in 19:57.02, less than two-tenths of a second ahead of Eagle River's Hannah Stevens (19:57.30). Next came two former CIC champs -- 2010 winner Jenette Northey of Service (20:03.18) and Blanchet (20:09.76).
"I tend to zone out and focus on what I'm doing so I didn't know how close (Stevens) was," Graham said. "When I felt her next to me I sprinted. I knew it was very close for second place and I knew I had to make a move or I could be getting fifth."
All of that happened against a headwind that "just blasted you," Graham said.
Of course, recent weather has hardened these runners.
"Last week might have been the worst," Graham said. "It was pouring rain, cold, and we were doing 500 (meter) repeats and it was just pretty miserable. 'Uh, I just want to go inside now.' But you have to be prepared for anything."
Schlemme said the Cougars did their best to have fun during the worst of the weather.
"Everyone was still joking around and still smiling," he said. "Or maybe it was a grimace, I don't know. You have to be a little crazy to be a runner, and you've gotta be pretty tough."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
1) Service 31, 2) West 58, 3) Chugiak 79, 4) South 98, 5) Dimond 135, 6) East 138, 7) Eagle River 169
1) John Farr, East, 16:58.17; 2) Gilly Szweda-Mittelstadt, Ser, 17:00.42; 3) Lucas Schlemme, Ser, 17:05.41; 4) Lucas Hepler, Ser, 17:10.48; 5) Taylor Turney, Ser, 17:13.12; 6) David McPhetres, Chu, 17:18.53; 7) Spencer Mitton, South, 17:20.42; 8) Drini Redzepi, West, 17:22.47; 9) Derek Steele, South, 17:29.48; 10) Ty Jordan, Chu, 17:29.79; 11) Larkin Lynch, West, 17:30.54; 12) Max Dan, West, 17:44.45; 13) Jacob Volz, West, 17:46.38; 14) Peter Moma, West, 17:46.95; 15) Roan Hall, Chu, 17:48.21; 16) Austin Bailly, West, 17:49.26; 17) Tre Washington, Ser, 17:53.01; 18) Tim Sorensen, Chu, 17:54.98; 19) Iain Perry, Dim, 17:59.78; 20) Matt Froehlich, Dim, 18:00.49; 21) Garth Schulz, Ser, 18:06.25; 22) Thomas O'Harra, East, 18:08.50; 23) Luke Twenhafel, South, 18:08.95; 24) Skyler Frank, East, 18:09.61; 25) Callum Toohey, Dim, 18:10.73; 26) Chanc Deschamps-Prescott, South, 18:16.99; 27) Eli Shayer, West, 18:20.55; 28) Riley Howard, Ser, 18:28.88; 29) Benjamin Smith, ER, 18:30.75; 30) Chris Kveseth, Chu, 18:31.69; 31) Jacob Walsh, ER, 18:32.17; 32) Alec Smith, ER, 18:32.96; 33) Adam Fletcher, South, 18:33.45; 34) Tyler Foster, Chu, 18:33.93; 35) Ben Froehlich, Dim, 18:34.35; 36) Zayn Roohi, Dim, 18:37.14; 37) Matthew Eggert, ER, 18:45.75; 38) Julien Kimball, Dim, 18:55.20; 39) Will Balcao, South, 19:05.48; 40) William Hail, ER, 19:15.32; 41) Edouard Seryozhenkov, South, 19:17.41; 42) Tristan Heil, Dim, 19:22.87; 43) Bryce Wolery, ER, 19:29.74; 44) Benjamin Hall, ER, 19:37.70; 45) Justin Leiner, East, 19:48.17; 46) Parker Everett, East, 19:56.12; 47) Jack Ginter, Chu, 19:57.83; 48) Matthew Fischer, East, 20:04.66; 49) Adam Becia, East, 20:22.49.
1) West 61, 2) East 76, 3) Service 85, 4) South 88, 5) Dimond 110, 6) Eagle River 108, 7) Chugiak 146
1) Rachel Roelle, West, 19:40.66; 2) Grace Graham, East, 19:57.02; 3) Hannah Stevens, ER, 19:57.30; 4) Jenette Northey, Ser, 20:03.18; 5) Lydia Blanchet, West, 20:09.76; 6) Tsaina Mahlen, South, 20:15.00; 7) Samantha Hartke, Chu, 20:27.24; 8) Megan Fink, East, 20:28.81; 9) Hannah Seidl, Dim, 20:28.87; 10) Aislinn Waite, Ser, 20:28.94; 11) Acadia Graham, East, 20:29.40; 12) Sierra Richardson, ER, 20:30.24; 13) Kaitlyn Bailly, South, 20:31.42; 14) Sara Hartke, Chu, 20:34.16; 15) Ashlee Weller, South, 20:44.98; 16) Katie Weddleton, West, 20:55.08; 17) Erica Heil, Dim, 20:55.24; 18) Darby Judd, Dim, 20:56.32; 19) JoJo Fleischman, West, 20:57.97; 20) Claire Walker, West, 21:02.28; 21) Madeline Boutet, West, 21:02.51; 22) Ann Spencer, Ser, 21:09.10; 23) Morgan Flynn, East, 21:14.75; 24) Sarah Cosgrave, Ser, 21:45.09; 25) Taryn Hunt-Smith, Ser, 21:47.79; 26) Anna Darnell, South, 21:54.40; 27) Alisa Aist, Ser, 21:58.21; 28) Emily Evans, South, 21:58.53; 29) Nikole Boggs, ER, 22:10.69; 30) Madison Imig, Dim, 22:10.90; 31) Summer Frazier, ER, 22:11.55; 32) Liz Burt, East, 22:16.06; 33) Amber Lopez, ER, 22:16.49; 34) Allison Abo, East, 22:23.41; 35) McKenna Mitchell, Chu, 22:25.69; 36) Kinsey Denton, Dim, 22:27.20; 37) Anna Campbell, South, 22:34.95; 38) Teagan Yutrzenka, South, 22:48.64; 39) Holly Andrus, Dim, 22:59.63; 40) Ana Jager, East, 23:00.80; 41) Hailey Sandefur, ER, 23:02.47; 42) Rachel Zafren, Ser, 23:15.64; 43) Terra Holayter, Chu, 23:25.79; 44) Kayle Blackmore, West, 23:26.81; 45) Carrie Wehmeyer, ER, 23:34.96; 46) Maddie Bee, Dim, 24:02.93; 47) Hali Young, Chu, 24:19.30; 48) Naella Lundell, Chu, 24:49.92; 49) Teal Williams, IDEA, 35:11.77.