The Blue Oval | Men’s, women’s teams compete at Drake Relays

Junior Mackenzie Michael places first at Drake Relays in the 800 meter run on Friday, April 26. This is Michael’s second championship win for the open 800.

The 110th annual Drake relays were held April 24-27. The women’s team finished 5th in overall points while the men’s team finished 9th.  For many athletes, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to run at one of the biggest track events in the United States.

“Running at the blue oval is an opportunity I’m proud to say I’ve gotten to experience because not only is it challenging just to qualify, but not a lot of people get the chance to run on this track. It’s especially rewarding just to know that you’re among the best of the best and get that chance to compete for a title,” junior Mackenzie Michael said.

Michael not only qualified for the 800 final, but took home first place in the event.

“Getting first in the 800 was like a dream come true. I had always wanted that white flag and it took a lot of hard work to have the success I’ve had. I was also very proud of myself to know that I was the best in the state at that event. It gave me a lot of confidence in my training, coaches and ability.” 

Women’s coach Chris Wood focused on staying focused and being prepared in every way, so the big stage wouldn’t be as overwhelming.

“We had a good mix of rookies and veterans for the Relays, so I would say we had a great time, but we’re focused when we needed to be. We have emphasized race preparation at every meet, the importance of proper warm up, cool down, mental preparation, nutrition, etc. so being on a bigger stage wasn’t any different,” Wood said.

The weather was favorable on Friday, but took a turn for the worse on Saturday.  Runners Lindsey Sires and Kyle Trunnell both had to fight the elements before their races.

“On Saturday at the end of the meet, the weather was so bad that we had to move into the Knapp Center across the street to warm up because the the field events got moved indoors where we all were warming up. It was very crowded and was difficult to warm up without running into people.  The weather definitely caused us some problems on Saturday,” Sires said.

“The weather usually doesn’t affect the schedule for the meet, but it definitely affects the performance of the runners. This year we had some really crazy wind going along with some rain and 50 degree temperatures, so the running conditions were not ideal for anyone trying to get warm and perform well,” Trunnell said. 

Coach Wood was proud that his runners said he was able to stay focused in the questionable weather and get their bodies where they needed to be before their races.

“Anytime you have to do anything outside when it’s 40 degree wind chills with rain, it isn’t going to be enjoyable. We persevered. We got creative with our warm ups, modifying them slightly and finding space around Drake to get them in. The most important thing was making sure we were properly warmed up to go out and compete. The girls took it serious and were dialed in before every race. I am sure they were sick and tired of us telling them to make sure they were sweating before going outside, but they were ready to go. Our performances showed that throughout careful preparation and warm up on their part, the weather didn’t play a significant factor in how they competed,”

The athletes had varied approaches to preparing for the big meet, but all had one similar goal: to stay focused.  

Michael, a long distance runner, had to endure tough practice leading up to the meet to stay focused and ready.

“Leading up to Drake we trained even harder. Instead of backing off and letting our bodies rest, we had our toughest week of training ever the week before Drake. This allowed us to strengthen our bodies, even though they were very tired. It also helped challenge me mentally as well because it forced me to push through the pain and mental doubts even though my body was exhausted,” Michael said.

Sires, a sprinter, focused more on getting her body relaxed and getting mentally prepared for the meet.

“We had a couple hard workouts a week, but once Drake got closer we started doing yoga, working on handoffs and visualizing our races. It really helped to get locked in and focused on the race,” Sires said.

Sires finished fourth in the 4×400 finals alongside Maddy Lenaerts, Sydney Stokes and Auriona Kimbrough.

The athletes walked away from the meet with stronger mental toughness than before and with a chance to get even better after seeing some of the top runners in the country.

“My favorite part of the Drake Relays is watching the high end collegiate and high school runners, along with the Olympic and professional runners. There’s something special about watching these people do some crazy things on the track. It really gives me motivation to push myself harder to get to where they are at,” Trunnell said.

“I think 9th is pretty good for us overall. I personally didn’t know that there was team scoring at Drake, but it definitely shows that we have a really good core group of athletes on our relays.”

Coach Wood said the competition mentally prepared his team for when the state meet comes.

“Drake gives us the opportunity to focus on the mental side of our ability to compete. How do you get prepared to race some of the best in the state? What nerves or anxiety do you have? What pressure do you feel? Take it all in, the sights, the sounds, the distractions, all of it. That way, when we return in 2 weeks for the state meet, we are prepared mentally and physically to compete for a podium finish,” Wood said.

Michael said she will never forget her Drake Relays and is grateful for the opportunity that the relays gave her. 

“My favorite part of Drake this year was winning the flag. To me it’s not just a flag. It symbolizes all of the adversity and challenges I’ve been faced with and had overcome to have the success I do today. Not many people in the world have a white flag, and it’s just a very unique and special award to be won.”

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