“I was pretty stoked”
While the Colorado high school cross-country season came to a close two weeks ago, Titan runners Erin Kelly and Nicholas Harper-Johnston kept on truckin’, heading to the Foot Locker Midwest Regional Championships in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Saturday, November 28.
Kelly closed her junior year of cross-country racing with a perfect season, winning every race she entered, including the state 2A title. Senior Harper-Johnston had the best season of his high school career as well, closing with a 15th-place finish at the 2A state race.
The two runners then stepped out of the cozy confines of Colorado cross-country competition, by throwing themselves into the Foot Locker regional race.
The icing on the cake for Kelly came in Kenosha, as she finished 24th out of 274 elite runners from 13 states. Kelly earned two medals and all-region recognition, and garnered the attention of several Division I cross-country programs.
Harper-Johnston ended his season with an 88th place finish in Wisconsin in the junior-senior division.
Both competed there last year for the first time, with Harper-Johnston finishing 190th out of nearly 300 runners in the junior-senior race, and Kelly taking 75th place against the region’s best in the girls’ seeded race.
Kelly admits that last year’s experience was somewhat overwhelming. This year, she built on that experience so she could focus on the race itself.
“Last year, I wasn’t as used to such a huge race and I kind of got freaked out,” says Kelly. “This year I was more used to it.”
Kelly set a couple of pre-race goals heading into this year’s event.
“My goal was to get top 40,” says Kelly. “Colleges look at that and see if you improve. Of course, you always try for top 10 to qualify for nationals.”
In addition, Kelly looked to post a time close to 18 minutes until she got there and saw the course.
“I wanted to go low 18’s but I saw the course the day before and it was a mud pit,” says Kelly.
For the first time in her career, Kelly was forced to strap on some spikes to help negotiate the sloppy course. Unfortunately, the spikes turned useless midway through the race.
“After the first mile-and-a-half, they were caked,” says Kelly.
The course opened with a flat section before turning uphill, and Kelly used the hill to gain a solid position before the course turned narrow and headed into the woods.
It was at the top of the hill that Kelly realized she was far better off than last year.
“Once I got to the top of the hill I got some confidence because I could see the front of the pack,” she explains. “Last year I never even saw the leaders.”
Kelly continued to pick off runners through the wooded section until she eased into her spot, crossing the finish line with a time of 19 minutes and two seconds.
Kelly was the fourth among all Colorado runners and was part of the Colorado team’s third-place finish at the region.
“I was pretty stoked,” says Kelly.
She now has her sights set on track and field with her indoor season starting in late February, before joining the Titan team in the spring for a shot at repeating as the 3,200-meter state champion.