The longest and easily the most successful cross country season for Kearan Nelson comes to an end on Saturday.
That’s when the Central Valley senior takes to the starting line at the Foot Locker national championship race in San Diego.
Nelson qualified by taking second at the West Regionals in Walnut, California last Saturday. She finished in 17 minutes, 55.9 seconds. Also qualifying was Katie Thronson of Lewis and Clark (18:19.9), who grabbed the last spot in 10th place. Amir Ado of Ferris earned a trip in the boys race by finishing third (15:40.7).
“It was by far the best race I’ve ever had,” Nelson said of the West Regionals. “I’ve had some other good ones but that was special.”
Nelson didn’t have the best start.
“I was about 15th to 20th after the first mile,” she said. “I felt really strong going up the hills so I kept pushing the pace. I started picking (girls) off after the start. I was pretty tired at the finish. I don’t know if I could have gone any faster.”
It’s been a fall full of personal bests. Nelson came into the season in the best shape of her life after losing 15 pounds during summer training.
“I attended a couple camps and went through what it would take to be a collegiate athlete,” Nelson said. “If running in college was something I wanted to do I needed to put in more work.”
Nelson’s physical and mental transformation was measurable.
“She transformed herself completely,” CV coach Dennis McGuire said.
McGuire said Nelson had to discover the “need and want” to change.
“If you want to be a champion you have to go a little further and she did,” McGuire said.
It culminated during the high school season with a third-place finish at state.
She surprised herself at West Regionals.
“I did a lot better than I expected,” she said.
“That is a really hard course with a couple amazingly hard hills,” McGuire said. “It’s not one of our flat golf courses up here. She would have won the state meet if she’d run like that. I’m really proud of her. She’s worked hard.”
And the improvement since state is impressive, McGuire said.
“It’s really hard for a kid from Washington to stay in shape enough and stay competitive for three weeks after state,” McGuire said. “Not just stay competitive but get better.”
The national race will be in San Diego’s famous Balboa Park.
Nelson flew to San Diego on Thursday and planned to familiarize herself with the course on Friday.
“It’d be pretty cool to be an All-American, in the top 20,” she said. “But ultimately I just want to do my best.”