It is 5:59 a.m. on Tuesday morning. The 2009 girls cross country team is waking up with an early bird run, a training routine they do twice a week in preparation for Saturday races. As the girls drift by in the pack, there is one runner, Meredith Gamble, leaving the first set of prints on the dew-covered grass. Her arms in sync with her stride, percolating blood to brew a new focus for the week: finish fast.
“Pain is temporary, Meredith mumbles to herself. I will get through this.”
Gamble has gotten through a lot so far. She won the Lamar Invitational early this season and the Clear Creek race last weekend, all against 5A top Texas runners. So what is all the fuss about finishing for a runner being coveted by Rice, UT, William & Mary, Dartmouth, and Cornell among other schools?
Those courses are flat compared to a course on which she finished second two weeks earlier. “The Brenham ‘Hillaceous’ was a race well within her comfort zone and ability to win, but Gamble made a tactical error, according to Head Girls’ Cross Country Coach, Rachel Skinner. Meredith failed to put it in an extra gear until it was too late.”
“I was just floating along just behind the Katy Taylor runner, not really worried about anything. I was in a daze due to the crowd noise that was pulling for the leader. The next thing I knew the finish was less than 400 meters out and I could not make up the 4 second difference for first.”
Gamble may have temporarily taken for granted her ability to win like she usually does, but after finishing second, she is motivated to do more. “I am excited about running in college, and I really want to help my team win SPC,” said Meredith.
Fortunately for Meredith and the Mavericks, that is a realistic goal if every runner pushes each other. According to Coach Skinner, Meredith has two runners that help her stay on the competitive edge. “Anne Johnson and Sara Patterson are not your ordinary sparing partners for the ‘champ.’ Johnson sets the pace on the sprints and Patterson on the distance runs. They also train on a ‘calendar’ workout, where each repetition is given a holiday. At the end of those runs they focus on a celebration, anything to get their mind off the pain. So far it works for them, and in order to get a team victory, more runners need to find their focus.”
Gamble acknowledges there is a threshold of pain that a runner needs to mentally muscle through in order to finish faster. In her recent victory she ran her second mile faster than the first for a personal best of 11:46 on the Clear Creek 2 mile course. “I keep learning from my mistakes, said Meredith. When there is stress and pain I pull out my self talk card ‘make it happen,’ a phrase I got from my track and field coach, Viet Do. This puts me in charge no matter what the external factors are.”
With three races to go, starting with the home course Maverick Ramble on 10/17 and ending with the SPC Championships on 11/6, Meredith and the Mavericks are cooling down with grass on their bare feet. Halloween will fall somewhere in between, and the question is whether Gamble and the girls will have enough mental tricks to endure the pain, finish fast, and treat each other to a first-place team celebration.