MOSES LAKE — Distance running is not the most popular activity.
It takes a certain discipline to push through the mental and physical adversity that comes when the miles build. Now, factor in the uneven and elemental terrain of cross country.
Well, it’s a blast for Moses Lake harriers Mikayla Cooper, Carlie Gregg and Nicholas Elliot. The trio is headed to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association State Cross Country meet this Saturday at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
“I’ve always grown up around running,” Cooper said. “My grandparents run — still run. My grandpa on my dad’s side, he runs marathons still — he ran in Boston. Both of my parents ran through college. My mom still runs; my dad is injured and can’t run right now, but he usually carries around the big flag that we have. Being a third generation runner, it just came naturally, but I really figured out that I like to do this.”
Gregg, who also plays basketball in the winter, enjoys the extra activity and mental fortitude that comes with distance running.
“It keeps you in shape and it really puts in a good work ethic because it’s not something that most people want to do,” she said. “It teaches you discipline and how to push through the hard times.”
Elliot spoke of the team camaraderie and his competitive edge when it came to his enjoyment of the sport.
“I enjoy the team; they’re fun people to hang out with and you make a lot of friends when you run,” he said. “I just like to compete. I love competing. I like to pass people; it’s always a motivation for me when I run. It’s just like pass the next guy, you’ve gotta get the next guy, just keep going. That’s kind of what motivates me and that’s why I like to run.”
Making her third trip to Pasco, Gregg has the most experience of the group. She missed the State meet as a junior, but made an impact as a freshman with a win at the Oroville Invite and a Top 5 finish at the 2016 District 6 Championships. Gregg continued to improve as a sophomore, winning the Apple Ridge Invite with a 3-mile personal record of 19:14.9. At the 2017 State meet, she improved by 17 positions from the previous season to place 108th.
“It (going to State all four years) was a big goal of mine because my mom was a really good cross country runner in high school and she went all four years so I kind of wanted to do the same, but three is pretty cool because not a lot of people have gone three years,” Gregg said.
Gregg hopes to finish Top 75 and run a time under 20 minutes.
Cooper is making her second trip to the final meet of the season. She finished 110th with a personal record of 20:07.6 at the 2017 meet.
“State was a dream for me since freshman year,” Cooper said. “I unfortunately didn’t make it freshman and junior year, but I did make it my sophomore year. Preparing for State this year, it’s a little bit of a different mindset than it’s been in the past years and so preparing myself mentally for that last race of the season — it’s a little bit different, but it’s fun.”
Joshua Cooper, Mikayla’s older brother, reached the State meet three years in high school and the duo competed together in 2017, so experience isn’t lacking. Mikayla Cooper wants to finish inside the Top 50, with an eye on the Top 15 or 20 to qualify for Border Clash.
In a race like the State meet, with an expanded field, form is of the utmost importance. A layman might think, “Just go run.” But shaving seconds, or upward of a minute, off a time can be an arduous process.
“Definitely telling yourself where your arms are going because it’s easy to forget when you’re competing,” Mikayla Cooper said. “You have to think about, ‘OK, what am I doing and how am I going to catch the person in front of me and am I doing something wrong that’s making me go slower? It’s a whole thought process, so you have to be really strong mentally in order to figure out, ‘OK, this is what I have to do. Now I have to do it.’”
Mikayla Cooper has a stronger mentality than most as she’s had to deal with a myriad of injuries throughout her running career.
“My junior year I was actually injured and trying to figure out what’s wrong with me?” she said. “I ended up having loose ligaments in my knees, I have cysts in my back and I have orthotics in my shoes.”
Elliot, a junior, is making his first trip to State. He has steadily improved each season, culminating in an eighth-place finish and 16:33.3 personal record at the District 6 Championships on Halloween.
“I’m just going to try and do my best,” he said. “I know I won’t win, but I’m going to try and do my best.”
After a season with shaky results on 5-kilometer courses, Elliot’s goal is to run a 16:30 and set a new personal record. He’s gotten some advice from the State veterans like start early to avoid getting stuck in the large group and the final 200-meter stretch is downhill.
“It should be just like any other cross country race ... with a lot more people,” Mikayla Cooper said with a laugh.