With one kilometer remaining in the state cross-country championship race, Marina Konow was told by her coaches that she was in 30th place. For an entire year the Concordia junior had lived, breathed, trained and raced with one goal in mind: finishing all-state (top 25) at the IHSAA championships.
So, when most teenage runners are told their dreams are on the verge of becoming nightmares, panic sets in. Fatigue and panic do not make good partners, and you can see the two meet near the finish line at most championship races.
There was no panic in Konow, a runner who Concordia coach Gregg Osborn calls “the most mentally tough runner I've ever coached.”
The result was a steady climb up the final 1,000 meters on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, a move from 30th to 25th place and an all-state finish.
Konow's all-state performance and her incredible consistency throughout the season have resulted in her being selected as The News-Sentinel Girl's Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Konow's strong finish at state was not only the result of her race-day drive, but a reflection of her daily attitude.
“She is very intense, always pushing herself in workouts,” Osborn said of Konow. “Her racing is just (the reflection of) her workouts. Marina knows she has done the work and that her finish will be there.”
The key is focus. Every day, every meet, every week, all the time. This is evident in how Osborn and Konow describe the runner's strengths and weaknesses.
“I think Marina's strength is her second mile,” Osborn said, referring to the middle portion of the 3.1-mile race. “She knows she doesn't have to be in the lead at 800 meters because she knows her fitness will be there for her later. She really moves up later in the race.”
Says Konow: “The second mile is always my hardest mile. It's really tough for me. I have to stay focused because you get tired and (positions) are changing.”
Konow laughs when told that what she sees as a weakness, her coach sees as a strength.
“It's a mental battle. I don't see myself moving up,” Konow said. “I just keep pushing myself.”
What Konow experiences in a race is an internal clock, a pace that is oblivious to outside competition. And when you are a runner, everything comes down to time. The courses will vary, weather conditions will change and competition will rise and fall, but the clock never lies.
Konow broke the 19-minute barrier for the first time in mid-September at the New Prairie Invitational, running an 18:48. While she never ran in the 19s again, her times the final seven races of the season were between between 18:44 and 18:52.
How did she do it? How does Konow continue to push herself through tougher competition and harder courses at the same pace?
“I just keep everyone I love in my mind. I run for them and to glorify God,” Konow said. “And I just keep telling myself just breathe and the faster you run the quicker you get done.”