“It's not how you start, but how you finish,” states a well-known running proverb.
If there were a photo of a runner next to the phrase, it would be of Concordia Lutheran runner Marina Konow.
From the start of her career for the Cadets three years ago to her impending, predictable finish over the next 10 days, Konow has been getting better. Every week, every season, every year, on the course and off.
She is among the favorites at Saturday's New Haven Cross Country Semistate Championships after placing eighth last year. Konow then completed her junior season with an all-state performance (25th place) at the IHSAA finals.
Improving, in and of itself, is not extraordinary for high school cross country runners, but Konow's reputation preceded her at Concordia in the fall of 2010.
“Marina's sister, Kayla, was already running for us and she told us 'My sister is faster than me,'” recalls Concordia co-coach Gregg Osborn. “So we expected her to be good. And she was right away.”
Knonow initially let her running do the talking for her as she grew in confidence.
"She didn't talk," Osborn explained. "She was so quiet her first couple of years that it's hard to imagine. Marina has really grown as a leader for us. She's a good, Christian young lady. She's just what you want in a senior who is your number one runner.”
Konow said her development is the result of the Cadet runners who came before her, including her sister, and the coaches, Gregg and Ellen Osborn.
“When I was a freshman, we had great group of seniors who were awesome leaders,” Konow said. “Then my sophomore year, we had great senior leaders so I just didn't really have to say much.”
After finishing 89th at the state meet as a freshman, Konow placed 29th as sophomore and was a strong No. 2 runner behind senior Anna Reibs. Then, the pressure was on.
“I knew once they left, I had to get out of my comfort zone,” Konow said of her junior year. “I remembered how the leaders my first two years taught me to be a positive influence and how to put everything into practices and meets.”
As Konow developed her leadership qualities, she also sharpened her racing skills. Through training and racing, she adopted a unique strategy.
“I focus on the last mile and really stress pushing (through fatigue),” Konow said.
It's a style all runners would like to have, but few are physically and mentally able to perfect. For Konow, she said that it takes spiritual strength as well.
“We break down the last mile into four parts and we focus our mind on each part,” Konow said of the team. “The first 400 (meters) is for yourself, the second 400 is for a certain teammate, the third 400 is for the team as whole and the final 400 is for God. When you are focused on those things, you forget about being tired.”
Konow's strategy was on display at last week's Northrop Sectional and West Noble Regional.
At Northrop, she pulled away from the chase pack and made up nearly 15 seconds on eventual winner Lindsey Marriott of Leo, finishing a close second.
At West Noble, she moved from the back of a five-runner pack (and in eighth) to finish third. She looks to do the same at Saturday's meet.
“I know there are some really fast runners and they like to go out hard,” Konow said. “But I know my body and I can't do that. I have faith in my coaches and my training and I know I can make up the ground.”
After all, no one needs to remind Konow that it's not how you start.
Concordia runner should lead the pack
In the boy's meet there is only one thing for certain, Zach Panning is a heavy favorite.
The Concordia Lutheran senior is unbeaten and unchallenged this season and should cruise to a successful defense of his 2012 title.
Chasing Panning will be the usual suspects, including DeKalb's Mark Beckmann and Homestead's Brayden Law, who were runners-up to Panning at regional and sectional meets, respectively. Those two will not be alone, and if not careful, may pay a heavy price.
If they strain too much trying to stick with Panning, a deep field of solid runners will likely hunt them down, which could include Carroll's Cameron Clements, West Noble's Brandon Arnold, South Bend Adams' Jacob Timmons and Eastbrook's Josh Neideck, who could each likely finish in the top 10 spots.
The team race will be a deep, hotly contested competition led by No. 7 Carroll and No. 17 Bishop Dwenger.
The Saints have finished a close second to the Chargers at both sectional and regional races, with Homestead not far back in third at both meets. Also, No. 15 Northridge should challenge for the top spot, making it a four-team fight.
The who, what, when and where
What: New Haven Semi-State Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: The Plex at IPFW.
Who: Top boy's and girl's teams and individuals from last week's regionals at West Noble, Elkhart, Marion and Delta.
What: Top six boy's and six girl's teams along with the top 10 finishers not on advancing teams will qualify for the IHSAA State Finals in Terre Haute on Nov. 2.
Top area boy's and teams: Concordia's Zach Panning, DeKalb's Mark Beckmann, Homestead's Brayden Law, Bishop Dwenger's Gregg Tippmann; No. 7 Carroll, No. 19 Bishop Dwenger and No. 22 Homestead.
Top area girl's and teams: Bellmont's Bailey Beery, Concordia's Marina Konow, Leo's Lindsey Marriott, Columbia City's Samantha Roush, Carroll's Madison Fruchey, Homestead's Madison Distelrath; No. 5 Carroll, No. 12 Homestead.