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Athlete of the Week is South Side cross country runner Carly Woelfel

Carly Woelfel of South Side on  Oct.  28,

Carly Woelfel of South Side on  Oct.  28, 2017. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

In only her sophomore year, South Side’s Carly Woelfel has the planning part of cross country down pat. You see, distance running is about endurance, and endurance doesn’t just happen. It’s planned, plotted and learned. A runner who goes into a race without at least a rough outline of a plan is, more often then not, a runner who doesn’t win.

And Woelfel wins. There’s little doubt about that. Her latest triumph, a Nassau Class II championship earned her Newsday Athlete of the Week honors. Woelfel ran the Bethpage State Park 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 26.01 seconds last Saturday afternoon.

Woelfel’s victory started with very clear prerace planning. She knew her limits and knew that getting into a race where she’d have to fight to the finish would be a bad idea.

“I didn’t want to finish that race neck and neck and have to sprint,” Woelfel said. “That’s a runner’s biggest struggle. So, about a mile in, I started to get in front. My breathing was very controlled, which was a miracle for me. That’s really tough going that fast. I just kept trying to build the gap, little by little.”

The gap got so big that the noises that usually narrate a race were gone. Eventually, it was just Woelfel and the wind.

“I gradually started to not hear the breathing behind me,” she said. “I never look back, so I’m never really sure what the distance is, but I just hear the faint noises. It’s loud in the beginning, the breathing and the footsteps, and then it kind of dwindles away. It helps me build up my confidence and makes me feel a lot better. I can take a lot more pride in that and keep going.”

Woelfel won by 27.12 seconds, a fairly large margin in a championship race. The win helped South Side win the team championship with 39 points.

Breathing is an underrated part of cross country. Being able to manage it at high speeds is both essential and difficult. Woelfel said that aspect of her racing is vastly improved from last season, something she credits with speaking to other runners about different breathing strategies and then trying to adopt them in competition. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.

Woelfel, who’s personal best is 19:18.44, also said she increased her summer mileage, something that, no doubt, helped her endurance.

The cross country postseason is so fast and unforgiving that it does not allow for long victory laps. Almost as soon as she crossed the finish line, Woelfel’s attention turned to this Saturday’s Nassau State Qualifier at Bethpage State Park, where she’ll run for a trip to the state public school championships at Wayne Central High School in Ontario Center on Nov. 11.

“[Saturday was] a good day,” Woelfel said. “I didn’t have to kick as hard at the end. I wasn’t going to spend 150 percent. I could scale it back a little bit. I’m really excited for state qualifiers and I’m going to gun for that big PR.”

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