Maggie Maier still couldn’t believe it. It was Wednesday afternoon and the Sacred Heart freshman took time out of her busy school day to speak about her CHSAA League championship last Sunday at Sunken Meadow State Park.
Yes, this was happening. Yes, this was real. The ninth grader who, only a year ago was running Middle School Cross Country at Long Beach Catholic was now a champion of a big postseason race, finishing the infamously difficult 5-kilometer course in 20 minutes, 30.25 seconds, a personal best.
“It kind of came as a surprise,” Maier said. “I didn’t go into the race thinking that I would win. It felt really great after crossing the finish line. I’m still kind of in shock.”
Maier wasn’t interested in coming-from-behind, or anything of the sort, in this race. This was not, by any means, a trust-your-kick kind of day, not on a course that she hadn’t run before and features some punishing sections.
“I knew I wanted to stay in front and make sure that I was up the whole time,” Maier said “I didn’t want anyone to get too far a lead that I couldn’t catch up. In the beginning, when people were starting to come close to me, I just tried to stay ahead.”
Maier was careful not to let her guard down anywhere on the course, even though she could not hear anyone immediately behind her. The fallacy of quiet is a temptation that is sometimes hard to resist, but the freshman wasn’t about to fall for it.
“I never really knew if somebody was coming because they’re are a lot of turns,” Maier said. “I just tried to keep going and not assume anything . . . As we got to the end, I knew in my mind that if I kept going, just for that last part, that I could win it.”
And in the final 800 meters, Maier refused to slow down. She knew that a win was not truly a win until the finish line was in her rearview mirror.
“Sometimes, I’ll let myself slow down, but this time, I went all out on the last part because I wanted to get the best time I could, even though there was no one right behind me,” Maier said. “But, I didn’t want anyone to get too close.”
Maier will take her CHSAA League crown into the CHSAA Intersectionals at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Nov. 12.
“Since seeing what I could do at [leagues], I hope I could do just as well,” she said. “Going into it, I’ll try to go all-out. I know there’s going to be tough competitors, but I want to stay with them and hopefully do the best I can do.”
Maier said she knows the Van Cortlandt Park course, which is 21⁄2 miles in length, better than she knew the Sunken Meadow course and is ‘confident’ on it. Although the Van Cortlandt course is approximately half a mile shorter than Sunken Meadow, that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
“You still have to keep up such a fast pace for the shorter length,” Maier said. “It’s still just as hard because they’re tough hills.”
In fact, according to Maier, those Van Cortlandt hills are the toughest part of the course.
“It’s all mental there,” she said. “You can’t really tell when it’s going to end, no matter how many times you’ve done it because the hills just keep going. I just try to keep telling myself that I can do it, It seems longer if you try to count how many hills you’re going over.”