WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. — The most important mile of Sarah Connelly’s cross country season turned out to be the toughest. No one ever said this sport grants runners any favors and the Mount Sinai senior can certainly attest to that after Saturday afternoon’s Nike Regional at Bowdoin Park.
With one mile left, and a trip to next weekend’s national meet in Portland, Oregon, on the line, Connelly noticed that something was wrong.
“I felt like I was going to pass out a little bit,” Connelly said. “I felt dizzy. It happens. These tough races just come down to trying your best and whatever you can to pull through.”
Despite the dizziness, Connelly was able to get herself back to Oregon. She placed eighth in 18 minutes, 42.2 seconds on the difficult 5-kilometer Dutchess County course and qualified for Nike Cross Nationals, scheduled for Dec. 7 at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland. North Rockland’s Katelyn Tuohy won in 17:06.6.
It’s the second consecutive year Connelly has qualified for the national meet. She placed 30th in 17:45.1 last year, a little more than a minute behind Tuohy, who many believe is the best high school runner of all time.
“I’m super excited,” said Connelly, who won her second consecutive public school state Class B championship on Nov. 16 in Plattsburgh. “It was such a great experience last year. I know it’s the best of the best in the country. I have set goals. I want to be All-American [top-20] and I trust what coach [Bill Dwyer] is doing this week to prep me for that. But it’s the last week of cross country, why don’t I do it up?”
Connelly isn’t sure why she felt so poorly during the final mile on Saturday. She said she never got to a point where she thought about dropping out, but was feeling it every step of the way as the finish line came into view.
“I saw the finish line and I just let a girl pass me. Usually I don’t let that happen, but I just couldn’t do it,” she said. “ ...It was just one of those days that didn’t work out in my favor. That happens. We learn from it. I pulled through and that’s all that matters for this race.”
As for the first part of the race, Connelly said she felt no indicators of what was to come, but was told later that she may have over-exerted herself early on.
“I thought I got out pretty good with the pack,” Connelly said. “But my brother [Daniel] said there were some moves that tired me out. There were moves I had to make, but it just tired me out more. That could have done me in too, toward the end of the race.”
While that final mile may have been treacherous, Connelly is happy to be on the other side of it and is looking forward to using this week to figure out how to move up 10 places from her performance at Nike Cross Nationals last year.
“It’s doable,” she said of a top-20 finish. “But whatever I did today, I just have to change it around a little bit because obviously it didn’t work.”