Katherine Lee is locked in.
Qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, last year came as a bit of a surprise to the then-junior at Shoreham-Wading River. Sure, she dominated Suffolk County and won the state’s Class B public school championship, but Lee still entered the Nike Cross regionals unranked, and after winning it, she was more enamored with the spectacle of the national race than anything else.
“I wasn’t really focused,” recalled Lee. “I kind of went to Portland to just have fun. I’m kind of glad I did that. But, this year, I don’t think I want to do that again.”
Her unfocused race, though, is still outstanding and better than most could even dream of. What’s most? Try every high school runner in the country, save for nine. Lee finished 10th at the national distance summit, running the 5-kilometer course in 17 minutes, 57.1 seconds.
“Until regionals, I hadn’t really run against anyone that was very close to me,” Lee said. “I was still able to win regionals by 12 seconds. Then at nationals, I was in the pack for the entire race, completely surrounded by other girls. It wasn’t like there were five seconds between each place, there was one. It really brought into perspective how many girls are doing the same thing I’m doing.”
The race was fiercely competitive, in ways Lee hadn’t seen all year. And she can’t wait to go back. This year’s meet is scheduled for Dec. 2 at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon. If the field holds, she would be the fourth-fastest returner.
To prepare for a potential return to Portland, Lee increased her summer mileage from 25-30 miles per week to 30-35. With most of last year’s Shoreham-Wading River team, one that just barely missed qualifying for the team portion of the national meet themselves, off to college, Lee has taken to training with the school’s boys team.
“We’ve been joking that this is my first season running without [former teammate] Ally Hays,” Lee said. “We worked together really well. We knew exactly what the other one wanted to do and were like a well-oiled machine. We had every workout down.”
“Now, I’m training with people that I don’t know so well and don’t know me so well. It’s different. They do a lot of workouts differently, but I guess that’s just another way to get better and learn a new style of training. Hopefully it works out”
Lee’s individual success last year also caused her to re-evaluate the way she schedules her fall peak.
“After NXN last year, my cross country plan kind of changed,” Lee said. “Before that, I had kind of not thought much about regionals or nationals. So, instead of thinking about the biggest part of my season being early November, now I think of it as being late November and early December.”
Lee isn’t making her Portland hotel reservations yet, though. She knows she still has a very tough regular and postseason ahead, one she hopes will be good enough to send her to Nike Cross Regionals in Wappingers Falls on Nov. 25.
“New York is just so strong,” she said. “You never know who’s going to come out and how your season is going to go. Everyone says they’re going to focus on how they finish at NXN, but I’m going to focus on making it there first.”
She isn’t exclusively “in it to win it” if she does get there. Lee knows enough about the week-to-week unpredictability of the sport to know that lofty of a goal is unwise. But, she does want to prove to herself and others that she is the real deal.
“I just want to try to recreate what I did last year and try to place high again, so last year wasn’t a fluke,” she said. “I want to try to make it a real thing.”