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Taking on a heated monster

A runner usually covets blazing speed, but what the Dallas cross-country team got on Sept. 11 was searing heat.

Thain Irwin leads the Dallas boys cross country team toward the monster at Silver Falls State Park

Photo by Landon Kafka

Thain Irwin leads the Dallas boys cross country team toward the monster at Silver Falls State Park

September 17, 2013

DALLAS - A runner usually covets blazing speed, but what the Dallas cross-country team got on Sept. 11 was searing heat.

The 96 degree reading in Salem set a record in the Willamette Valley and pushed toward a triple digit heat index, but that was not enough to cancel the Oktoberfest Invitational at Silver Falls State Park.

"We checked before the race and the heat index was in the 98 degree range, and a little cooler up here in the hills, so we went forward," Kevin Moffat, Kennedy athletic director and official thermometer watcher, said. "We stayed in contact with the coaches and made sure we were providing a safe environment for the race."

"I think there were quite a few on the team that thought the meet would be canceled," Dallas senior Michael Osborn said.

Osborn and the rest of the team had to make due, taking extra precautions physically and preparing mentally to not only battle "the monster" at Silver Falls but the conditions as well.

"You just have to be prepared, drink lots of water so you don't get dehydrated out there," Dallas junior Isaak Tichenor said. "It's definitely more of a psychological battle than physical."

"I'm just happy it wasn't raining," Dallas sophomore Angie Sletten said. "It helps to keep taking in electrolytes, and running the varsity course at least gives us a warmup before hitting the monster."

"The monster", as it's affectionately referred to, is a large uphill climb at Silver Falls that is atypical of most cross-country courses. Its only saving grace was that it was in the shade.

"It's a lot of mental toughness, but there has been a lot of positiveness between teams to encourage each other just to get through the course," Dallas senior Carleen Fall said.

One runner that the heat didn't seem to affect was Dallas' Thain Irwin.

"I spent the summer working outside on the east side of Mount Hood, usually wearind.g a black sweatshirt, so it didn't really affect me," he said.

That was evident by the results, too, as Irwin finished 12th overall for the boys with a time of 21 minutes, 49.9 seconds. He was closely followed by Osborn (17th) and Tichenor (18th) with times of 22:17.1 and 22:31.1, respectively, giving the Dallas team a sixth-place overall finish among the 24 teams competing.

"On the plus side there isn't going to be a race tougher than this," Tichenor said.

"For some the heat was really an issue, we had a couple injuries on the girls side, but I was very impressed with how the boys battled through and improved on last year's times," Dallas coach Monique Lankheet said.

On the girls side, a couple of injuries hampered the team score but Sletten finished 28th overall with a time of 28:42.5, followed by Catherine Rocak in 35th with a time of 29:39.0.

None of those injuries were due to the heat, and organizers said if the meet wasn't at elevation, more consideration would have gone into the possibility of cancelation.

There are no specific regulations this year as to what temperature cancels a cross-country meet, but Sept. 11 was as close as it gets according to Moffatt and others in charge of athlete safety.

The trial by fire that was Silver Falls led to great results at the Saxon Invitational at Bush Park on Saturday.

It was the second time the teams had raced the course and many runners put up fast times after gaining some strength and endurance at Silver Falls, Lankheet said.

"We had a lot of personal bests and the runners set 20 course records for the team, including nine personal records," Lankheet said.

Bailey Mereger, who has been running junior varsity, earned her spot on the varsity team this week with solid runs at both Silver Falls, finishing fifth in the junior varsity race with a time of 18:55.1, and then 23:38 for the varsity at the Saxon Invitational.

"I think the boys have finally figured out that they have the chance to be something special as a team this year, and the girls are still working through some injuries and figuring out who will step up on varsity, but they can also step up and do well in the conference," Lankheet said.

The Dragons next run at the Three Course Challenge at Camp Rilea Sept. 21.