Juneau's Leah Francis fought her way to a 10th-place finish against some of the nation's best competition Saturday at the 51st annual Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational in Los Angeles.
Francis pounded out an impressive time of 17:54 in her first race on a three-mile course, but still feels she has plenty of room for improvement.
"I think it's just a mediocre time for me. I know I'll do better next time," Francis said. "I just need to pick a faster person to stay with."
The Invitational was the largest meet of its kind in 2007, with roughly 22,000 participants traveling in from around the country. More than 20,000 high school runners from 570 teams took part this year.
Francis, a junior this season on the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country team, won her third 4A state title in as many tries just three weeks ago in Palmer. She proved yet again Saturday that her success can carry over against the best - even on one of the nation's toughest courses.
The Mt. SAC race has been held on the same three-mile course each year since 1957. The hill-heavy path features obstacles that have become infamous among runners such as "Valley Loop," "the Switchbacks" and "Poop Out Hill."
"(Poop Out Hill) is a good name for it. It's the steepest hill I've ever run on in a race," Francis said. "Not that it's really big, but it's so steep that when you get to the top you just feel yourself slowing down. You have to fight through the top 10 meters or so or you'll just stop. Then, you can get your downhill going."
The Invitational is primarily attended by cross country teams from around the nation, and Francis was one of just two solo runners to take on the field. The other was Jordan Hasay, a fellow junior from San Luis Obispo, Calif., who set the national high school record in the 1500 meters at this year's Olympic Trials.
"Y'know - just that teenage Olympian I was warming up with," Francis chimed.
The Nike Team Regionals will be the next focus of Francis' training. She'll have some company when that race begins on Nov. 15 in Boise, Idaho, though, as JDHS freshman Karissa Jackson will also make the trip.
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