A pair of Crimson Bears girls cross country runners will take on the Northwest's best high school competition Saturday at the Nike Team Northwest Regionals in Boise, Idaho.
JDHS junior Leah Francis will be defending her title this year in the open division with an extra prize at the end of that long, hard rainbow. Her winning time last fall did not qualify her for Nike Team Nationals, as only members of competing teams were allowed to punch the big ticket. But the top five individual qualifiers will receive invitations to the Portland-based event this year, and Francis has her eye on just that prize.
"Winning (regionals) there last year meant more to me than just about every other race except my first state title as a freshman," she said. "I try to find races that are really challenging for me and this one was just what I wanted."
Francis has won three state individual titles in her three attempts thus far, but the hodge-podge Boise course presents a different sort of challenge with the increased competition.
"It's not really a tough course, but it's unique. The starting strip is wavy like moguls on a ski hill, then there's hills and downhill," Francis said. "There's a lot of tight turns that I'm not sure I like. I stubbed my toe pretty bad on a cinder block there last year."
The national competition is held on the infield of the Portland Meadows Race Track and spectators can view the entire race on a man-made course of typical distance running obstacles. Francis describes the event as "human motocross."
JDHS freshman Karissa Jackson accepted the challenge of becoming the Crimson Bears' consistent secondary scorer this season, and has since accepted Francis' invitation to train together since the organized meets ended. The pair have since been running a variety of Juneau trails according to a training regimen set up by their coach, Merry Ellefson.
"Leah's always been inviting me to run and helping me so I feel like I can run with her and the fastest kids on the team," Jackson said. "About a month ago she told me how much fun this race was, so I signed up."
The race will be Jackson's first out of the state and she will compete in a division of roughly 50 runners that is limited to freshmen and sophomores. Taking part will also give her an opportunity to meet the one goal she missed out on this season with her school team.
"Finish under 20 minutes," Jackson said. "That was my goal all year and that's all I want."