In the recorded history of Tartan High School’s girls cross-country program, only two students have finished the nearly 2.5 mile race in under 15 minutes.
Both of those students, Shaelyn Sorensen and Erika Nolby, accomplished the feat on Oct. 26—Nolby, for the first time—in a sectional race at Les Bolstadt Golf Course that qualified them for the 4AA state conference to be held Saturday in St. Olaf.
Sorenson is a tenth-grader at Tartan, and Nolby, an eighth-grader at Maplewood Middle School.
Their coach, Jim Boyle, said they are the two best cross-country runners the school has seen in a generation. In his experience, great cross-country runners often come in pairs, leveraging the daily informal competition of practice runs to jump from plateau to plateau, faster and faster.
“The advantage that these two have is they’re able to train together, to push each other to do better,” Boyle said.
The last time Boyle had comparably talented cross-country runners was in 1988, his first year coaching, when Elizabeth Dobbins and Susan Kennedy were setting the records that Sorenson and Nolby are now breaking.
Since the late 1980s, Boyle said, “we’ve had good runners, we’ve had strong runners, we’ve had all-conference runners, but not two (top) runners at the same time.”
Saturday’s meet will be Sorenson’s third time at all-state, and she’s fresh off a first-place finish at sectionals (her first victory) in which she ran the 4,000 meter in 14:45, a personal best. Nolby’s time of 14:59 at sectionals was also a personal best.
“Out of the 15 minutes, they want to be hard the whole time and guts the last 100 meters,” Boyle said.
Boyle teaches his runners to think about pace, tempo and position while they race, and varies their workouts—distance, speed, resistance hill and a recovery workout calculated to provide a “conversation” rate.
Ask Sorenson and Nolby if they’re friends off the race course, and they look at each other, smile and blanch.
“Not really,” Nolby says.
“We’re not really in the same grade,” Sorenson adds and Nolby nods.
But the cross-country colleagues have similar aspirations. Short-term: Succeed at state this weekend—Sorenson wants to make the top 20, Nolby to set a personal best time. Long-term: Keep racing cross-country in the fall and track in the spring, (they each hold school records in the sport) then college and partial-scholarships.
They both said that the feeling of finishing a race is to be savored.
“You feel accomplished,” Sorenson says.
“Tired,” says Nolby.