By Taylor Eldridge
As part of the (week)daily series profiling the area’s cross country runners and coaches, Wednesdays will be dedicated to a feature I like to call Run A Mile With…(insert your runner here). I can only write about so many runners during the season and in my notes package, so I plan on getting some runners pub on here. Or at least as many as I can.
For the first meet, the name shouldn’t be unfamiliar if you know anything about the high school cross country scene. Kapaun junior Mackenzie Maki has won pretty much every race she has set out to win in her high school career. She has already collected three state championships – one in cross country then in the 1600 and 3200 in track. Oh, and she has a 4.0 GPA and plays three sports. Not bad, I’d say.
I caught up with the star runner to ask her a couple of questions about the controversy in Montana, the new challenge of Kaelyn Balch at Bishop Carroll and her quest for a repeat state championship this season. Click the jump to find out her answers.
So I hear there was sort of a controversy your last year in Montana at the state cross country meet? What was that?
“I started out running me and this girl from Big Fork, it was just like a V-turn and we went up the wrong side and I don’t know…we noticed that everybody else was going the other way. So some people cut across and I thought that was illegal, so I went back around. By the time I got in it I was in the dead middle, 100th place or whatever. It was devastating. It was a 5-hour bus drive to get to Helena and I remember crying the whole way home. I was so upset. But I can’t complain though. Things happen for a reason.”
Now you lived in Wichita when you were younger, so how did you find your way back here?
“I came back to Wichita because of my mom’s job. I was looking at a couple of different schools and Kapaun just seemed right. It seemed to fit. I was really glad I ended up going there. I had a lot of success with it. Great academic program. It’s all kind of worked out.”
How crazy of a year was last year? Moving, then winning three state championships. Do you ever think about the run of last year?
“It’s cool. I mean, I don’t know. It’s a big deal, but at the same time I’m so geared for the next step. I guess I should probably remember it, but I’ll remember it when I’m older. I’m gearing for the next one already.”
This year you have some pretty stiff competition in Kaelyn Balch, the freshman over at Carroll. What’s that like now with her on the scene and you have to be looking forward to the next two years of battling with her, right?
“I’m excited! Young, fresh talent. I’m excited just to see how that shakes out. I think every week is going to be a battle. I’m just excited to see what she has to offer. I think each week I’m going to learn a little more about her and maybe she’ll learn a little bit more about me. I think that there is going to be a huge rivalry.”
So in practices how hard is it running by yourself most of the time? Do you run with most of the guys to push yourself or what’s that like?
“It can be pretty difficult. You just got to kind of remember, ‘I got to keep going and keep pushing myself and never slow down.’ Staying motivated is the toughest thing. It’s kind of nice having the guys on the team. It sucks that we lost Kyle (Glasgow) and all the senior guys. We have a lot of young, fresh talent on our side too. It’s pretty cool being able to run with my brother (Lucas) this year. I think he’s really going to develop. I think that our team has a lot of young talent. I think if they use what they have, then we could be pretty good too.”
What was the training regimen this summer for you?
“I tried to put a lot of miles in, but I didn’t get to do it as much as I wanted to. The wisdom teeth, they had to be taken out. Had to take time off there. I had to take a couple of weeks off just because we were afraid I might be injuring myself, but I wasn’t. I got up to 30-plus. The elite girls that are really good get 40 in, so I was trying to do that. Not this year, but hopefully next summer I can peak out a little bit higher. One more year. One more summer.”
Where did you discover your talent for running?
“I actually played volleyball in 7th grade and I wasn’t even going out for cross country at all. Then I was running the mile in gym class or whatever and it was like sub-6 minutes. Then all of a sudden, I ran a 5:13. They were like, ‘Well, she can run around the block four times really fast, so she should go out for cross country.’ So I went out for cross country and won all of my races and then I was like, ‘OK, maybe I should stick with this one.’”
Here’s your shot at answering The Question: why is cross country one of the most grueling sports?
“It really is a mental sport. People aren’t kiddin’ when they say it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. You have to tell yourself to keep going. I don’t think anyone going up a hill is going to say, “This is tons of fun.’ You just have to tell yourself that it’s worth is. I’m pretty sure once you’re done the feeling…there’s a runner’s high. You feel so good afterwards.”
What needs to happen from today to State championship weekend for you to pick up two in a row?
“I think I need to work hard every week. Just prepare for each race. Take it one step at a time. Just look forward to each day. Nothing’s given to you, ya know?”