She was fatigued. There were six to eight inches of fresh snow on the ground and temperatures hovered in the mid-30s. Her hopes of a top-25 finish and All-American recognition appeared dim. Annie Brinson wasn't feeling so positive about her ninth and final trip to the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships.
Suddenly, with 1,000 meters left in her 5-kilometer Young Women's age group race Saturday in Smithfield, R.I., Brinson realized that Sierra Flyers teammate Meagan Myer was right behind her. Not only that, she got an additional lift from supporters along the course.
"I realized Meagan (Myer) was right behind me, and I went, 'Wow," Brinson said. "Then I heard everyone cheering for us. I thought we were only at two miles, but they were all saying, 'You're running 13-something. You can break 20.' I just went so hard after that."
The sideline motivation helped boost both Brinson and Myer to 5K personal record and sub-20 minute times, as they finished 28th and 29th respectively at Bryant University. Brinson finished 28th in 19 minutes, 48.71 seconds and Myer was 29th in 19:49.98.
By finishing out of the top 25, Brinson missed a chance to earn All-American honors for the second time in nine trips to the Junior Olympic nationals (he achieved the feat as a 12-year-old). What did make this occasion so special, the Carson High senior surpassed her long-time cross country goal to break 20 minutes, and she did it in what amounted to her final high school cross country race.
"It was definitely a good ending - good closure," said Brinson, whose time was a personal best by 15 seconds. "Running can be so up and down. Some days you go out and your legs have it, and then there are days when they don't."
Making this all the better, Brinson's performance Saturday in Rhode Island was more than a minute faster than the time she ran at the Stanford Invitational in September and more than three minutes faster than the 23:01 she ran at the NIAA State Championships at Reno's Rancho San Rafael Park in early November.
"I don't know what happened at state, whether if it was mental or physical, I just didn't have a good day. But I definitely made up for it in this race," Brinson said.
I have been doing a lot of plyometrics with the (Carson High alpine) ski team and I think that may have given me a boost. But other than that, I don't know what the difference is."
Brinson actually rebounded from her tough state meet race and won the Junior Olympic Pacific Association Young Women's race in Santa Rosa, Calif., with what was then a personal best 20:13 clocking. She was even faster a week later, placing second at the Junior Olympic Regional in Fresno with a 20:03 effort.
Myer, a junior at Carson High, made even greater strides in terms of improvement because she ran 21:24 at the regional race in Fresno. Brinson said she tried to encourage her teammate inside those final 1,000 meters.
"I was glad to see Meagan there, I told her, 'Go for it. Pass me and go for All-American. I didn't want her thinking it would be wrong to pass because she's a junior and I'm a senior. But she told me she was barely hanging on."
The race will serve as a boost for Myer, who is one of the top runners coming back for a Carson High team that finished third at both the regional and state meets this season.
Meanwhile, Brinson has decided the future will take her to Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash., where she plans to run cross country.
"Whitworth is so great. It's small, but it's still in a city. The people were all so nice and I liked the coach (Toby Schwartz) and I liked the area," she said. "I just had a feeling that this is where I was meant to be."
And the hard work of running for some 10 years has paid off for young Brinson.
"I would say this has been my best year," she said. "It used to be that I ran because I was OK at it. I won a couple of races, but I kept doing it because I wanted more, and now I've gotten it."
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