Allison Baerny knows cross country is a mentally challenging sport.
The Kent-Meridian High School junior secured her second win of the season in last week’s meet against Kentwood and Kentridge, despite making a wrong turn halfway through the course.
Baerny, who was leading the race approaching the halfway mark, ran through an open fence onto the track instead of taking a left and looping around to the track at the Kentridge course. She quickly realized her mistake but was then at the back of the leader’s pack.
Kentwood senior Catryce Thompson, who took second in the race, encouraged Baerny after her wrong turn.
“She (Thompson) was like ‘You’ve got this girl. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe,’” Baerny said. “I started heaving, and I was going to cry.
“I love cross country girls because they are the nicest girls of any sport. We go through so much pain and we all know they are going through the same thing we are. … When I do races, I always try to say ‘You’ve got this girl,’ anytime I pass a girl because it is like this hurts, and I know what she is feeling.”
Baerny regained the lead finishing the 5-kilometer race in 21 minutes, 58 seconds, beating Thompson (22:04) by nearly half a second. Kentridge’s Melissa Peters (22:18) finished third.
Kentridge won the girls meet, Kentwood took second and Kent-Meridian finished third.
Baerny, who has run cross country and track since her freshman year at Kent-Meridian and was involved with track in elementary and middle school, said distance running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
“When I went the wrong way I didn’t feel awful because I went 50 meters the wrong way or 25 meters the wrong way,” she said. “I felt awful because it destroyed me. It didn’t destroy me physically. It was all mental. To recover from that is one of the hardest things we are going to do.
“We do hill workouts not because you physically have a tough time going up a hill, but you do hill workouts because you get there and you’ve run 2 miles and you have to go up this hill and you mentally have to be tough. If you do hills over and over again, you are going to build that mental toughness.”
Baerny’s victory on Oct. 4 was her second of the season. Her first came on Sept. 13 against Hazen and Kentlake.
“That was my first win ever for cross county,” Baerny said of the earlier first-place finish. “It felt really good because my sister has always won the meets. It was wild to win.”
Baerny spent the first two seasons of her high school cross country career in older sister Olivia’s shadow. Olivia graduated from Kent-Meridian in the spring and runs cross country and track at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore.
“Olivia would race with me and it was always like a thing where you are never going to be up there (with Olivia),” Baerny said. “I wouldn’t even try to catch her because she’s Olivia.”
Baerny hopes to continue her success this season with a second trip to the state championship meet.
She took 62nd in last year’s state contest after qualifying for the meet with a 18th-place finish at districts. She also wants to beat her personal-best time of 19:54.6, which she set as a freshman and tied last year at state.