The Nome-Beltz Nanooks cross-country running team took home several individual wins at their first meet this weekend. The team was up against Elim, White Mountain, and Unalakleet at the Elim Cross-Country Invite on Friday.
In the 5000-meter, the Nanooks swept first and second place in both the high-school girls’ and boys’ categories, as well as the middle-school boys’ category.
Co-Head Coach Aaron Blankenship said he’s proud of the team’s performance.
“We had a really strong showing,” he said. “Sadly, we didn’t get to field as much of a team as we’d like, because the moose-hunting season conflicts with the meet. But those runners that we did get to field did a really great job, and really showed the kind of effort and the work we’ve put in this season really does pay out.”
Among the runners who competed were Mallory Conger, who had the winning high-school girls’ time, and Starr Erikson, who finished just six seconds after her teammate to take second. On the high-school boys’ side, Aaron Rose and Aaron Mortis took the top two spots.
Middle-schoolers Colin McFarland and Daniel Buffas finished first and second, respectively, in the middle-school boys’ race.
Those runners faced a variety of challenging terrain in Elim, Blankenship said:
“Elim is a great course. It’s very typical of what you have here on the Seward Peninsula: A lot of tundra, some good climbing, some good, cold ocean weather. So the course was nothing that we weren’t used to,” he said.
According to Blankenship, the training regimen designed to get the athletes used to such a course includes interval training, to build their aerobic fitness; time trials, to simulate races; and, most importantly, a consistent running schedule of at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Blankenship says team bonding also strengthens the students’ performance on the course. The team got a unique dose of that during their trip to Elim:
“The second plane was loaded up with all the food for the store in Elim,” he said. “So before our cross-country team could go, we had to unload apples, and eggs, and bread out of boxes out of the plane so we could sit on the seats that were loaded with all of the groceries for Elim. I like to think of it as community-building: They were helping out a local community here on the Seward Peninsula.”
As the season gets going, Blankenship says it’s important for the athletes to remain conscious of things outside the sphere of cross-country.
“They’re student athletes, and the student comes first,” he said. “So making sure that even though our season’s ramping up, they’re still focusing on school, keeping grades up, making sure you’re getting to focus on spending equal time with family, cross-country, and school — just trying to promote that work-life balance in our students.”
On the horizon for the Nanooks is the White Mountain Invite on Saturday, where they’ll take on the White Mountain team again; and then the Nome Cross-Country Invite next Saturday, September 16, when they’ll host White Mountain, Bethel, and Kotzebue.
Image at top: Nome-Beltz High School. Laura Kraegel, KNOM.