With nothing left to prove, cross country phenom Lizzie Lacy put an exclamation point to her prep career Saturday morning in San Diego at the 36th annual Foot Locker National Championships.
The 17-year-old senior at Menlo School in Atherton earned second-team All-America status by running a strategically sound race from the start, crossing the finish line on the 3.1-mile course at Balboa Park in 10th place with a time of 18:01.
“I think it’s such a good way to end my high school career,” Lacy said. “It’s such an embodiment of what this whole season has been for me, which is one surprise after another.”
The Central Coast Section Division IV girls champion, who finished third at state, flew out Thursday morning for the three-day event.
She qualified by finishing third the week before at the Foot Locker West Regional, and the festivities in San Diego included a group run with Olympians and many of the elite runners.
“It was just an amazing experience,” Lacy said. “And it was also really intimidating a little bit because I saw the speed of these other guys and that they were just as in shape as I was.”
Friday’s itinerary called for a walk-through of Balboa Park, though a rainy afternoon in Southern California left her with more questions than answers.
“It was so muddy,” said Lacy, who wore borrowed spikes that the race sponsor gave runners to handle the weathered, flooded terrain. “So it was hard to get a feel for the course because you were just trying to avoid falling in the mud.”
Lacy admitted to a tendency of overthinking each race — except for this time, when she got plenty of rest before waking up around 6 a.m.
“It was not a sleepless night,” Lacy said. “It was a pretty normal one.”
It was a different story as the competitors were announced, along with their accomplishments, prior to the 9:15 a.m. start time for the girls.
“That was the part where I started to get really nervous because I realized all these are so good and they all have their own records and I’m not one of the special ones out there — everyone is special in this race,” Lacy said. “That’s the point where I got a little more worried about where I would end up.”
The goal was to finish in the upper half of the 40-member field, which was comprised of the top 10 finishers from the West, Northeast, South and Midwest regionals.
It didn’t help that Lacy had never run at Balboa Park, site of the Foot Locker Nationals for almost every year since the event’s inception in 1979.
“I couldn’t really latch on to anybody because I didn’t know if I was the same pace as any of these other people,” Lacy said. “So all I knew is that everybody, according to previous years, goes out too quickly at nationals, so I did not want to do that. I did not want to die early in the race.”
The toughest part of the course, which featured rolling hills without an abundance of flat portions, was an uphill climb roughly three-quarters of a mile from the start.
“It doesn’t really look that steep when we practiced the day before, but you definitely felt it on race day,” Lacy said. “You had to go up it twice because it was two loops, so I think that was definitely the worst part of it.”
Going into the second mile, Lacy found herself closer to last place than first. It wasn’t until the midway point of the race that she began to make her move.
Going into the third mile, she was up to 18th.
“I don’t think I sped up much,” said Lacy, the state’s top finisher. “I did speed up near the end, but I think it was more that they began to feel really tired, so they dropped off while I maintained my pace.”
Lacy, who found out in San Diego that she was accepted into Amherst College, a small private Division III liberal arts college in Massachusetts, returned home Sunday morning with a plaque and a medal for her top 10 finish.
“It’s like what she’s been doing all season, exceeding all expectations,” Menlo co-coach Jorge Chen said. “I knew that she was going to do well, but I didn’t know she was going to do this well. Race after race, Lizzie has always been exceeding our expectations — and her own I’m sure.”
Email Vytas Mazeika at [email protected]; follow him at Twitter.com/dailynewsvytas.