Palatine meet serves as early trial for runners


Adam Weyer

Savannah Fraley runs around the curve of the track during her 1-mile run.

Shaylin Swenson, sophomore, kicks down the final stretch of the 800 meter run, her legs burning and filling with lactic acid. It’s 9 at night on Saturday, April 22 in Palatine, Ill. at Palatine High School, and the stadium lights are shining a spotlight onto the pack of middle distance runners on the track. Some of the best competition in the midwest battles shoulder to shoulder for first place. A roar of screaming and shouting arises from the crowd as the runners sprint down the final stretch.

“It is such a rush. I can’t tell if it’s nerves or excitement for racing but it’s definitely emotional,” Swenson said after crossing the finish line.

Veteran distance runner, Savannah Fraley, senior, watches her younger teammate with pride and reflects on watching her teammate race successfully, “It is such a cool thing to watch your teammates who have become such close friends succeed. You know exactly how hard they work because you are there with them working alongside them every day at practice,” Fraley said.

Palatine is a very selective distance track meet hosted in Illinois with certain time qualifications required to attend and compete in the meet which results in a highly competitive environment.

Swenson has had a successful freshman track season and continues to work on the 800 during her sophomore season, starting with the Palatine Invitational. “After my cross country season did not go exactly as planned I felt a little discouraged. I am so grateful for the opportunity to race at a high level meet like this because this type of competition really pushes me. Besides track and field state last year it’s my first track meet at such a high level. I really love the 800. I definitely feel I am better at mid distance because it’s so fun to race fast,” Swenson said.

After competing at the Palatine invitational and winning her heat of the 1600 with an exciting kick last year, Fraley reflects on her experience at the meet this year. “It was interesting having to start 5 meters behind the start line because I was racing the full mile which is apparently more than 1600 meters. It didn’t go as well as I thought it would but that is the tough thing about racing, not every race goes exactly as you plan. I was just very grateful to get out there with tough competition and do what I love. Plus I always get Kombucha (fermented tea) from my mom after I race, whether it’s a ‘congratulations Kombucha’ or an ‘I’m sorry Kombucha’ depends on the day,” Fraley said.

After a long, exhausting day due to the meet’s duration the athletes returned home at around 12:15 a.m. “The van ride was definitely something. We were all so tired but somebody kept making some sort of joke,” Fraley added.

Both the athletes did not fail to mention the team aspect and how it related to where they are today as individual runners. “It is not an individual sport because I would not be able to do all the training we do alone. All my teammates have become some of my best friends and training everyday so much easier. I always feel supported and challenged. My teammates are such a big motivation because they always push me to do the right thing and work as hard as I can. Remembering how it felt to be on the track during the Palatine Invitational and push myself with really good competition makes all the training worth it, but I think my biggest motivation is that I get to buzz Coach Fuller’s hair off if I make the podium at state this year. I think everyone on the team would agree he needs a haircut,” Swenson joked.

The long distance coach, Jay Fuller, holds the athletes up to high standards which reflects on the reputation of the distance team. Fuller also talks about the daily challenges of being a distance runner. “The top qualities a runner must have in order to be successful are consistency, determination, and reliability. Distance running is as much a mental challenge as a physical one,” Fuller said.

Fuller demonstrates how a distance runner’s success takes months of hard work to build up to. Fraley and Swenson’s success on the track this year during the Palatine meet did not only stem from their hard work and talent but their accomplishments during the cross country season as well. “My favorite coaching memory was when the girl’s cross country team secured qualification for the 2022 state meet. I was, and still am, so proud of the hard work the team put in to achieve their goal,” Fuller said.

Swenson ended up taking 25th out of 53 runners and setting a personal record for her outdoor 800 meter run. Fraley placed 13th in the 1-mile run out of 88 runners total.