As Anna Delgado rounded the final right turn and began her push through the last 100-or-so meters of the 5K course at the East Lansing Invitational on Thursday, her dominant lead over the field became apparent.
When the East Lansing High School junior crossed the finish line — winning with a time of 18:46.9 — the nearest competitor still hadn’t rounded the final bend. It was ultimately more than a minute until the second-place runner crossed the finish line.
“I was a little bit disappointed today because you know, this is a really flat course and it’s a good course to set a personal record,” Delgado said post-race, “but it’s okay.”
Delgado’s impressive win, along with a 1-2 finish and team win for the ELHS boys cross country team marked a successful afternoon for the Trojans at their home invitational, held at the course at the East Lansing Soccer Complex. And in a season where the boys team has dealt with injuries and Delgado is adjusting to running as the clear frontrunner, the hope remains that the Trojans have more days like Thursday in their future.
After a much disrupted 2020 season — where the boys team still won the Capital Area Activities Conference (CAAC) Blue division championship — the 2021 campaign figures to be relatively normal again, albeit not without its own challenges.
For instance, five days after the boys team won the Division II 5K race at the 53rd Holly/Duane Raffin Festival of Races — individually, Matthew Zeleke won and fellow senior Jayden Page nabbed third place — they struggled at the first of two CAAC Blue Jamboree meets. The issue: Injuries kept a spate of the Trojan boys main runners out of the race that day.
Zeleke still won the first CAAC Blue jamboree, and junior Evan Newcombe took ninth place. But without the likes of Page and seniors David Ferguson and Eli Kramer, the Trojans struggled to place well overall, finishing fourth out of the six teams.
With a healthy roster on Thursday the Trojans notched a bevy of excellent results: Zeleke won, Page took second place, junior Gabe Benavides finished eighth, Ferguson finished ninth, Newcombe placed 11th, Kramer finished 13th, and junior Sam Booth nabbed 15th place.
“I came into this just looking to run hard,” Zeleke said after the race. “I wanted a hard effort. I knew the competition wasn’t that big because this is a smaller meet, but I’m happy with how I did, and to go 1-2 with Jayden is really cool.”
If that sort of form persists, the Trojans are in good shape for their upcoming slate of runs, including the Greater Lansing Cross Country Championships on Oct. 16.
Delgado, too, will be in a good position to thrive in future runs.
In prior seasons, Delgado had a running mate in Abbie Draheim. With the latter having graduated in the spring, Delgado is having to race herself, not others, more often than not.
“Consistency is good because then when you do get a tow race,” Delgado said, “like when you have competition right next to you, you’ve already had that consistency and then you can drive it forward.”
Delgado has won four of the six races she’s run this season. Her average gap to the second-place finisher in those four wins is more than 30 seconds. And the two races she hasn’t won are an outlier 17th-place performance in the second race of the year and a second-place finish by one-tenth of a second at the first CAAC Blue Jamboree.
Without a regular competitor to challenge her pace, Delgado has chased consistency this season.
“Consistency with myself and knowing what a pace feels like, because it’s hard,” Delgado said. “If you’re not chasing after anyone, it’s hard to, you know, just keep consistent.”
Her time on Thursday was right where she wanted it to be.
Delgado and the boys team will have ample opportunities to continue this form in the coming weeks. They’ll compete for the Greater Lansing Championship on Oct. 16, followed by the second CAAC Blue Jamboree on Oct. 21.
After those, it becomes time for Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason races.
If Thursday is any indication, the Trojans are in good shape to continue their form through then.