More than 2,000 of the country's top youth runners descended on the region the weekend of Dec. 12 for the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics Cross-Country Championships. The event, held in Reno, awarded national titles in five age groups for boys and for girls, ranging from 9- and 10-year-olds to 17- and 18-year-olds.
The snow on the ground and the storm that dumped even more during the day made conditions challenging — though one local runner turned a tough situation into a personal triumph.
That runner, 13-year-old Clare Carroll of the Sugar Bowl Academy, finished third in the nation among 13- and 14-year-old girls even though someone stepped on her shoe a half-mile into the race, and she ran the final 2 miles with just one shoe in the ice and snow.
“She was tough and aggressive even though something like that is enough to destroy someone mentally and throw them completely off,” said Jeanette Allred-Powless, a distance coach at Carroll's track club and a former Olympic marathoner. “So to come in third in those kinds of adverse conditions is so amazing. I'm just so proud of her.”
Carroll competed against more than 200 girls from around the country in the Youth age group. Carroll, who is 13 years old, is in her first year in the age group.
Carroll, who runs with the Roseville PAL Express Track Club, said that losing her shoe “was a little bit defeating … but I tried to put that out of my head and keep focused on the race. I had been training so hard leading up to the race … I wasn't going to let losing a shoe determine how my race went.”
In addition to being lopsided because of the missing shoe, Carroll had problems getting traction. Her left foot, with half-inch spikes in the shoe, was fine. But her right foot, covered only by a sock, was “slipping and sliding,” she said. Her right foot also went numb from the cold.
She might have faced even more problems, because the shoe that came off carried the timing chip that tracked the runners and indicated when they crossed the finish line, but a spectator grabbed the shoe and handed it to her at the start of the finish chute. Carroll ran across the finish line with her shoe in her left hand.
Carroll finished the 4,000-meter race in 15:28, roughly a 6:10 pace per mile. That was 40 seconds slower than the time she posted on the same course two weeks earlier when she won the regional qualifier for the national championships. But it was still good enough for third and classification as an All-American.
At the awards ceremony in a hotel ballroom that evening, Carroll's entire team stood and cheered loudly while holding their right shoes in the air as she was called to the stage.
“I felt bad for first and second place because you couldn't really hear their names over the cheers I received,” Carroll said. “It was also really cool because I was the only one, other than the winners, who the announcer said more about; he told everyone I ran with one shoe!”
Carroll ran her first race of any kind only a bit more than a year ago. She didn't compete in the cross-country nationals last year because she broke her collarbone in a soccer game. She did, however, run at the Junior Olympic track national championships in North Carolina last summer. She finished fourth in the 1,500 meters and second in the 3,000 meters, just a tenth of a second behind the two-time defending national champion.
In addition to her running and her soccer, she is a ski racer. She is living in Truckee this winter so she can attend the Sugar Bowl Academy and train full-time with the Sugar Bowl Ski Team. Carroll has been one of the top racers in the Far West Ski Association for the past several years. When she isn't skiing, she lives in Granite Bay.