“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.” – Steve Prefontaine
Cross Country season is in full swing and that means more mileage and ice bath galore. 32 days and countingis all that we have left until cross country athletes and fans alike make the trip up to Tallahassee to see who will reign for the next year. This cross country season, I thought I would introduce you to those who are making an impressive charge towards the state meet, athletes that are Under the Radar. This senior has definitely had her fair share of injuries, but has shown her strength by getting through every last one. Amanda Baker of Westminster Academy will be leading the Lady Lions throughout this cross country season.
Baker started out running track in the 7th grade, when it was suggested by one of the middle school coaches to use cross country as a way to help her drop her times and stay in shape. That next cross country season Baker was a part of the team and was enjoying the sport more than she thought she would. Being a part of Westminster’s cross country team for what will be the 5th year this year, Baker is definitely a natural leader when it comes to the girls on her team. She has an influence that from firsthand experience, takes away your fears about the race or the course, she restores confidence in the younger teammates, and reminds the veterans that there’s nothing to be worried about. We spoke on how it feels to be captain and she explained, “It’s definitely a great feeling, it’s also especially cool since our team is so close. We feel like a family and have such a close bond, so it’s awesome when you get to lead and push your teammates and see their success.”
Baker has suffered some season hindering injuries in these past four years that has definitely given her more fight when she returned to the course. During the cross country season of her sophomore year she tore her quad, and then right before the track state meet she strained her hamstring. This past season Baker had a fourth metatarsal fracture which put her out for all of track season. “I was racing in a 10k and noticed that my foot almost felt like it had a cramp, and when I was finished it was really swollen and bruised. I guess this is when the major fracture occurred,” says Baker when explaining her latest injury. “Well the doctors aren’t 100%sure it was a stress fracture, but they’re assuming it was. I guess I had it for some time and never really noticed.”
Before her fracture, her junior year of cross country started off a bit rocky, as she was still battling injuries from the year before. Gladly, everything came together the closer the state meet got and she was able to compete. “I was really grateful that the last few weeks of the season everything was going well, and had no complications which are weird for me. I also used it as motivation for this year to get a time that blows last year’s state performance away,” she says. To prevent these injuries from happening again, Baker is taking a slightly different approach on her cross country training. “I’m getting more miles in than I have in the past and I’m also putting more focus on strength training to prevent my injuries and to become more efficient, especially during races,” explains Baker. When describing her racing style she explained how she likes to start off a little conservative and then she pushes the second mile. “That’s where I usually get the most fatigued, and I give everything I have for the last mile.”
Amanda’s expectations for this season are to get into the mid-19’s, as she’s been stuck at that 20 barrier for quite some time due to her injuries. “Hopefully I’ll be at the top of the pack for regionals and place better than I have in the past for states,” she said. Amanda doesn’t know just yet who her biggest competition is in the district or the region, but she says, “I think South Florida HEAT and Westminster Christian seem to have a lot of talent and could be big team competition.” Some of her major influences come from her coaches, since all of them were athletes she loves to see how their love for the sport has carried them throughout the years, and she hopes to be like that.
Her favorite cross country course to run on is the Flrunners course, because it’s really fast and it’s mentally easy, the miles feel shorter than most of the course. For college Baker plans on attending a big in-state university, and as of right now it’s up in the air if she’ll be competing competitively. “I could possibly seem myself joining a club team or something. But, I definitely am going to keep running, whether apart of a team or not,” she explains. Baker just opened up her cross country season at the TKA Lions Cross Country Invitational, and she ran 20:48.81 to place 5th overall. Her personal best is only about 31 seconds faster than that, her senior season is definitely looks promising! Keep a look out for this Lady Lion as she runs her way to the state meet, her Under the Radar season has just begun.