Halfway through a race is when Sandy juniors Tess Hansen and Jack Logan said you start to feel the pain of competing in cross country while wearing a mask.
The Pioneers were hosting their only home meet of the shortened spring season Wednesday, March 31, against a slew of Mt. Hood Conference rivals. There were runners from Reynolds, David Douglas and powerhouse Central Catholic.
And while the stiff competition, difficult Sandy course and hot weather all took a toll, the two Pioneers agreed that wearing a mask while competing — a necessary precaution during a global pandemic — mentally cut the deepest.
"It was a difficult race, a tough mental battle," Logan said. "Running in masks tires you out even faster. Your mouth dries out, like cotton in your throat."
But, despite all the adversity of the meet, the Sandy runners wouldn't trade this strange season for the world after a year being stuck inside socially distancing.
"All year we were worried we wouldn't be able to run, that this would be a lost season," Hansen said. "It's better to run with masks than not run at all."
Sandy's season will culminate this week with a conference showdown at Centennial. The Pioneers will join the top runners throughout the Mt. Hood Conference for the district meet Thursday, April 8.
Sandy cross country is being led into the spring season by first-year head coach Dalen Richardson, a Pioneer alum who went on to compete at Portland's Concordia University.
"This spring season is to get the team out and have fun," Richardson said. "Also to continue to grow a love of running — it is a lifelong sport."
The Pioneers have rallied around their new coach.
"I love (Coach Richardson) — we haven't had a girl coach in a longtime," Hansen said.
Richardson has continued to build the camaraderie and support that makes Sandy High a special place to run. That mindset is what has kept Logan in the sport since joining as a freshman. He loves how close everyone is through the "shared suffering of running for fun."
"The banter on the runs makes everything worth it," he said.
Hansen joined as a sophomore after her sisters competed for the team.
"I hated running before cross country, but the team made me want to stay and keep training," she said.
"I learned to love running — at least a little bit," Hansen added with a laugh.
What appeals to many cross country runners is the blend of individual and team accolades. While everyone with Sandy roots for their teammates to succeed, at the end of the day it is about competing against yourself and improving times and form.
"No matter how fast or slow you are, anyone can hit a PR (personal record) when running," Logan said. "It is an amazing feeling."
And though that remains true, the focus has shifted for runners throughout the conference. Goals are less on times and more on placements — a necessary shift of the mindset due to the shortened training schedule and adverse running conditions.
"It's a struggle to run with a mask and PR," Hansen said.
Last week's meet was a fine showing for the Sandy team. Logan was the top finishing boy for the Pioneers, placing 11th with a time of 20:01.70. Hansen led the way on the girls' side, finishing in 24:49.50 for seventh place. Junior Gillian Moore came in right behind her at 24:58.90. Both Sandy girls were the top finishers outside a slew of Central Catholic runners.
The home meet also was a chance for the Pioneers to celebrate the two seniors on the squad — Alison Eslinger and Zachary Taylor.
"The whole team pushed through the heat (last week) and had a great meet," Richardson said. "Everyone is super excited to have sports back."
Corbett (1-3) at Taft (0-2), 7 p.m.
Oregon City (0-5) at David Douglas (1-2), 7 p.m.
Friday's games (all at 7 p.m.)
Estacada (4-1) at Lebanon (1-4)
Centennial (1-2) at Hillsboro (2-2); canceled
Reynolds (2-2) at Thurston (4-1); canceled
Wilsonville (5-0) at Barlow (3-2)
Hood River Valley (3-2) at Parkrose (1-4); canceled
Sunset (5-0) at Central Catholic (5-0), at Hillsboro Stadium
Last week's games
Blanchet Catholic 42, Corbett 26
Estacada 46, Crook County 19
(Note: Estacada won its fourth consecutive game)
Sandy (1-3) at Southridge (1-3); canceled
Southridge 34, David Douglas 7
Central Catholic 14, Clackamas 7
Centennial 36, Parkrose 13
Barlow 38, Reynolds 21
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