Preps Beat: Blues runner on track for big finish
In 2019, Fiona Lenth was satisfied just to represent St. Mary's Academy at the state track and field championships.
She had her best day of her sophomore season at the Three Rivers League district meet to qualify for state, but was disappointed by her state-meet performance. Lenth didn't understand how fast those races would be, finishing 12th in the 3,000 meters and 13th in the 1,500. With that experience to motivate her, she was excited about making big strides at the 2020 state meet.
Losing that opportunity because of COVID-19 was a huge blow, Lenth said.
Still, she didn't let the pandemic slow her down, or keep her from landing an exciting opportunity to run for Northwestern University.
Before Lenth heads to the Chicago area for college, she is making the most of what remains of her time running for the Blues. Now a senior, Lenth is among the top cross-country runners at the 6A level and is looking to peak for the track season that follows on its heels.
Lenth finished ninth as a junior at the 2019 6A cross country state championships. She won't get to compete for a OSAA-sanctioned state cross country championship as a high school senior — or, it seems, at a state track meet after the OSAA Executive Board on March 31 decided to let individual schools schedule events for the last week of the season for spring sports.
Still, Lenth is building toward a strong finish to her high school running career. She was the class of the field at the three meets she has run this season. On March 3 at Canby High, she finished 1 minute, 14.9 seconds before the runner up. On March 10 at Tualatin High, she won by 23 seconds. On March 17, she won by more than 17 seconds.
Lenth didn't participate in a March 31 Three Rivers League championship meet because of St. Mary's Academy quarantine rules. Her family went camping out of state on spring break, so the school requires a quarantine period before returning to school activities. Blues coach Charles Douglas said Lenth and her family thought they were following the guidelines when they planned their trip, but learned she would miss a couple of races.
Lenth does plan to participate in a Class 6A season-ending cross country meet on April 10 that is in the works to bring most of the top teams and runners in the state to Rose City Golf Course.
Going immediately from cross country season into track season is unique.
"The goal with cross country is just to race well, run fast," she said. "A lot of it is preparation for track."
Douglas said the back-to-back seasons mirror the 12-week cycle he normally uses for building runners for a peak performance at championship time. So the plan is to train hard through the cross country season.
Lenth said the hardest part of losing the spring season as a junior in 2020 was not being allowed to train with teammates. Distance running, she noted, is a sport that creates strong bonds among friends who spend long hours training together and challenging one another. She missed those relationships last spring.
Rather than get down, Lenth said she focused on why she loves to run.
"Running has been a great way to regain control" in life during the pandemic, she said.
"There's a big freedom in running," she said. "At its essence, running is about trying to exert yourself. There's nothing better than a good, long run."
While she loves to race, some of her favorite times are weekend runs with her father, Tom, mother Kathleen and sister Luciana, who is a sophomore distance runner at Santa Clara.
Douglas said Lenth can have a long career as a competitive distance runner.
"I've coached a number of good runners. Of all the runners I've coached, Fiona is the most well equipped to have success at a high level," he said.
That's because, in addition to natural ability, Lenth is a grounded person, according to her coach.
"She has the right perspective," Douglas said. "She takes success and failure in stride, takes what she can from every experience and moves on."
Looking at Fiona Lenth now, it's difficult to see her as a reluctant runner. Though she's competed in track since the third grade, Lenth said she was considering playing soccer in high school, until Luciana convinced Fiona to join her at cross country workouts.
"She dragged me into the varsity group that first practice. I remember being super intimidated," Fiona said, noting that she hadn't trained all summer like other girls in the varsity group.
But, she soon felt welcome and had new friends.
Coach Douglas remembers a girl who wasn't at all sure cross country was for her. But once Fiona found she had talent, she developed the passion for running to go with the ability.
Still, it took a while for Lenth to understand where her ability and drive might take her. At first, when people would speak about a running career in college, Douglas said her reaction was to look at coaches as if they were crazy.
The crazy thing about her arrival at Northwestern is that Lenth has not yet been to Chicago. Her experiences of Northwestern and its campus have all been virtual.
Lenth said she looked at a number of schools in the East and Midwest, and that Northwestern was the best fit both for her sport and for academics.
"I saw Northwestern as a great challenge, but also as somewhere where I will find a great home," she said.
When she arrives in August, it will be her first time in a new place, with new teammates.
In that way, it will be like the somewhat intimidating first steps at St. Mary's four years earlier.
The season wraps up on Friday, April 9. The schedule is highlighted by a couple of games matching 5-0 teams: Sunset at Central Catholic (Hillsboro Stadium) and Newberg at West Linn. The Oregon City (0-5) at David Douglas (1-2) game has been moved to 7 p.m. Thursday.
Here is Friday's schedule for Portland and eastside teams (all games 7 p.m.):
Jefferson (2-3) at Jesuit (2-3)
Cleveland (0-5) vs. McDaniel (1-4) at Marshall campus
Grant (3-2) at Mountainside (2-3)
Sunset (5-0) vs. Central Catholic (5-0) at Hillsboro Stadium
Century (4-1) vs. Lincoln (4-1) at Wells High
Glencoe (2-3) at Franklin (4-1)
Wilsonville (5-0) at Barlow (3-2)
Reynolds (2-2) at Thurston (4-1); canceled
Hood River Valley (3-2) at Parkrose (1-4); canceled
Ridegview (2-3) at La Salle Prep (3-2)
Wells (2-3) no game.
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