Photo: Glencoe High sophomore Katie Giles is currently second in the Class 3A state cross country rankings. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Katie Giles was no longer “just happy to be there” following the 2019 cross country season.
This past spring and summer, the Glencoe High sophomore put in some serious roadwork in order to gain a competitive edge for the fall 5K events.
Starting in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the area schools for the remainder of the spring semester, Giles hit the pavement, gravel and dirt on a near-daily basis, rain or shine, at the Vivian Lee Maddox Sports Complex in Rainbow City.
Her goal? Lower her 5K personal record time of 20:16 to under the 20-minute mark.
After several top 10 and top 15 finishes during her freshman year, Giles won three of her first four events this season, including a PR time of 19:57.67 in the Class 1A-4A race at the Scottsboro Invitational on September 26.
Giles’ closest competitor, Makinley Traylor of Ider, finished a distant second at 20:30.29.
“[Traylor] was kind of close during the first mile, but we got spread out as the race went on,” said Giles.
Giles’ performances are starting to garner statewide attention, as she is currently ranked second individually in Class 3A, approximately 28 seconds behind Camilla Chambers of Holly Pond.
“I was really excited [at Scottsboro], because my goal for a while was to break sub-20,” said Giles. “It’s a fast course and I was shooting for a 6:20 pace, so I knew I had a shot. I went out a little too fast, so my second mile was a little slower than it should have been, but I managed to do it.”
One of the biggest differences for Giles this year is taking her training to a more serious level.
“I’ve been switching what I do so I’m not doing the same thing all the time, like long runs and repeats, to increase my mileage some.”
Giles also is enjoying the satisfaction of winning a race as opposed to a top 5 or 10 showing.
“It’s nice to get the medals and the tee shirts that goes with the top 15, but there’s nothing like beating everyone else in a race,” she said. “It’s an incredible feeling.”
GHS assistant cross country coach Michael Arther pointed to Giles’ work ethic as the main reason for her consistent success.
“COVID threw us all for a curve, but Katie capitalized on the opportunity when they took the kids out of school,” he said. “She really stepped up her training and was very methodical in that training. While a lot of kids were at home in front of the TV or computer, Katie went to the trails.
“Everything that you guide and direct Katie to do, she’ll do it 100 percent. For me, it’s hard to gauge the development of a mostly young team against such an exceptional athlete like Katie. But that’s a good problem to have.”
Giles, who also plays basketball and soccer at Glencoe, noted the biggest differences in those sports and cross country is that long distance runners cannot “give it their all” during the practices just prior to a 5K event.
“You’re going to wear yourself out if you do that. You have to have something left in the tank to be able to perform at your best. You just have to be smart with your training.”
Giles also pointed out that cross country is just as much a mental sport as physical.
“At some point during a race, your brain is telling that your body is wanting to quit, and you have to not listen to it and keep pushing. I think that, as much as anything else, has helped me to improve so much this year.”
Although she enjoyed long-distance running as far back as she can remember, Giles said she began to take the sport seriously going into her 8th grade season.
“I somehow qualified for state the year before but I really wasn’t too knowledgeable about running. But after that I stopped playing volleyball to focus on running, and I’ve gotten more into it every year.”
Giles appreciated the guidance from her parents Charlton and Donna and older sister Anna Beth, as well as Arther and GHS cross country head coach Karen Cochran.
“I can’t drive yet, so my mom is always taking me running. Me and Anna Beth were really competitive during my first year of running and we were always trying to beat each other, but I don’t think she beat me again after that. And my coaches are great; they’ve done so much for me outside of the running and training. They’ve definitely helped make me the runner that I am.”
With midpoint of the season approaching, Giles is focusing her sights on the sectional and state meets. Toward that end, she is keeping tabs the other top 3A runners. Chambers and Pleasant Valley’s Trinity Roberts, who is currently ranked sixth in the state, are shaping up as Giles’ top competition at the Class 3A Section 3 meet at White Plains on November 5.
“I don’t know if I can get under 19 [minutes] by then, because that’s a lot [of time] to cut off, but I’ll just keep pushing,” said Giles. “More than anything, I’ll be going for placement at that point, but I do want to continue to PR.”
Arther noted that Giles is an “action” lea-der that her teammates look up to and feed off.
“We have two or three girls who are new to cross country, and they’re following the lead of Katie. She can motivate herself for what she needs to do individually, but when she’s with her team, she’s a big a team player as she is an individual performer. She’s an integral piece to our program.”
Giles appreciated her current rank in the upper tier of 3A runners but is far from finished with her goals for 2020.
“It’s really nice, but you can’t be satisfied, and you can always get better. I’d like to see if I have a shot at the state championship. It’s my ultimate goal, and that’s what I’m pushing for.”