Courtesy PhotoRun.net for Foot Locker Cross Country

Competing against some of the very best high school runners in the nation, Mailin Struck just wanted to finish in the top half the field at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.

The Riverside-Brookfield High School foreign exchange student from Germany achieved that goal on Saturday, finishing 18th in a 40-runner field on a sunny and warm San Diego morning.

The race, which featured many of the top high school runners in the nation, was won by Tessa Barrett of Waverly, Penn., who covered the 5,000-meter course in 17 minutes, 16 seconds. Struck finished 48 seconds later, running 18:04. The grass and dirt course at San Diego’s Balboa Park featured one steep hill that the runners had to struggle up twice.

“Everyone said that the course was really flat, but the one hill is giant,” Struck said. “Before we started, I knew that the hill the second time would kill me, and it did.”

Struck ran most of the race in the middle of the pack. She was in about 20th place a half mile into the race and was 19th halfway through the race. By the two-mile mark she had moved up to 16th, but two runners passed her in the last mile as the last climb up the hill took its toll.

Struck finished just three places and 10 seconds away from All-America status, which is awarded to the top 15 finishers in the race. Struck’s roommate at the Hotel del Coronado, Samantha Ortega-Hufana of Santa Clarita, Calif., claimed the last All-America spot finishing 15th in 17:54. Nevertheless Struck was pretty happy about her race.

“My goal was like top 20 because the girls here are really good,” Struck said. “I came here with 7th place from Midwest, so I think I got a bit higher now.”

She did. Saturday she was fifth finisher of the 10 girls who qualified for the race from the Midwest Regional, which was held Nov. 30.

Although Foot Locker describes the race as “the only true national championships in high school sports,” the race is actually one of two competing high school national championship cross country races. Nike sponsored the other race on Dec. 7 in Portland, Oregon.

Yet there is no question that Struck was running against an elite field on Saturday.

As is her pattern Struck ran to exhaustion Saturday and had to be helped to stay on her feet after crossing finish line. After the bitter cold here the last few weeks, she certainly wasn’t used to the warm southern California sun.

Last week was so cold that Struck had to train indoors on a treadmill for two days before flying to San Diego on Thursday.

Although the trip was brief, it was memorable — and not just for the race.

She enjoyed staying at the Hotel del Coronado, a famous luxury hotel that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, opened in 1888 and is a National Historic Landmark. Struck also enjoyed meeting other elite runners from all sections of the country.

“I talked to a lot of girls and they were really nice,” Struck said. “I’m glad that I came here because you meet people who think the same things as you. … It’s cool to meet girls who are as good as you and who train at like the same level or higher.”

She also got a taste of how top athletes are treated.

“Foot Locker spends so much money on us; we got so much clothing,” Struck said. “We got like shoes, spikes, the hotel is like perfect, the food is so good.”

The only downside was that the trip left no time for sightseeing, as Struck caught a flight home early Sunday morning.

The race capped off a cross country season like no other RBHS runner has ever experienced. Struck became the first RBHS girl to ever win any kind of individual state championship.

The race the trip to San Diego was a culmination of a whirlwind four-and-a-half month stay in America. While Struck really has enjoyed her time at RBHS, she is heading back to Germany next month. She knows that it will be difficult to leave her teammates and friends she has made.

“It will be so hard on January 9; it will be terrible,” Struck said. “I already know it will be many tears.”

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