Bryce Pacourek (shown above in action earlier this month) set a personal best 2:21.99 in the 800 meters on April 22 at Palatine Distance Night, shaving almost two seconds off her previous PR, set in during the indoor season in March. | Ian McLeod

Riverside-Brookfield High School senior Bryce Pacourek once again rose to the occasion against strong girls track and field competition on April 22.

The returning 2002 Class 3A state qualifier in the 800-meter run continues training hard but, then again, sometimes not. 

That’s because she’s also training smarter.

“There’s kind of this whole movement about how there’s easy runs so your harder days can be harder and sophomore year I never believed this,” Pacourek said. “I thought that every run would be hard because I wanted to improve. I’ve learned that if I run easier on my easy days, I can run a lot harder at races.”

Pacourek achieved yet another personal best in the 800 (2 minutes, 21.99 seconds) at Distance Night in Palatine to finish fifth in Section 2 of 4 and close on the 2:20.60 automatic state-qualifying standard. Her previous best was 2:23.46 indoors March 10 at Batavia.

Last season, Pacourek ran a then personal-best 2:26.82 to finish second at the Proviso East Sectional and qualify for state automatically with a top-two sectional finish. Her 19th-place 2:27.02 at state was her then second-fastest time.

Her time at Palatine came even while being mostly in Lane 2 to avoid congestion. She’ll continue running at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, next year.

“I like how fast [the 800] is because it’s a full-out sprint for two laps and it just goes by so fast, which is kind of a good thing and also a bad thing,” Pacourek said. “I’ve always loved the 4-by-400 [relay] so the 800 is a good distance that’s combining my love for the 400 and the 1,600.”

Pacourek also loves overcoming the odds. After “the worst 800 race I’ve ever had” at last year’s Metro Suburban Conference Meet (4th, 2:38.21), she found another gear at sectionals to move into second over the final 200 meters.

“With 100 meters to go, there was a girl [in second], 10 meters in front of me,” she said. “I was like, ‘I’m not going to get her,’ and then ‘You know what? I’m going to get her.’ It was so rewarding.” 

The performance further encouraged her college running plans. Pacourek wants to major in exercise science after becoming interested in physical therapy by shadowing professionals during the summer of 2021.

Her commitment as a student-athlete earned honorable mention on the IHSA All-State Academic Team.

“I’ve learned to push my limits [through running]. I’ve learned how to listen to my body. I’ve learned a lot of skills for handling pressure and stress and how to balance running and school life,” Pacourek said.

Pacourek began distance running with cross country in sixth grade. She was a four-year RBHS cross country runner who competed at four state meets. 

As a freshman, Pacourek tried track while also playing soccer. She began track exclusively as a sophomore, running her fastest 800 at sectionals (2:28.51).

“She’s doing amazing this year,” said RBHS girls cross country coach and assistant track coach Blair Jensen. “She’s gotten so much stronger. She’s grown in height, more confident. She’s always had a great work ethic, but she understands I’ve got to put in the right kind of work. She’s figured out running a lot more.”  

This year’s goals include getting teammates to state in a relay and challenging the 2:18 school record in the 800 meters.