Humboldt State senior Brailee VandenBoom during the women's high jump at the 2020 Kim Duyst Invitational March 7 at Stanislaus State University. | Photo by Elliott Portillo

Trackside Tales with Elliott Portillo

First-hand account from Humboldt State distance runner Elliott Portillo
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First-hand account from Humboldt State distance runner Elliott Portillo

For track and field athletes like myself, March usually means a return to early season competition after a long, cold winter of preparation and training. On March 6 and 7, Humboldt State University’s Track and Field team traveled to Turlock, California to participate at the 2020 Kim Duyst Invitational at Stanislaus State University.

Traditionally, this meet brings together programs from across Northern and Central California to post early season times and marks. For myself and other track-based Lumberjacks, it means a long and winding drive down Highway 101 on a large and cumbersome charter bus with very little leg room and one bathroom for around 40 runners, jumpers and throwers.

As the trip progressed, the foggy redwood canopy gave way to neat rows and columns of orchards and, eventually, the urban jungle on both sides of the I-5 through Stockton, Modesto and Turlock.

As a whole, my race, a morning event, was uneventful. I found myself heading to the front of a large pack of runners after a few laps, and wound up leading the race for a good two miles in a very strong headwind. The racers must have enjoyed my wind-breaking, as nobody made a move to pass me until a few laps to go. Three runners passed me in the last few laps, leaving my decrepit body in their wake after all of my heavy lifting.

One advantage of racing early in the morning is the opportunity to watch teammates compete, and boy was I in for a show. I got to see senior Jaye Washington finish second in the long jump, while Brailee VandenBoom tied for first place in the high jump. These were just a handful of the performances I was able to view during my downtime after my race. Even if an athlete didn’t make it to the podium, there was plenty to celebrate—a new personal best, or out-leaning someone at the line to gain one more spot.

Things only heated up as the day progressed. The weather alternated between sunny and overcast, with swaths of clouds blanketing the vast expanse of the Central Valley. In the evening, eight Humboldt State women toed the line for the fastest race of the 5,000 meter run, made up of 12 and a half laps and just over three circular miles of Stanislaus’s faded red oval.

Of those eight Humboldt runners, six women ran fast enough to qualify for the California Collegiate Athletic Association championships in May. Junior Cessair McKinney ran with the top group for most of the race, at one point running to the front and pushing the pace, showing no regard for how bad she might feel later. Her teammate, freshman Lucy Atkinson, hung back in the next pack of runners.

Eventually, the two groups strung out and splintered, as the dense pack turned into a single file parade around the track. McKinney finished six, while Atkinson finished fourth.

It was just our luck that just as we began packing up to leave, the skies, which had been threatening rain all day, finally opened up and unleashed a downpour.

I guess we brought a bit of Humboldt with us after all.

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