LAKEWOOD RANCH — Kristin Zarrella recognizes the importance of never losing sight of her competition — no matter how many strides she has to take.
With each new lap, the 13-year-old distance runner’s eyes dart around the track in search of the next runner to pass. But more often than not, Zarrella is the one setting the pace as her competitors struggle to keep up.
It’s a scenario with which Zarrella has become more familiar in the past five years, and one that isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.
“I kind of feel bad when I lap people,” said Zarrella, who will be a freshman at Lakewood Ranch High this fall. “But it’s a long race and there’s a lot of room to mess up because once you try to pass someone, you still have miles to go.”
Such was the case June 26 and 28 when Zarrella won the 1,500- and 3,000-meter dashes at the Amateur Athletic Union State Finals at the University of Florida. Zarrella quickly jumped out in front and never looked back.
Zarrella won the 1,500 in five minutes, 15 seconds — some 17 seconds off her personal best time — and the 3,000 in 11:21 — about 32 seconds off her personal best time.
“I was expecting a little more competition,” Zarrella said. “It’s hard to run against the clock. The next person in my age group was 40 seconds behind.”
With the wins, Zarrella qualified for her fifth trip to the AAU Junior Olympics July 27 through Aug. 8 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Zarrella has medaled at the Junior Olympics in each of the past four years, but last year proved to be the most memorable.
Zarrella finished second in the 1,500 and following the race, she gave her silver medal to her mother, Kathi, who is battling multiple sclerosis.
“It was a good mother-daughter moment,” Zarrella said.
Zarrella has not yet decided if she’ll compete in the Junior Olympics again this year; but after studying the times from other states, Zarrella is confident she’ll be able to compete for the gold medal.
“If I go, then I definitely want to shoot for first because I was so close last year,” Zarrella said. “If I keep training, then I think I have a good chance.
“It’s nerve-racking and a lot of fun at the same time,” she added of the Junior Olympics. “There’s always really good competition, and there’s so much strategy that goes into it, so it’s always a good race. It’s a lot to look forward to.”
A dedicated soccer player, Zarrella began running when she was 9 years old after her father, Bill, a former track coach, noticed his daughter’s talent.
Zarrella has won more than 25 track and field and cross country medals and broke numerous records, including setting a new record of 5:30 in the mile last year at the Manatee County Middle School Track and Field Championships at Braden River High, shattering a 19-year-old record.
“It’s a good feeling knowing that you have something that you’re good at,” Zarrella said. “Everyone supports me and the races are always fun.”
This summer, Zarrella has spent the majority of her time training for cross country with her best friend and teammate Ashley Platt. Zarrella runs anywhere from four to six miles a day — often adding in speed workouts and training harder in the weeks leading up to a meet.
“It makes it more fun and more of a sport than it usually is,” Zarrella said. “It’s boring running alone. There are times when I think, ‘Why do I have to do this?’ But this summer hasn’t been much of a problem.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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