Altitude training pays off as Sarasota senior wins first meet of the season.
Sage Lyons’ lungs were hankering to get back to sea level.
Her legs were burning from the sheer vertical nature of the Dyke Trail, in Crested Butte, Colo.
It was only supposed to be 4 miles.
The Sarasota High senior’s cross-country training runs were longer than that. She could practically run 4 miles in her sleep.
Or so she thought.
Halfway through the Team Prep USA workout, Lyons, 19, realized she might have given herself too much credit.
But even as her body was telling her to give in, she couldn’t stop pressing on.
It wasn’t until she was standing at the top of the mountain looking out over the horizon that Lyons realized just how far she had come.
“I learned I can push myself even when it’s hurting — so many minutes before I’m done,” Lyons said. “I’ve learned I can not only push myself through the level of hardness, but I can go through to the level past the hardness.”
The realization that she can persevere even when the odds may seem insurmountable has given Lyons a sense of calm heading into her final cross-country season.
In her first meet of the season, Lyons crossed the finish line in 19 minutes, 37 seconds to win the Girls Elite Division of the Bradenton Runners Club XC Invitational Sept. 3, at GT Bray Park, beating Riverview’s Elayna Goodman, the second-place finisher, by nearly 30 seconds.
“She doesn’t think out there on the course and runs with her heart,” Sarasota coach John Stevenson said. “She goes out there and competes no matter what. She doesn’t care who is racing or what course. She will go out and give everything she has.”
Lyons credits her early season success with the work she put in over the summer training at altitude.
For nearly the entire month of July, Lyons attended a Team Prep USA camp, which brought runners from across the country together to train for two weeks around Crested Butte, Lake City and Gunnison, Colo.
Following the two-week camp, Lyons opted to stay for a more intense two-week post camp session. It was unlike anything Lyons had experienced before.
“It was quite challenging,” Lyons said. “The hills … When we first did a hill run, I wasn’t expecting quite that big of a hill. I definitely pushed myself out of my comfort zone.”
The closest thing to a mountain that Lyons had ever run up against was the Celery Fields, in Sarasota.
“It wasn’t even comparable,” Lyons said. “This is nothing compared to what we did in Colorado.”
As if climbing a mountain wasn’t hard enough, Lyons had to learn how to breathe in the process. It took a good two weeks and a couple bloody noses before Lyons got used to training at altitude.
“It was kind of discouraging and embarrassing the first day because I wasn’t up with the top dogs,” Lyons said.
Eventually, Lyons, a two-time district champion in her own right, realized all she needed to do was push herself to the front of the pack.
“That really boosted my confidence,” Lyons said. “It makes me go faster and makes me want to train with the boys at practice now.”
Leading the charge is something Lyons has been accustomed to since she joined the Sailors cross-country team as a freshman. During her freshman season, set a personal best time of 18:51.
Since then, Lyons has become a better overall runner, having improved strength and efficiency, which has allowed her to excel on tougher courses when the competition is at its best.
Running has been a part of Lyons for as long as she can remember. As a baby, Lyons’ mother, Sarah-Jane Lyons, would run while pushing her daughter in a stroller.
When Lyons got a little older, the two would go for walks together. One day, Lyons decided to jog instead of walk. Jogging became racing and racing became sprinting.
Now, the two run together and plan to run a marathon or ultramarathon together some day.
“It’s nice that we both have the passion to run,” Sarah-Jane Lyons said. “She keeps me motivated.”
A season ago, Lyons finished sixth at the Class 4A state meet. This year, Lyons has aspirations of placing in the top 5 at states Nov. 5 and in the top 3 in her division at the Senior All-Star Meet the following week.
“I know there’s some pretty fast girls in our state, so I just want to push myself like I did in Colorado,” Lyons said.
At the end of the day, it’s only one race.
“For every great race there are many harder ones,” Sarah-Jane Lyons said. “Running has taught her it is not the end of the world. Just keep going.”