Coaches Corner: Journey to the Nike Cross Nationals

Thanks to Manchester West Coach Leo Ducharme for this candid post providing us insight on what it took for Julia to qualify for NXNIMG_6752 as well as the experience from his point of view!  Thanks Coach!

By Leo Ducharme

The journey to Nike Cross Nationals began for us last year when Julia placed 7th at the 2016 Nike Northeast Regionals in Wappingers Falls, New York. As Julia (18:46.8) crossed the finish line with Annie Glodek (5th place  – 18:45.2) and Rachel Vick (6th place – 18:46.6), she knew how close Nationals was to being a reality. The 1.6 seconds that separated the three runners and a trip to Portland was a recurring topic of conversation between runner and coach. We did not look at this 2016 event as a tragedy, but as a learning experience that would motivate Julia throughout the 2017 Cross Country Season.

Summer training went well, and Julia’s season unfolded into a successful series of wins and records that culminated with a tremendous victory in Belfast, Maine. The confidence gained at New Englands, combined with a desire to not repeat a “so close, yet so far” performance at the Nike Northeast Regionals, led to Julia’s Northeast Championship performance. Her win meant we were off to Portland, Oregon, and we only had four days to set up flights and hotel accommodations. Plenty of time!!

As an individual qualifier for Nationals, Julia’s airfare and hotel room was paid for by Nike. The qualifying individuals and teams from the eight regions were treated like celebrities, and deservedly so. A great hotel, food tables that went on for miles, Nike Gear, hobnobbing with running royalty, and access to Nike Headquarters, the “Disney World” of cross country. The rest of Julia’s entourage—mother, sister, coach—had to get to Portland on their own. This is where the scrambling took place in the four days prior to leaving.

For coaches and athletes hoping to qualify and attend Nationals, listen up! West High School has been 100% behind Julia Robitaille asFile:Manchester High School West Logo.svg she piled up victories and eventually qualified for Nationals. This is where my pride for the school, and appreciation for being a member of the faculty, soared like never before. Within three days, $3900 was raised!!! Teachers and clubs at West as well as NH Cross Country and other coaches stepped up in a major way to make this Nationals dream a reality. Future attendees of Nationals please be aware that you will most likely front the money for this trip. Credit cards come in handy as well as an understanding and supportive spouse like my wife. Now on to Portland….

We stayed at a hotel approximately 15 minutes from the Embassy Suites where the participants were lodged. This allowed for a quick ride with our rental car to take care of any emergencies like providing snacks or extra water, or even moral support for Julia if needed. The runners get a pass for a chaperone to accompany them at the dinners, seminars, or Q & A’s provided by Nike at Nike World Headquarters. As you know, coaches cannot coach their athletes at this event according to NHIAA regulations, but I could tag along and cheer for Julia as she ran her way to 13th place and All-American status. I was fortunate enough to view the course on Friday as it was open to visitors. I wandered through the course on the Gatorade Cart trail which was adjacent to the actual race course. One could see and feel how muddy it was. It was also evident that the soft ground, along with a few short but steep hills, could be a factor to racers not accustomed to hilly courses like we in the Northeast experience. Julia is a smart cross country runner who went to Portland with knowledge of what she needed to do to be successful. It was important that Julia went in with confidence that she would do well against some of the best runners in the country and she knew to soak in the royal treatment and have FUN running her race.

Nike Cross Nationals was an amazing experience! The excitement Julia and Corinne showed as they saw the track “in the woods” at Nike Headquarters was a site to behold. Or the giddiness they expressed as they saw running greats like Colleen Quigley, Galen Rupp, Ben Blankenship, Matt Centrowitz, Hassan Mead, Jordan Hasay, and Evan Jager was priceless! Lastly, the support shown by NH Cross Country and 603 runners and coaches was so very uplifting. Please know that Julia represented our running community in a way that could only fill you with pride.

Almost as important as the race itself was a small tour of Portland we took on Friday. Pizza fans cannot go wrong at Pieology, while for an outstanding hot cocoa, Cacao Drink Chocolate Portland is a must stop. It is Portland recommended, Corinne approved!

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