Ahead of the pack
Antonino earns All-State honors
PINEDALE – Pinedale High School junior Madison Antonino warmed up thirty minutes before the 4A girls’ varsity race at the 2023 State Cross-Country Championships in Cheyenne on Saturday, Oct. 21.
As Antonino went through the routine with her teammates on the Jackson Hole High School (JHHS) squad – a 15 minute jog, stretching and strides – she did her best to push aside pre-race jitters.
“I was definitely a nervous wreck all morning,” Antonino said. “I had to distract myself with my music blaring.”
Antonino repeated the maxim, “I can do this.”
The junior confidently stepped up to the starting line prepared with a race strategy. The JHHS team walked the course at the Cheyenne Country Club the evening before the competition.
Antonino’s plan involved sticking with the lead pack for the first mile. If the frontrunners reached the first mile with a sub-6-minute split time, Antonino would maintain her pace with them through the next mile before making a move.
“At the 2-mile mark, I wold throw in a little surge,” Antonino said. “Then another surge at 1200 (meters) and again at 800 (meters), 600 and 400.”
At the starting line, the race official fired a blank round. Antonino burst into action, maneuvering for the front of the pack.
“Two girls from Laramie took the pace out really fast,” Antonino said. “We hit the mile mark at around 5:47-ish. Then we got to the hill, probably at around 1.75 miles, and they both fell off.”
Antonino found herself alone, the competition dropping farther and farther behind. Her coaches kept track of her pace. Antonino checked to make sure no one was making a move to overtake her when she rounded a loop and could see the others.
Even though Antonino’s opponents no longer posed a threat, she continued to follow her race plan. Shifting into high gear at the 2-mile mark, Antonino kicked it in. She dug deep to speed up again 1200 meters from the finish line, then at 800 meters, 600 and 400.
“The race is going to hurt either way, so I might as well run faster,” Antonino said.
Antonino sprinted for the finish line to snag a state championship with a time of 18 minutes, 17.20 seconds. Dominating the race from the 2-mile mark, Antonino crossed the finish line with an astonishing 41.2-second lead on the runnerup, Natrona County’s Ally Wheeler.
Antonino’s incredible 5-kilometer pace of 5:54 per mile shattered the course record for girls by 1 minute and she earned 4A All-State honors for a second year.
“I was really happy,” Antonino said. “My race plan went perfectly. I worked really hard for this all season. It felt good to get it over with – I was stressing out about it for a little bit.”
Peaking at the right time
Antonino’s preparation for State cross-country began during the spring outdoor track season with Pinedale High School (PHS), where she developed her ability to kick it in at the end of a race.
“We worked on building easy leg speed and transitioning from race pace to a faster pace,” Antonino said.
Antonino continued her regimen over the summer.
“Summer training was really heavy and I put in a lot of miles,” Antonino added. “Then I jumped right into the (cross-country) season. The first couple weeks of training were really hard.”
Hard is perhaps an understatement. Grueling might be more apt.
The JHHS harriers, under the direction of Head Coach Jeff Brazil, alternated long-distance running with speed workouts. Brazil set aside Tuesdays for speed interval workouts.
“That usually consisted of 16-to-18 400 (meter runs) under 85 seconds with a 2-minute jog in between,” Antonino explained. “We would also do a 2-mile warmup and 2-mile cool down.”
On Wednesdays, the team transitioned to tempo workouts, beginning with a 20-minute timed run at a pace of 6:20, followed by a 3-minute rest, a 10-minute timed run, a 2-minute rest and a 5-minute tempo run.
As the season progressed, Antonino and Coach Brazil tapered her workouts to ensure Antonino peaked right around Regionals and State. In addition to an exceptional work ethic, Antonino’s training schedule required patience.
The plan meant Antonino steadily improved her times over the season rather than going all-out at a meet. This could be frustrating because some of Antonino’s rivals were posting significant time drops.
“This year was unlike last year when I hit a PR in every race,” said Antonino. “That was mentally hard, because all the other girls in the state were running super fast times, and I wasn’t.”
Antonino remained focused on the long-term strategy for the season, rather than a single race. She learned to put her opponent’s times out of her head.
The plan paid significant dividends. Antonino captured gold at the 4A West Regional Championships hosted by Jackson on Oct. 13, crossing the finish line in 18:22.40, beating Wheeler by more than 6 seconds.
Regionals followed a particularly difficult experience at the Nike XC Invitational in Washington on Oct. 7.
“Before Regionals, I went to Seattle and had to drop out because I passed out at the 2-mile mark,” Antonino said. “I didn’t even know if I was going to be okay at Regionals. We took that week of training really light. Jumping into Regionals was my first race back. It definitely felt good to beat (Wheeler).”
Antonino also put in a solid performance at the Bob Firman Invitational XC in Boise on Sept. 22-23, timing in with a new PR of 18:12.50 on the fast course. Antonino garnered sixth place in the girls’ elite division running against top-ranked harriers from Idaho, Washington, Utah and California.
While the regular cross-country season wrapped up at State, the JHHS team will compete at the National Cross-Country Qualifiers in Boise on Nov. 12 for an opportunity to advance to Nationals in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 3.
Antonino looks forward to setting new PRs for the indoor and outdoor track season. Antonino is the defending state champion in the 3200-meters for both the 2023 indoor track and outdoor track seasons. She captured second place in the 1600-meters in outdoor track at State in 2023.
Antonino’s goals are to win the 2024 state championships in both the mile and 2-mile and to clock the mile in under 5 minutes.
Antonino plans to continue her running career in college, with hopes to enter a marathon someday. She thanked Coach Brazil, her PHS indoor and outdoor track coaches and her parents for their support during the cross-country season.