PINEDALE – Pinedale High School sophomore Madison Antonino stretched out and warmed up for the girls’ varsity 3200-meter finals at the State Indoor Track Championships in Gillette on Friday, March 3.
Activity buzzed around Antonino as dozens of other athletes prepared for a variety of events in the limited space available at the Campbell County Recreation Center.
“I’m honestly a nervous wreck before a race,” said Antonino.
Antonino worked to channel her pre-race jitters into positive vibes.
“I see the nerves as motivation,” she said. “I remind myself that everyone else is going through the same thing as I am, and that they’re going to feel the same pain that I will in the race. I can use the nerves to my advantage and not let them bring me down.”
Antonino took her spot on the starting line for the 3200-meters. The official fired the starting gun.
Antonino and 21 other runners jostled for position. Antonino set her sights on the frontrunner, Ryann Smith, of Rawlins.
“The girl (Smith) who was ranked No. 1 was faster than me by 30 seconds, and so I was expecting her to go out and run a personal best again,” said Antonino.
Antonino kept pace with Smith, leaving the rest of the pack in the dust.
“We negative-split our last mile – we picked up the pace a little bit and we dropped a bunch of people,” said Antonino.
Antonino and Smith swung into the 15th lap. Bearing down on the final 200 meters, Smith remained only a few paces ahead of Antonino.
“I realized, if I go now, I can win State,” Antonino said. “I felt the adrenaline kick in.”
Antonino sprinted down the homestretch, battling to overtake Smith.
“It was a race down to the last second,” Antonino said. “She was trying. I was trying. It was really close.”
Antonino dashed across the finish line, neck and neck with Smith.
“At that point, I still didn’t know whether I had won,” Antonino said. “The timers weren’t sure at first either, so we had to wait a second.”
After conferring, the officials turned to face the runners, calling out their times. Antonino hit the finish line at 11 minutes, 28.11 seconds. Smith finished at 11:28.26.
Antonino snagged the 3A state championship in the 3200-meters by 0.15 seconds, automatically earning All-State honors. Antonino posted the fastest time out of all classifications in the event at State, beating the 4A champion, Cheyenne Central’s Averie Perriton, by more than 27 seconds.
“I was really happy,” Antonino said. “It was surprising when I won, but I was really happy.”
Putting in the distance
Antonino logged her first miles at an early age, picking up the sport from her parents.
“My dad did cross-country in high school,” Antonino remarked. “My parents would always go on runs when I was little and I would go with them. My cousin and I would also race at my grandma’s house. I’ve always liked running.”
Antonino decided to run competitively in middle school.
“We had a race when I was in sixth grade and I won,” she said. “I thought I could win again, so I stuck with it.”
As a freshman, Antonino placed fourth in the 3200-meters at the Outdoor Track and Field State Championships, clocking in under 12 minutes at 11:51.75.
This fall, Antonino joined the Jackson Hole High School cross-country team, capturing second place at State on Oct. 22 and receiving 4A All-State honors for her accomplishment.
Between indoor track, cross-country and outdoor track, running is a year-round endeavor for Antonino. The sophomore takes “a week or two off” in the summer before hitting the trails in preparation for cross-country.
Few people are willing to run long distances for 50 weeks a year, begging the question, why continue with the sport?
“With running, you can put in the hard work and get something out of it,” Antonino replied. “Learning to love doing those hard workouts, knowing that something good is going to come out of them if you work hard is enough.”
A strong sense of community among distance runners also helps.
“I like the people who compete with me,” said Antonino. “We all want each other to do our best. We push each other to get there.”
The indoor track season involves running fewer miles than cross-country – the events are shorter and posting long distances on an indoor track is not practical, Antonino explained. Antonino typically alternates her indoor practice regimen between distance workouts and speed intervals.
The 3200-meter consists of 16 laps on most competition-level indoor tracks – a dizzying length. Antonino learned to break the event down into manageable 400-meter chunks.
“A 400 is really only two laps, so I think, ‘I only have a 400 left,’ and not think about it as two laps,” Antonino explained. “I break the 3200-meter down into sections – I focus on the first 400, then the next 400. That makes the 3200 a little easier to handle.”
Antonino medaled in the 3200-meters at the 2023 Simplot Games – one of America’s premier indoor track events for high school students. Hosted by Idaho State University in Pocatello on Feb. 16-18, the Simplot Games attracted more than 2,200 top runners from across the United States, Canada and beyond.
Antonino raced against an athlete from Australia in her preliminary heat.
“The whole atmosphere at the Simplot Games was really cool,” Antonino said.
Advancing to the 3200-meter finals, Antonino captured fifth place, posting a new personal record of 11:25.08.
“Making it to the finals (at Simplot) was really stressful,” Antonino said. “But after I made the finals, it was like, ‘Go give it your best.’ Whereas at State, I had one shot, and it was my only shot.”
Antonino looked forward to the outdoor track season, where she plans to continue shaving time from both the 3200- and 1600-meters. Antonino’s goal for the 1600-meters is to come in under 5:20.
Antonino gave shoutouts to “my parents, coaches and friends for supporting me the whole way.”