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At another level: Lowell's James breaks Bob Thomas meet record as state champ's recruiting heats up

LOWELL -- Caution: Trying to race with Karina James can be hazardous.

"She's up there doing her own thing," Wheeler's Emma Hellwege said Saturday after finishing second to Lowell's defending state champion in the Bob Thomas Invitational. "I'm doing my own thing. I definitely can't think about trying to stick with certain people. I have to run my race and figure, whatever happens later on, happens later on. You can't win a race in the first K unless you're Karina."

After her 17 minute, 57.85-second finish broke the meet record previously held by La Porte's Elena Lancioni, James herself conceded her hard early pace can have a negative impact on fellow runners who dare to try to go with her.

"I really appreciate a coaching style like that where they instill a boundary," James said. "Everyone has a different set of goals. I don't want to be the reason someone else fails, I want to be the reason someone else succeeds. I like when my competitors can use me in a way to achieve their own goals because I tend to get out fast. I want them to finish with a smile on their face, knowing they PR'd. I don't want to see my least favorite person in life fail. That's not who I am. I'm not trying to beat Emma, I'm not trying to beat Bailey (Ranta), I'm trying to see them be the best runners they can be."

Lowell's Karina James has begun her recruiting process in earnest, having visited Toledo and Indiana with a scheduled trip to Penn up next.

For James, it all goes back to the Region Proud phrase that evolved in cross country a few years ago.

"The running community's a community unlike any other," she said. "Not a lot of people can do it. This is a relationship I've built with these girls that's going to go a lot farther than this year. I'll see them until I'm 25 years old, competing, so I should probably keep it good."

James was expecting a push from Ranta, who is being recruited by some of the same colleges (Toledo, Indiana), but when the Chesterton senior showed up at the start line in 'trainers,' she knew that wasn't happening.

"We're cool. We text," James said. "I walked up to her before the race, girl, where are your spikes?," James said. "I was like, not on this course you're not running in trainers. It was something to do with the New Prairie meet. I've been getting a little more nervous than usual. I think I'm feeling the (effect) of being state champ. I have a target on my back. It's been very apparent in a couple of races. I feel like everyone knows me now and I have something to prove because I am the state champ, so the state champ should win, right? At least that's how people see it. Not everyone has a perfect day every day, but I'll give it my best though."

After making the post-race rounds, James was off to Bloomington for a recruiting visit. Penn, which she will visit next weekend, is also on the list as she plans to leave a few openings for later in the fall.

"It's not an unfamiliar story for people to find a school they love in October," she said. "I'm hoping to roll through November. I've been a little reluctant in years past. It's my senior year, I'm at a different level than I was last year. I want to do a couple NXRs, possibly a national meet. I was a spot away from Nike Nationals my sophomore year. I hope to do big things at state, but I'm also excited to finally get consistent, high competitive races. That's something that can take me to the next level going into track season."

Lowell grad Jordyn Boyer runs at Toledo, coached by Andrea Grove-McDonough.

"My attraction to Toledo is the coach," James said. "She's unbelievable. She ran in college, professionally for a while. She's a strong woman. She's doing some work there. She has a really good coaching style as far as believing and achieving. I like people who can push me. There are times when I really need that."

Red Devils coach Scott Coil said James has to make sure she can check three boxes in choosing a school.

"You have to make sure it has your major, you've got to like the training style of the coach, and you've got to like your team," he said.

Hellwege crossed second in 19:14.55, followed by Ranta (19:25.54).

"Last weekend, I started in like 40th and ended up fourth. This weekend, I started like tenth and I got second," Hellwege said. "I was with Bailey for a while. I could tell she was doing a workout because she kept looking at her watch. She said, just stick with me. In the woods, I could tell she was laying off. I was a little far from the finish, but I was like, I'm just going to do it right now. I went and I ended really well. I'm super happy."

After experiencing some wobbles toward the end of races and sometimes passing out afterward, Hellwege found out she has low blood pressure, so she's had to adjust her race approach as well as making sure she takes in sufficient sodium beforehand by pounding Gatorade.

"Our first meet, in Terre Haute, I started out super fast, like 5:50," Hellwege said. "My Ks were super fast and at like the two-mile, I just died. I didn't even finish that race. It has to do with my breathing. I can just feel myself, my breath is just wheezing. I'm like, this is not good. I've figured it now and I'm perfectly fine. If my legs feel good, that's a good indicator. This is a lot of mental, too. You've got to be in the right mindset."

Emma Hellwege of Wheeler was the runner-up in Saturday's Bob Thomas Invitational.

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