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Back to her old self: Lowell's James returning to state champion form after a tough bout with COVID

Karina James of Lowell won the 1,600 and 3,200 in Saturday's Dick Deardurff Invitational in La Porte. Her 1,600 time of 4:58.55 was a meet record. (Photo Courtesy of @LPCCTF)

La PORTE -- Imagine being a state cross country champion with the endurance to effortlessly run mile after mile.

Now imagine being that same person and not being able to hold up your head.

That's how Karina James felt back in mid-November when the Lowell junior was wiped out by the effects of the coronavirus.

"It was pretty bad," James said at Saturday's Dick Deardurff Invitational. "We were virtually learning. The school was shut down due to the number of cases, of which I was one of last ones. We were meeting on Zoom, and the energy it took for me to do a Zoom call, you're thinking, I was the cross country state champion two weeks ago, and it would knock me out. For me, it was a lot of migraines. I would be out for three hours."

A scan revealed chest congestion and James, who had already taken a planned two-week break after cross country, was idled for the next four weeks.

"It was really convenient in terms of timing," said James. "As hard as it can be for athletes at my level to hold on to a break, I just trusted the process and went with it. I was monitored really well between my parents and my doctor on Zoom. No one else in the house tested positive. The older two had it while they were at school. We moved last March and the house is so spread out, we can all stay in our own area."

Given her superior physical condition, James was able to quickly bounce back and has experienced no lingering effects of the virus, which she may have contracted at the state meet.

"I wasn't on my feet for six weeks," she said. "Once I was, it was pretty smooth sailing."

James promptly got into winter lifting, lighter weights and higher reps, and began training with new distance coach Caleb Chapman, a former Red Devils distance standout who ran at IUPUI.

"I didn't have a training partner," James said. "I didn't like running with someone. That was my time, my getaway. It's been really nice. He actually runs with me. He's training for the Chicago Marathon. He's a great runner, a great guy. He took my training from one level to an entirely new level. It was a long time coming that needed to happen. I needed to go from 8:15 maintenance pace to 7:15. I never had a training partner who easily did that. Because he's my coach, I can see where I'm at on an easy run. Once you can have a conversation with your training partner, you can look down at your watch and 7:15, whatever."

It was with that ease that James won the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Kesling Track Complex, breaking five minutes in the 1,600 for the first time (4:58.55).

"We've done a lot of goals this season," she said. "I go into nearly every meet with a goal that day. I like that as well. It helps me in terms of achieving it. The goal's achieved, what's our next one? I got out (in the 3,200) at a nice time, like a 5:26. I really would say I was more mentally exhausted than physically. I had a negative split. It was all about the mental strength I had. I was really, really happy with it. Ultimately, for what I did, I can't wait to see what I do when I'm in a big, fast pack in the post-season."

Like most track athletes, James is excited to be back after not having a 2020 spring season.

"It was such a refreshing feeling just to step foot on a track and know you were there for track season." she said. "Cross country, we would do strides on the track, but it wasn't the same. It was so uncomfortable. When we get on the track, it's a completely different demand for your body. I had to re-remember what track is. I have a weird component running repeats, intervals. I have to go one way and then they other way. I'm about to run my cooldown in no shoes. It's good to get your feet out of the spikes and feeling the grass."

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