By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
BROOKLYN — Kirsten Olling couldn’t understand why the fast times she was running all summer weren’t translating to the cross country course in the fall.
The Breckenridge junior, whose personal best of 17:17.54 was set in last year’s Regionals, failed to break 18:06 in her first five races of the year and barely dipped below 18 minutes only three times all season.
A visit to the doctor three weeks before she was set to defend her title in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 meet revealed an iron deficiency, which was quickly corrected with an iron supplement and a diet of hamburgers.
With the problem corrected, Olling won her third straight championship Saturday at Michigan International Speedway with a time of 17:59.6.
“A lot of coaches thought I had (an iron deficiency) at the beginning of the year, but nobody really said anything,” Olling said. “They just figured I was having bad days.”
Frustration began to mount for Olling, who figured she was ready for a huge season after running well all summer.
“I was really upset,” she said. “This summer during road races, I’d be running 17:17, 17:20s consistently. I was like, ‘Oh, yes, this should be like the best cross country season.’ No, I jinxed it. So, I’m never going to say, ‘It’s going to be the best cross country season ever.’ You’re going to jinx it.”
With her health turned around, Olling had to only tackle the mental side of running. Even having two MHSAA championships to her credit didn’t completely calm her nerves entering Saturday’s race as she won by 22.1 seconds over runner-up Holly Bullough of Traverse City St. Francis. Tessa Fornari of Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes was third in 18:38.8.
“I was actually worried I was going to lose it,” said Olling, who was never threatened Saturday. “I was really worried today.”
One of the mental tricks Olling used to push herself was basically to have teammates lie to her during the race.
“I told everybody to tell me someone’s right behind me,” Olling said. “That way when they tell me that, I’ll go faster. I had four different teams tell me that. They made me run faster.”
Homer, which made the top 10 for the first time with a sixth-place finish last season, won the team championship by a 118-142 margin over Bear Lake.
Homer placed three girls in top-30 all-state positions, with sophomore Jessica Reagle taking ninth in 19:26.3, sophomore Bailey Manis 19th in 19:59.6 and junior Amanda Reagle 23rd in 20:04.9. Rounding out the scoring were freshman Kayla Kline (45th, 20:37.3) and senior Johnica March (70th, 21:01.4).
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PHOTO: Breckenridge's Kristen Olling leads the pack again on the way to her third MHSAA championship. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)