Worth the wait for Uni's Michael
URBANA — Annemarie Michael wasn’t putting in high mileage or pounding out fast repeats as her freshman season wound down, and that didn’t sit well with her.
The current Urbana Uni High senior didn’t feel right unless she was exhausted, so tapering was difficult, even the week of the state meet.
“I was just really uncomfortable not doing a lot. I was really stressed about that,” Michael said. “I was not very relaxed during that time.”
The result was far from catastrophic. Michael still finished 10th in the race back in 2013 and was named The News-Gazette’s Runner of the Year, although her time of 17 minutes, 50 seconds was 17 seconds slower than her season’s best.
Still, her anxiety explained her psychology at the time.
In her mind, the training at practice during her freshman and sophomore seasons was never quite enough.
After practices, she’d slip her running shoes back on and head out for a few extra miles.
“It was one of those things, she felt uncomfortable not doing work, not being tired,” Uni coach Doug Mynatt said. “For an athlete, that’s a maturity they have to (develop).”
Three years later, Michael has learned that lesson.
At this year’s state meet, she ran a personal best of 17:20.24 to finish fifth in Class 2A, and for the second time, she was named The News-Gazette’s Runner of the Year, the fourth straight year a Uni High runner has earned the honor.
It took an injury and three years of growth to become the runner she is today.
Regaining form — and staying positive
Running barefoot outside at an outdoor festival the spring of her sophomore year, Michael took an odd step and felt a sharp pain.
As she tried to walk on it, the foot began to swell and the pain grew.
The foot was broken, ending her sophomore track season.
What followed was a lesson in moderation.
Near the end of June, she ran for the first time since her injury, and she held herself to a half-mile jog.
By the end of the summer, she was up to a slow 5-mile run.
She swam throughout the offseason, a sport she’s participated in since childhood along with her two older sisters, but running was sparse.
Coming off a season in which she finished fifth in 1A with a time of 17:27, the next season was a struggle for Michael in terms of returning to her previous form, but that didn’t hinder her attitude.
“She was as positive as ever,” Mynatt said. “I think she was feeling things out, making sure she didn’t get injured again. I think she was cautious with it. Her times weren’t as good as the previous year, but she was still being competitive, she was still racing, so it’s not one of those things that was something to worry about.”
She and teammate Arielle Summitt guided the Illineks to a second consecutive runner-up finish in 1A, with Michael finishing seventh in 17:53.
At the state track meet last spring, though, Michael began to show she was back.
Without running the 3,200-meter run beforehand, she ran a time of 5:10 in the1,600 preliminary race, the third-fastest prelim time.
“It was encouraging for me,” Michael said. “I was used to running the 2-mile beforehand. I realized that without running a lot beforehand, I was a lot faster. I knew I was in the same kind of shape I was in before.”
Two days later, she finished sixth in the 3,200 in a time of 11:26.88 before finishing 11th in the 1,600.
A year after her injury, it was clear that Michael was her old self.
“You knew she was on track (come cross-country season) to be back at least close to where she was sophomore year before her injury,” Mynatt said, “and that she could find a little more, which she did.”
Moving on up and excelling
Another season of unknowns began this fall.
With several teammates gone from last year’s 1A finish, the team was a question mark.
To boot, the Illineks were moved up to 2A because of the IHSA’s success factor.
“Before the season, I was kind of clueless because of the whole 2A thing,” Michael said. “I just didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty optimistic because I think I do pretty well when I don’t know what to expect. I wasn’t going to know everybody I was running against. I think that’s good for me because I wouldn’t be psychologically intimidated by them.”
As the season progressed, Michael’s times began to drop.
When it came time for the state meet, her conditioning was as good as ever, but her state experience was plenty different.
The Illineks failed to qualify as a team, so Michael and Summitt ran without their teammates.
When the gun sounded, the horde of runners took off at a faster pace than in 1A, and Michael, who was placed in an individual box on the left side of the starting line, was forced to navigate her way through the thicket of runners.
“She knows her race, and she knows her pace might be a little panicked at first, not knowing who those runners were going to be in front of her,” Mynatt said, “thinking, ‘How are they going to run this last mile, how are they going to finish this last half, what’s this last quarter-mile going to be like?’ But she finds her place.”
Michael ran a relatively steady race, moving from 14th at the mile mark to eighth place at the 2-mile mark, finally finishing with a time of 17:20.24.
“I knew I was moving up, but I wasn’t sure what was going on actually,” she said. “I wasn’t sure actually what place I was in because I couldn’t tell how many people were ahead of me. I kept picking people off.”
Michael hasn’t decided yet what college she’ll attend, but she plans on running wherever she goes.
Wherever she goes, her new coaching staff will find an athlete who understands the value of moderation and is willing to listen to them.
“I didn’t hear from her parents (this season) saying, ‘Hey, Annemarie’s coming home and running more after practice,’ ” Mynatt said. “She’s obviously learned that. She’s matured in that, so I’m sure whoever coaches her next is going to have a well-seasoned and a receptive athlete to their coaching.”