Rain is coming down in sheets, making the streets and sidewalks around Burbank High wet and slippery.
Most normal people have sought refuge in their homes, or shelter themselves under the protection of an umbrella, in an attempt to keep dry.
But for Burbank track and field and cross-country standout McKenzie Paul — and a group of Bulldogs runners — the rain only serves as a minor distraction. Paul has training to get in, and a little precipitation isn’t going to stop her from completing her six-mile run.
“I’m trying to come back after being sick for a few weeks, so I have to get my training in,” said Paul, a senior. “It’s just a little rain, it’s not really that bad.”
Through rain, cold weather and sweltering temperatures well over the 100-degree mark, Paul pushed through it all in order to stay competitive during the 2010 girls’ cross-country season.
“McKenzie is definitely one who aims to please,” said Burbank Coach Trevor Marca. “She wants you to be proud of her, and that’s very important to her. That really makes her very competitive.”
There will be no winter break for Paul, who just completed a successful cross-country season. Marca said his runner will train six days a week, running six to eight miles a day, to get her ready for the 2011 track and field season, which is still nearly three months away.
Paul also braved a season that included a fine group of runners in the Pacific League, a talented field in the CIF Southern Section Division I finals and stiff competition in the Mount San Antonio Invitational Individual Sweepstakes race.
Through it all, Paul ran to impressive times, helped lead the Bulldogs girls’ team to CIF competition and came just five seconds away from qualifying for the CIF-State Cross-Country Championships.
It is because of those accomplishments that Paul has been named the 2010 All-Area Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year by the sports writers and editors of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
Before this season, it’s safe to say Paul didn’t exactly have an affection for distance running. A two-time Pacific League champion in the 800 meters, Paul saw cross-country as a necessary evil in order to help her get in shape for the track and field campaign.
“During my freshman year I told the coaches almost every day that I wanted to drop cross-country,” she said. “I would give them my drop card and they wouldn’t drop me. I liked running, but I didn’t like running the long distances.”
But after some self-realization, Paul came to the conclusion that she needed cross-country to be successful.
“I just sat down one day and I thought about it and I really realized that if it wasn’t for cross-country, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she said. “That’s when I decided to really concentrate on getting better in cross-country.”
Marca said he saw a distinct difference in Paul.
“Her focus has certainly increased, her mileage has increased and her goals have increased,” Marca said. “She almost had to will herself to success.”
That new-found dedication was evident early in the season when, in her first race of the year Sept. 9, Paul finished first in the 20th Burbank All-City Cross-Country Meet, clocking a time of 19 minutes 29 seconds on the Griffith Park course.
Paul followed that with a fine effort later that month in the prestigious Woodbridge Invitational. Paul ran the fastest three-mile time in Burbank girls’ history, finishing in 17:46 to finish second in the gold race.
Her success continued in October in the Mt. SAC Invitational. Paul placed 11th in 18:44 in the Individual Sweepstakes, helping the Bulldogs finish 10th out of the Division I schools on the three-mile course. The team time of 1:38:05 was the fastest ever run by a Burbank girls’ team, breaking the previous effort by almost three minutes.
Paul went on to a fourth-place finish (19:19.94) in the league finals, propelling the Bulldogs to a third-place finish.
“Our league is always tough; you can count on that,” Paul said.
At the CIF preliminaries, Paul finished sixth in her heat with a time of 18:12, qualifying her for the finals, and moving her a step closer to earning a spot in the State Meet. Running in wet, rainy conditions in the Division I finals race, Paul came in 11th in 18:44. Her time was just five seconds shy of earning her a spot in state.
“That was tough; missing going to state by five seconds,” Paul said. “At first I really got down on myself. But then I thought about it, and I had never made it that far. I was able to improve a lot and I can’t get down on myself for that.
“I did give it my all, and I ended up having a great year all around.”
Said Marca: “Normally, 11th place is enough for you to advance. But not in that race.”
With her high school cross-country career behind her, Paul will now focus on her final track and field campaign. Marca said Paul will have a chance to break at least four school records in track.
“I really feel that all the pressure is off McKenzie now that the cross-country season is over,” Marca said. “She knows that she is going to compete in college and she doesn’t have to run for a scholarship.
“To me it’s not a mater of will she run fast, but how fast will she run? It’s not a matter of if she’ll break school records, but how many school records will she break? We are looking forward to a very good track season.”
With a focus on the 800, Paul said she will continue her tough training regimen in order to be in tip-top shape come spring.
“Track is what I look forward to,” said Paul, who has received several offers from colleges, including Sacramento State and San Diego State. “I’ll be ready.”