Blazing past the competition, junior Marci Klimek has been an impressive pace-setter for women’s cross country in the Northwest Conference this season.
She is building on last year’s breakout performance in which she finished 68 out of 280 runners at the NCAA Division-III championships. Klimek’s performance was a feat that matched former ‘Cats runner Carrie Mahoric, who finished in the same position in 1998, as the best for cross country since Linfield became a D-III school.
Klimek’s first four meets, all first-place finishes, have been by no means overlooked. They have helped build her coach and teammates’ confidence that Klimek can carry the team and perhaps finish within the top 25 at this year’s national championship race in late November.
Most recently, Klimek earned the top spot at the Linfield Cross Country Open, with a blistering time of 22 minutes, 32 seconds on the 6k course. She was a full 20 seconds ahead of her closest competition, Linfield junior Frances Corcorran.
“Her season has been off to just a roaring start,” head coach Garry Killgore said. “A lot of that should be a credit to her attitude and work ethic right now. She’s doing the right things for herself in terms of keeping healthy.”
Injury aside, only a few competitors pose a challenge to Klimek’s undefeated conference season as she looks forward to the next three meets, Killgore said.
Sophomore Amy Pomante of Whitworth University, senior Kelsey Owens of Pacific University and seniors Maddie Coffman and Jena Winger of Willamette University are the strongest runners among the NWC competition and will be Klimek’s final test Nov. 1 before regionals.
Killgore said his focus in coaching Klimek this season is partly getting her to learn when she has to slow down as well as teaching her some alternative training methods.
Working out and recovering in the pool, training with a medicine ball and using plyometric exercises will supplement Klimek’s already demanding training schedule, but Killgore hopes these alternative methods will keep her injury-free this fall.
“What makes her special is that she knows it hurts to race fast, and that’s a really difficult thing for a racer to come around to,” Killgore said.
He said his biggest role as coach has been holding Klimek back from applying a workout so rigorous that it would weaken her throughout the season.
A bond of trust has been forged between Klimek and Killgore. They now focus on training smarter, not necessarily harder. Appropriate recovery methods will be the key to Klimek’s continued success, Killgore said.
On Oct. 4, the team heads to the Willamette Open in Salem, and Klimek has the opportunity for a fifth-straight finish at the head of the pack.
From there, it’s just the Pioneer Open on Oct. 18 that separates her from a NWC title.
Last year, Klimek finished 11th at the conference meet. She was the best among her team’s finish, and she was awarded with All-Conference honors.
Klimek continued her march toward prominence, placing 10th at regionals. Her time of 22:25 qualified her for the NCAAs, a race she hopes to be at once more this season.
Freshman Shanna Peaden said Klimek’s presence and leadership have helped motivate her to improve and race faster this season.
“As a captain, Marci leads completely by example,” she said. “You watch her and you’re like, ‘One day I want to be like her.’ “
Klimek has taken the effort and the time to make sure all of Linfield’s eight freshman runners are feeling at home, not just with athletics but with adjusting to the college.
“She just goes out there and puts her heart into everything,” Peaden said. “It’s amazing, but she always is on the same level as us. I never feel like she puts herself above us.”
Killgore said Klimek’s quiet demeanor does not mean she is not a leader for the team.
He said she has been able to push the team and add to the high expectations the program has set for itself.
Klimek’s steady dominance this season lends itself as a beacon for Killgore’s training program and gives Linfield’s up-and-coming runners, Peaden and freshmen Brooke Keudell and Nelly Evans, a mark to shoot for. As a junior, Klimek still has much room to grow within the cross country program.
“It’s really fun to train with someone of that caliber,” Peaden said of Klimek. “She’s a good friend, a good runner and I think that we’re very lucky to have her as a captain.”