Krystal Hughes remembers times.
“Not just my own times,” the West Valley senior distance specialist said. “My teammates are always asking me what they ran. I even remember the times of people I ran with in California over the summer.”
It helps that Hughes, heading into the final weeks of her high school career, has put up some memorable times as an Eagle – leading them to a third-place finish at the state Class 2A cross-country championships as a junior.
“The one word I would use to describe Krystal is consistent,” said Gene Blankenship, assistant distance and cross-country coach. “She runs consistent times and she rarely misses a day. Beyond that, she’s a student of the sport. She understands running in a way a lot of athletes don’t.”
If she does, Hughes said, she owes that knowledge to Blankenship and long-time West Valley cross-country coach Jim McLachlan.
“I may have run a lap around the track here and there in middle school” she said. “But I didn’t do any distance running until I got here and started working with Gene and Otis (McLachlan). Those two guys got me to love running and they got me to a place where I wanted to get better and better.”
With the district meet looming next weekend and the state track meet the week after, Hughes is looking forward to one more big, memorable time to cap her career – the kind of mark that puts an exclamation point on a fine career.
A year ago she ran the 3,200-meter final in 11 minutes, 43.67 seconds, placing 12th at Tacoma’s Mount Tahoma Stadium. Thus far this season she’s struggling to beat 11:45.
“There’s something about that number that I have a hard time breaking through,” she explained. “I ran 11:45 at the Pasco Invite and that’s been my best time so far – and I still finished 10th.”
Coincidentally, that time also is the 10th fastest by a Class 2A girl in the event this season.
Hughes compares that time to the 12-minute mark that she struggled with as a sophomore.
“I had been running right at that time for quite a while,” she said. “When I finally broke through it, I pretty much ran a personal record every time out. After struggling for so long to break through it, I ended up lowering my PR to 11:46 in the course of one season.”
Hughes has the top 3,200-meter time in the Great Northern League this season, even though she’s been hobbled by shin splints much of the year.
“I think I’m finally over them,” she said. “I’m getting close to being 100 percent. I want to be at 100 percent for the district meet and for state.”
With just the GNL sending teams to the state-qualifying district meet, Hughes knows what her competition will be for a state berth.
“The Duenich sisters from Deer Park – Chantal and Jessica – are always in there,” she said. “Sometimes they like to really push the pace and sometimes they like to sit back and wait. Either way, I have to make sure to get ahead of them and run my own race.
“Some runners like to kick at the end of a race. I can’t do that – I don’t have much of a kick. I just have to run a complete race.”
Blankenship thinks there is a big time yet to come from Hughes.
“I’ve been expecting her to really break out and put up a big number, but it hasn’t been there yet,” he said. “I think the shin splints might have had something to do with that. It’s still there – it’s just a matter of time.”
“The state field is going to be tough,” she said. “Shannon Porter (Hockinson) has the best time in the state and she’s more than a full minute faster than me – I ran against her when she ran a 10:44 and I kept thinking ‘Wow, she’s going to lap me – I can’t let her do that.’ There are a bunch of girls who can run in the low 11-minute range, too.
“I look at a Shannon Porter and she’s built a lot like I am. She doesn’t have longer legs than I do – in fact we’re built pretty much the same. Maybe she just has that much more talent than I have, but I don’t think so.”
The biggest difference, in the end, may be that the race just isn’t long enough for Hughes.
“That’s the funny thing – my times get faster the longer the race goes,” she laughed. “I wish high school track had a 5,000-meter event. When I get to college, that’s where I figure I’ll be – running the 5K and the 10K.”
Where she will be running next year is settled. Hughes will run for the Wolves of Northern State University in Aberdeen, S. D. – an NCAA Division II school with an added attraction.
“Her boyfriend, (former Eagle standout) Richard Keroack, runs there,” Blankenship explained. “I’ve been looking at the times there and I think Krystal could very well walk in there and be their top runner right off the top.”
“Well, maybe not at first,” Hughes said. “But Richard and I both are very competitive with each other. That’s why he never likes to go on training runs with me – I’m too slow for him.
“But I am looking forward to running there. I’m excited.”
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