A typical day for Becky Hobby begins long before the moon has handed off the day to the sun.
She gets up with the chickens so she can tend to the goats she shows and raises on her family's ranch in Hughson.
"It's kidding season, so we have to get up a little earlier these days," says Hobby, explaining that this is the time of year goats have their babies.
Life on the ranch has taught Hobby hard work and instilled in her a get-it-done attitude, which comes in handy when the diminutive teen hauls feedbags that often weigh half as much as she does.
All that work makes running seem easy by comparison. And the way Hobby, a Hughson High sophomore, has been dealing with competition makes it look even easier.
A member of The Bee's all-District Girls Cross Country team as a freshman in 2008, not only has avoided any "sophomore slump," she has avoided losing.
Hobby is 5-for-5 this season entering today's Trans-Valley League meet at Legion Park.
"This year has definitely been a really good year for me, and I'm really happy with my times and my improvement," said Hobby. "The work I did over the summer is really paying off."
Her most recent victory came Oct. 16 at the Bella Vista Bronco Invitational at Folsom, which featured 48 small-school teams and some of the best runners in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Though it was hot and humid, Hobby completed the difficult (and aptly named) 5-kilometer Willow Hills course in 19 minutes, 35 seconds — five seconds better than Placer's Shannon Harcus, one of the top Division III runners in the Section.
"I think Folsom was my best race this season," said Hobby. "Shannon Harcus is an amazing runner. There was a lot of competition there. Vista Del Lago had its runners there as well. It was a good experience because it really pushed me to give that extra effort."
Hobby says there's no secret to her success.
"I just give it my all and really try to push myself," says Hobby. "I basically just try my best and keep plugging along."
"Plugging along" is a bit of an understatement.
"Becky has one of the strongest desires to win that I have ever encountered," said Hughson coach Joel Bernard.
That's why he sometimes feels compelled to tell her to take it down a notch.
"There have been a number of times that I and/or my assistant coach, Pat Kennedy, have had to take her aside and explain why the workout for a given day might not seem that hard to her and why we still need to run at a prescribed pace," Bernard explained.
Hobby is learning that her coaches have a plan: "Sometimes I want to push myself too hard and I have to pull it back a little bit."
During a recent workout, Hobby bristled at being told to pace herself.
"During the whole workout, she was extremely frustrated. She felt that the end of the season was quickly coming up and that we hadn't been training hard enough for her to reach her goals," said Bernard. "As a coach, I love that type of attitude, but it can be very destructive."
Hobby was a newcomer to distance racing as a freshman and relied on natural ability.
"Last year was my first year, so my second mile of the race was always slower. This year, I was really focusing on evening out," explained Hobby. "I think I found the right pace and solved that problem. Experience does help a lot."
Bernard said he and Kennedy have been trying to expand Hobby's running repertoire.
"In track, as a freshman she won a lot of races with a strong finishing kick. I think that sometimes her strong kick is a crutch more than an asset. There have been races where she could have run away from the field at any point, but she chose to wait until late in the race to turn up the pace," explained Bernard. "I have told her ... she will eventually get into a race that she cannot rely solely on her finish."
That was the case last year in the Section Masters track meet, where Hobby finished fourth, missing a berth in the state meet by one spot. It was the last race she lost.
"She let the field get too far away from her in the 1,600, but came storming back over the last 150 meters to pass a number of girls and place fourth. Unfortunately, only the top three runners advanced." said Bernard. "This year, we have been trying to work on her running strong through the middle of the race.
"She needs experience being the chased, rather than the chaser."
Last year at the state meet, Hobby came out of nowhere to place 21st in the D-IV race in 19:12, which matched Modesto High standout Rachel Van Nes. She was the third-fastest freshman in her division.
"Last year, my goal was to be in the top 20, and I took 21st, so I'm hoping to make the top 15."
Another goal is breaking the 19-minute mark.
"So far, I've run a 19:20 and a 19:35. I'm getting there. I'm trying to finish strong because we're getting to the postseason, and now is when it really matters."