Rachel Van Nes spent much of her summer doing a lot of roadwork, a memory pushing her toward her ultimate goal.
"I was looking to make the state championships," said the Modesto high junior. "It was a driving force."
And when Van Nes took sixth place in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships in Folsom a month ago, she'd punched her ticket to state.
Van Nes was the Modesto Metro Conference champion, placed fourth in the sub-section meet and was 69th in the state Division I championships. For her efforts, Van Nes has been named The Bee's 2008 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Going to state was a goal that Van Nes set for herself soon after the high school track season.
"I really wanted to go to the Sacramento Meet of Champions," Van Nes said. "I took 11th."
Not good enough, but the ever-optimistic Van Nes still went to the prestigious meet, hoping somebody dropped out so she'd be able to run. Alas, it didn't happen. Van Nes vowed she'd be running instead of watching the state cross country meet.
That hard work saw Van Nes' personal-best improve by 50 seconds.
"Going to state was great, it's what I worked so hard for," Van Nes said. "But I'll remember the journey to state the most. It was an unbelievable, great time."
Modesto's cross country team has always been one of the largest in the area. This year, the Panthers numbered just over 100.
"It's a great way to meet so many new people," she said. "We were a big family this year. The entire season was so much fun."
That stretched beyond practice and races. The team, friends and family also participated in Modesto's annual milk chug; it's a race where a two-person relay chugs two quarts of milk in between running three laps.
"My dad (Peter) and Mr. Pyeatt beat all of us," she said.
Surprise parties for coaches and trips to San Diego for a race were among the good times as well.
It was a fun season that closed just the way Van Nes wanted: toeing the line at Woodward Park, the site of the state championships.
"It was such a crazy atmosphere," she said. "So many people running and so many people watching and cheering.
"Starting in that huge pack, it was like the stampede in The Lion King."
It was an intense scene, and one that Van Nes will never forget.
Running all the way to the state championships.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 578-2300.