Shortly after receiving congratulatory high-fives from opponents and friends, Wind River’s Mindy Russell needed a moment to wallow. Despite winning the 400-meter run at the Kelly Walsh Invitational back in April by a wide margin, Russell was disappointed.
The standout junior came into that meet sick and sore, possibly a result of one of the rare times she’s let her guard down over the past year. Or even since that transcendent moment of running at the biggest indoor track meet in North America, despite not having run an indoor season.
Russell ran the 400 — her best event — at the 2019 Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho. Her result there — 17th and a considerably slower (1 minute, 5.23 seconds) final time than her mark in the prelims (1:01.79) — came secondary to the lessons she learned from the other runners around her. She’d been a silver-medal threat in Class 2A during her first two seasons but she wanted to make that golden leap. And, with the benefit of hindsight, she needed Simplot to help do that.
“Simplot humbled me out a lot,” Russell said. “I learned I wasn’t the best in the world, by any means. It kind of drove me to be like those girls, because they’re such good people and so much fun to run against.”
Following that result, Russell learned about their training regimen. Her self-motivated workouts, and even those at Wind River, differed greatly from those that she’d done for years. They also told her about their diets and the other elements of training that stretch between workouts. That appealed to Russell, a ranch kid from near Kinnear who has learned the agricultural life from her parents.
“No McDonald’s, none of that,” she said. “I’m pretty strict about my greens and my meats and stuff. ... Everybody at Simplot was really kind and very helpful. So they gave me the kind of insight that I needed to be able to run the times I want.”
That new level of dedication to training made her string of illness before the Kelly Walsh Invitational all the more frustrating. The Cougars’ top runner has had a blistering junior season, at one point holding the all-class lead in both the 100 and the 400. She ran both while sick that day at Kelly Walsh and fell short of her 400 time by nearly 2 seconds and her best 100 time by .7 seconds. Shortly before running that 13.1 in the 100, she discovered her season-best of 12.4 was bumped down to third-best in Wyoming behind Star Valley’s Hannah Christie (12.23) and Pinedale’s Anna Harber (12.38).
Russell knew her 400 time wasn’t going to cut it at the Kelly Walsh Invitational when she hit the 200-meter split. That’s about the time she likes to kick and her extra spurt of energy didn’t provide the same spark. Then she heard the splits of the girls behind her, some running at 29 seconds, and Russell immediately knew she wasn’t going to hit her mark.
She’s had to juggle her disappointment without constant improvement with a certain acknowledgement of how far she’s already pushed herself this year.
“I’ve been doing all right,” Russell summarized. “Today is not my day for sure but it’s fine.”
With the Class 2A West Regional beginning Friday, she’s turned her focus on breaking away from her teammates. While the rest of the Cougars will temper their workouts, lowering intensity, Russell believes she needs to continue revving her focus at practice. After all, that’s the only way for her to break 56 seconds in the 400 in the state meet, like she’s hoping to do.
“Staying healthy helps for sure, too,” she joked. “Being sick like this isn’t helping anything right now. Do that and then keep pushing myself to the max every day.”
Russell plans to run the open 100, 200 and 400, as well as a leg on Wind River’s 4x400 relay team this weekend at regionals. Russell also ranks third in the state in the 200 and the Cougars’ 4x400 relay team has the eighth-best time in the all-class standings. She’ll complete her 100 on Friday in Shoshoni, then have to run the remaining three on Saturday — including her relay leg immediately following the 200.