Jenica Dodge was not expecting to be an All-Conference runner during her first season at Idaho State.
The junior took advantage of hilly, wet and muddy course, placing 7th in the Big Sky Conference Championship race in Moscow, Idaho, running a 5K time of 17:56.1. She will compete at the NCAA Regionals this coming Saturday in Logan, Utah.
As other runners slipped and fell around her, Dodge slowly made her way from the back of the pack to the front where she was within a minute of the leader with under a mile to go.
“As I was moving up, I didn’t really know what place I was in,” Dodge said. “There was one point in the last miles where I could look up and see the front two girls battling it out.”
With the hilly course and unfavorable weather conditions, Dodge knew the race would be about place instead of time.
“I knew time was not going to be as important because of the course,” Dodge said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be very fast. At that point, I was going for place.”
Dodge and the other runners previewed the course the day before the race. The course was hilly, with sharp turns and corners. This means that runners would not be able to run their fastest times. Dodge planned for this, and strategized accordingly.
“With cross country, you can’t always go off of personal record because every race is different. It is typically about place, comparing yourself to everybody else around you.”
Dodge stuck to her strategy, starting in the back and slowly moving to the front.
“I don’t want to go out hard and then die and fall back,” Dodge said. “I always want to move up the ladder.”
This was Dodge’s first Big Sky Championship race; the first time she was running against the conference’s top runners and Saturday will be her first regional race. Although Dodge does not plan on placing high enough to advance to nationals, the junior thinks that could be a realistic goal for next season.
“Next year I am looking to make Nationals,” Dodge said. “This year is a practice for next year.”
Dodge’s practice year has exceeded her expectations. Although she expected to be an All-Conference runner at some point in her ISU career, Dodge did not expect it to happen this soon.
“I was expecting it to happen during my career here, but not right off the bat,” Dodge said. “When I first got here, I was not sure what conference was going to be like.”
As the season unfolded, head coach Nate Houle believed she could finish top ten.
Along with her 7th place finish at conference, Dodge also placed second overall at the Idaho State Invitational earlier this fall and finished 97th in the Roy Griak Invitational with a 6K time of 23:23.
The times caught Houle’s attention. He believed Dodge had All-Conference potential right away.
“Once he told me that, it really got me thinking that I could be an All-Conference runner,” Dodge said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be handed to me, I was going to have to work for it.”
Dodge built up mileage during the summer, something she says is crucial to the success of the cross country season. Long and tempo runs helped Dodge build up the endurance she needed to be successful during the season.
“It was the best summer I have ever had,” Dodge said.
The individualized training Houle implements into his workouts was a deciding factor in Dodge’s decision to come to ISU.
Contrary to other Division I schools, Houle teaches to each runner instead of the whole team.
“When I was trying to decide where I wanted to go, one of the deciding factors was the coaching,” Dodge said. “The reason I chose here is because I knew that his training would work best for me and I think that it shows that it has been going very well,” she continued.
“He is very individualized, he knows what you can do and he will work with you on that.”
Dodge is now preparing for regionals, a 6K race that will most likely be her last of the season.
“I know that it is going to be flat and fast,” Dodge said. “I am used to those longer races. I have had coaches tell me time and time again that I am built for those longer races.”