Gunn sophomore Sarah Robinson most likely had the most unusual training method last week in preparation for the 2011 SCVAL El Camino Division Championships in cross country.
Robinson did a lot of running, but it had nothing to do with cross country. Rather, she was training with the US Soccer U-17 National Team at the National Training Center in Carson.
"It was a really intense camp," said Robinson, 15, who had been a member of the U-15 pool before being invited to join the older group. "The speed of play was a lot faster, but I adjusted. I did well."
In addition to the long hours of training, Robinson played in two matches and numerous scrimmages. The experience was invaluable.
"I learned I can play with the older girls," she said. "I just needed to realize that."
Robinson returned from the camp this past weekend in fine shape, both mentally and physically. Compared to what she experienced in the soccer camp made Tuesday's league finals a relative stroll.
Not only did Robinson keep her perfect season intact by running away with individual honors for the fourth time this season, but she did so with a remarkable effort over the hilly 2.95-mile course at Crystal Springs in Belmont.
Shaving more than a minute off her best time on the course, Robinson became the No. 2 performer in school history with the third-fastest Gunn time ever while racing to victory in 17:32.
Tori Tyler ran 16:51.3 in 2004 and added a 17:31 in the '04 league meet to post Gunn's top two times ever at Crystal Springs. Robinson, meanwhile, now ranks among the top 40 all-time on the course.
"I felt pretty good throughout the race," said Robinson, who clocked the No. 3 time this season on the course and fastest by a Central Coast Section Division I runner. "This gave me a gauge of what pace I can run (at CCS)."
Gunn coach Matt Tompkins was a little surprised with Robinson's race.
"Sarah's like an iceberg," he said, "We have no clue what's below the surface . . . get some competition and who knows what she can do."
Tompkins asked Robinson to make a push on the downhill just past the one-mile mark, to see if she could open some distance on the field — which at that point was only defending champ Allison Sturges of Mountain View. Robinson opened a gap and the race was all but over.
"Sarah's very relaxed, smooth," Tompkins said. "She's run all these races to win."
Remarkably, Robinson nearly ran even splits.
While Tompkins said that Tyler's school record of 16:51.3 looks untouchable now, that time was run her senior year. Robinson is just a sophomore.
"There are very few runners who break 17:00," Tompkins said. "But, if she can run in the low 17s, she can make nationals."
Robinson, however, must divide her time between running and soccer. During a normal week, she'll train with her cross-country team and then head off to soccer practice with her club team.
Tompkins said that Robinson probably runs less than 30 miles a week with Gunn, but add in the running she does in soccer and the mileage goes up along with her fitness.
Thus, Robinson should be favored for the CCS title and will have her teammates there with her when the Titans go after a state berth at the section finals on Nov. 12, also at Crystal Springs.
With Robinson running 1:36 faster than last season's third-place finish at the league meet, the Titans scored 61 points and finished second to Mountain View's 39. Palo Alto finished third with 64 points and also qualified for CCS as a team as all three duplicated their league performances from last season.
Gunn and Paly each placed all their scoring runners among the top 25. Robinson was followed by Kieran Gallagher in ninth (20:04), Christine Prior in 12th (20:32), Eliana Ribbe in 19th (21:02) and Melia Dunbar in 20th (21:10)
Palo Alto was led by freshman Katie Foug in fifth (19:30), junior Chika Kasahara in sixth (19:34), Audrey DeBruine in 16th (20:41), Rachelle Holmgren in 17th (20:53) and Sophia Robinson in 21st (21:14).
With senior Andrew Prior clocking a personal best of 15:50, the Gunn boys' cross-country team finished second with 60 points. Los Altos won with 52. Palo Alto was sixth and missed qualifying for CCS as a team.
Prior, who finished fifth in last year's race in 16:15, led a Gunn team that produced five personal bests among its senior scorers.
Peter Chen finished sixth (16:16) after taking 10th last year, Daniel Krigel raced home 12th (16:36), Michael Underwood was 15th (16:47), and Shaun Yee took 24th in 17:21.
Palo Alto's Nikolai Solgaard finished 13th in 16:39 and qualified for CCS as an individual.
The West Bay Athletic League finals will return to Crystal Springs on Friday with the boys starting at 3 p.m. and the girls at 3:30 p.m.
The Menlo boys and Sacred Heart Prep girls are the defending team champions, while Priory senior Kat Gregory is back to defend her girls' individual crown.