Selena Hutson points to her work during the summer as the reason she found herself in a hotel in rainy Washington this week.
The USC Beaufort junior, in Vancouver, Wash., for today's NAIA Cross Country National Championships, said in past years she did not commit to running during her break from school. That changed this past summer.
"I just went out and ran every day, whereas in the past I kind of got lazy about it," Hutson said by phone. "This year, going into the season, I already had my base training and could start my workouts and stuff. I could drop my times right away."
This season, Hutson lopped a minute and a half from her best time. Earlier this month, she ran a school-record time of 19 minutes, 10 seconds at the Sun Conference Championships to earn an individual bid to the national championships on the other side of the country.
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Hutson, teammate Katie Mock and USCB cross country coach Larry Kimball arrived in Washington on Wednesday. Mock, who competed at the national championships last season, did not qualify this year but made the trip to help Hutson acclimate.
The rain was also a fixture in 2009. Mock told Hutson which areas of the course will be muddier than others, where she should be cautious and where she could be fast.
Hutson said her goal is to run somewhere in the 19s, which she believes can give her a top-100 finish.
"If she can do that, that would be a step forward for our program and a feather in our cap," Kimball said.
The course at Fort Vancouver National Historic site, 5 kilometers for the women, makes 2 1/2 loops of a 2-kilometer course. A lone hill comes into play with about 400 meters to go, Kimball said. With the flat terrain of the Lowcountry, Kimball said Hutson prepared by running a small mound near the USCB campus and running the inclined Cross Island Parkway.
Hutson, 20, is the only USCB runner in the field. Runners from Sun Conference champion Embry-Riddle will compete, and Hutson said she will try to run with SCAD Savannah's runners, whom she knows from previous races.
With the number of competitors and the top of the field consistently coming in under 18 minutes, Hutson's aim is realistic.
"The competition is going to be really high, because there are a lot of really good teams," she said. "Honestly, I'm focused on trying to get my own time down right now."
2010 NAIA NATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
What: 32 men's teams, 32 women's teams and male and female individual qualifiers compete for a national title.
Where: Fort Vancouver National Historical Site, Vancouver, Wash.
When: Today; Women's 5K 10:30 a.m. (Pacific Time), Men's 8K 11:45 a.m.
Info: Hosted by the Cascade Collegiate Conference and Concordia University-Portland. More information at www.cascadeconference.org.