High School Sports

Palmetto runner tries new ways to improve

PALMETTO — It takes Jessica McKinnis only a few minutes to reach the house of her friend, Karys Whitehead, which means McKinnis can sleep in on those days when the two meet at 5:30 a.m. to lift weights.

“I usually get up at about 5:20,” McKinnis said. “Plenty of time.”

McKinnis, who is about to enter her senior year at Palmetto High, and Whitehead, a 2007 Palmetto grad who runs track and cross country at Florida Southern in Lakeland, are lifting together twice a week this summer. McKinnis then hits the road to add to her total miles — 30 miles a week in June; 50 miles a week in July.

She also does yoga three times a week. She joined a spin class this summer.

“To give my legs a break,” she explained.

McKinnis is doing something every day but Sunday this summer to make her a better runner.

She wasn’t bad last year when she reached the state meet in cross country and track, and went through the regular season undefeated in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

Thirty miles a week in June. Fifty miles a week in July. This month, McKinnis plans to dial it back to 35-40 miles a week.

“Not too bad,” McKinnis said. “It sounds crazy, but it’s not too bad.”

McKinnis wants to follow her breakout junior year with an even better senior season and land a college scholarship. She has been approached by several Division II schools. But McKinnis has been told she needs to run three miles in under 19 minutes. Her best time last season was 19:38.

“I’m a lot stronger,” she said. “I have more endurance. I can go out and run 10 miles, no problem, which I never could do.”

McKinnis averaged 25 miles a week last summer, but feels she pushed herself too hard. She didn’t start to run in earnest until July, then found herself caught in a state of no matter how much she ran, she wanted to run more.

“I don’t think I relaxed in July,” she said. “I don’t think I ever sat down.”

And now she’s running more?

“Running smarter,” McKinnis said.

She has a plan this summer. The June mileage was to prepare herself for her July training, and the tapering this month will leave her fresh for the season.

“I got a lot of experience last summer doing the wrong thing,” she said. “Hopefully, I learned from that.”

Still, running the wrong way last year helped McKinnis shave two minutes off her cross country time. She opened the season by winning her age group at the Canes Cross Country Classic at G.T. Bray in 20:25.

“A huge shocker for me,” she said.

McKinnis reached the state cross country meet, where she placed 33rd.

In track, she was one of the top 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs in the area, reaching the state meet in both events.

Her success last season has only made McKinnis hungrier for her senior year, hence all the running, weightlifting, yoga and spinning this summer. She wants to run in college and has her sights set on Appalachian State University, located in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Boone, N.C.

McKinnis knows there is still work to be done during the upcoming season. Lowering her personal record by at least 39 seconds won’t be easy.

“I don’t know how much this summer is going to help,” McKinnis said. “It looks like it will, but a lot is left into God’s hand.”