Sometimes big engines come in small packages. Just ask Nation Ford freshman Katie Pou.
At age 14, Pou has the stature of a Mini-Cooper, but with a Corvette engine inside. She has won every race she has competed in this season taking home several titles, including the Wendy’s Invitational, the York County Meet and the Region IV title just to name a few. She has done all this very handily, winning by minutes — not seconds — ahead of the competition.
Heading into the 5A state cross-country meet this Saturday at the Sandhills Research Center in Columbia, Pou is on the verge of becoming just the second cross-country state champion at the school and the first female to do it. However, it won’t be without competition as Riverside’s Jessica Crowley is the only one in 5A that has put up a time close to what Pou has at 18:05 in the 5,000-meters.
One issue that might give Pou an edge at the state championship meet is her mental maturity. Despite being just 14, Pou seems cognitively ahead of the field.
“For her to be as mature as she is as a freshman obviously helps,” said Falcons’ head cross-county coach Jake Brenner.
“Obviously, there is talent there. I have never seen anyone like her, freshman or otherwise. You can almost set your watch to her when she has a target time. She is consistent and she is driven. That mental maturity pushes her through workouts. Her mental toughness is something I have never seen before.”
Running competitively for only the past two seasons, Pou has elevated her training and game to pull away from the competition in more ways than one. Pou started running competitively as a seventh-grader after dabbling in other sports.
“I played soccer most of the time in elementary school and I tried tennis and golf and other sports, but one day my dad convinced me to go running with him and after that we started to go running together more often,” she said. “I really enjoy the sport and I have stuck with it the past couple of years.”
Pou said she enjoys competitive running and not just the aspect of beating others, but the behind the scenes stuff that people don’t see or find as glorious as racing the clock and other runners.
“It is a sport that pushes me and motivates me to really do better,” she said. “It is a sport I enjoy and am passionate about. I really enjoy all aspects of running. I enjoy the practice, putting in the hard work, the time and effort and doing the little things so you can improve over time.”
Pou has had some injuries such as shin splints and hip pain she has had to work through.
“It was tough for me mentally, but I learned to push through it and that has helped to keep me motivated in running and get better over time,” she said. “I focused a lot on taking care of the little things such as stretching and icing and taking care of myself.”
In a typical week, Pou usually pounds out 25 to 30 miles in training, sometimes more, she said. The little things have helped Pou win this year, she said.
“This year I started a little earlier in training,” she said. “I have done more mileage. I have been more consistent on my workouts and my training.”
Pou also runs track and had more speed related training going into the season, which she felt helped her to prepare for the cross-country season.
That work has paid off in victories in which she finished as much as three or four minutes ahead of the second place runner.
“I am going to see what I can do,” she said about the state meet. “I am going to push myself. My goal is to be in the top spot at the state.”
Brenner feels that Pou has a shot to win the state title.
“She hasn’t been pushed yet this year,” he said.
“That is what we are looking to do. She is a competitor and I think he she is itching to be pushed. I am excited to see what she can do when she is pushed. I think she has it in the back of her mind that if this kid is going to push me, than I need to push myself even harder.”
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MacBanksFM