by Amelia Wedemeyer
“Yeah, I’m pretty competitive with her, but I’m pretty far ahead of her, too,” ten-year-old Grace Ping said — like a true older sister — when asked about competing with her younger sister, Lauren, who is eight.
The girls represented Winona and Minnesota this fall at the USA Track & Field (USATF) Junior Olympic National Cross Country Championships on December 14 in San Antonio, Texas. Grace placed fifth out of 308 runners in the 9-10 girls 3K race with a time of 11:22.93, while Lauren placed tenth out of 194 runners in the 7-8 girls 2K race with a time of 8:16.07. Both sisters earned an All-American status for their times.
“I thought I was going to do well because I trained hard and put my heart into it,” Grace said.
Their top finishes this year came after somewhat disappointing races for their first time at the USATF Junior Olympic National Cross Country Championships in December 2012.
“It was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There is high altitude there, so it was pretty difficult and I was in the bottom, but there were a lot of people passing out,” Grace said.
This year, however, with a year’s worth of practice and training under their belts, the girls made significant personal improvements, with Grace finishing only 22 seconds behind first place and Lauren shedding 15 seconds off her USATF Minnesota Championships time.
All in the family
The Pings are a family of runners; parents Ryan and Megan also run and compete. Unlike other elite runners their age, the girls are not attached to a certain club, and train together with their father.
“We’re not in a club. My dad just has running plans for me and my sister,” Grace said. “He’s our coach.”
According to Grace, the girls average about 10-20 miles a week depending on whether or not they are participating in other sports, like soccer or cross-country skiing. They train together both indoors and outdoors.
“Sometimes we will go to the track and sometimes we’ll run on the treadmill, or we’ll go to the indoor track at Saint Mary’s University,” Lauren explained.
The girls' dedication and commitment to cross-country running is evident in their training and race results, as well as in their future goals.
“I would really like to be an Olympic runner,” Grace said, “and get lots of medals and things.”
Lauren, on the other hand, doesn’t have any specific running goals, but that is not to say that she doesn’t think about running or her love of it. Lauren is quick to express her feelings on running, saying, “I just love it a lot — a ton.”
The girls’ next competition will be the USATF Minnesota Indoor Championships on March 9, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.