Meghan Ford has seen a huge array of running contests in her six years of competitive running, but Saturday will mark a first-time experience for the Jamestown High School senior.
Ford was invited to compete in the national elite high school mile at the Trials of Miles Kansas City Qualifier Elite High School Invitational in Leavenworth, Kansas. The race is slated for 7 p.m. on Saturday, and if Ford's goals hold true it will be over in less than five minutes.
"It's a very different event than anything I've ever been to," Ford said. "I'm more excited than anything. I am very excited to have some girls to compete with and see how much I can push myself."
The Kansas City Qualifier is designed to help national and world-class athletes achieve both Olympic qualifying standards and Olympic Trials qualifying standards. The contest includes several pro events with four high school events -- the 1,600-meter run, 2,000-meter steeplechase, 100-meter/110-meter high hurdles, and the elite mile race mixed in for good measure.
2021 marks the first year that the national elite high school mile race has been held.
"That's going to be a challenge for sure," JHS head cross country and co-track and field coach Ken Gardner said of Ford heading down to Kansas. "She's got a little bit of experience going to postseason meets, but it's not like she's got a lot of experience in a meet where she's elbow to elbow with a lot of runners and for three laps that's probably what it's going to be."
Ford has pretty well dominated the North Dakota running world for the past three years, dishing out three consecutive North Dakota Class A Cross Country state titles, and has defeated all of her competition by a stretch of at least 20-seconds. The senior recently earned her third-straight Gatorade Player of the Year in North Dakota Girls Cross Country.
Her dominant performances were recognized by the elite mile race recruiters.
"They are driving from all over the nation to try and get some of the fastest mile runners down for this race," Gardner said. "(JHS co-head track and field coach) Mike Dietz got an email from the meet director down there. We thought it was interesting and started following up on it (and) we got approval."
Once Ford got the go-ahead she started talking to Gardner and her future college coach Robert Gary, of Furman University, about goals for her race.
Ford said she believes she can win the contest if she's able to set herself up in a good position over the final lap of the race. The Blue Jay is shooting for a time under 4 minutes, 50 seconds. Ford has not run under a five-minute mile so far this track season but has consistently worked on increasing her speed.
"I did a workout last weekend with some sprints at the end to get used to having to pick up my speed a little bit when my legs are tired because I'm sure I will need to have another gear left at the end of this race," Ford said. "I will be taking it a little easier the two days before just so my legs feel fresh since it's a big, important race."
As her body rests, her mind will be working.
"I think I will have to think about race strategy a lot more this weekend," Ford said. "I don't want to start out too fast and have to lead the race right away, but I don't want to get boxed in early on in the race.
"I also don't want to get stuck in lane 2, either, because that's extra distance every time you go around a turn. There are a lot more things to think about when you aren't running by yourself. I'm excited to work on some of that this weekend though because I will experience it a lot more when I get to college this fall."
Gardner said he is excited to watch the senior standout compete against the best. The co-head coach will not be attending the meet, as he will be coaching the rest of the Blue Jay track and field team at the Howard Wood Invitational in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
"I might have to find a YouTube connection and try to watch her," Gardner said. "She's going to put everything she has on the line. As a coach, it's just been great working with one of the elite distance runners in the Midwest if not in the country. It's been a privilege to work with her."
Ford added: "The mile is actually probably my favorite event, so every time I run it, I'm just excited. I love the combination of both speed and endurance that it has and it's easy to have something different to focus on each lap.
"It is funny to travel all the way to Kansas to run just a five-minute race but I have so much fun on these trips and it's one of my last big high school races, so I'm just going to have fun and race the best I can."