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When most, if not all, other local prep track and field athletes have hung up their spikes for the season, two of the Empire’s best headed north to Seattle last weekend to compete in a final hurrah of the season.

For the third time in as many years, Sonoma Academy’s Rylee Bowen and Santa Rosa High’s Kirsten Carter, both wrapping up their junior seasons, were invited to compete at the expenses-paid Brooks Invitational track meet in Seattle where a select number of high schoolers are invited to run among the nation’s best.

This is the same meet that garnered national attention last week for compiling one of the most stacked boys’ miles lineups ever with the hope that not one, but perhaps multiple, prep stars could run a sub-four minute mile in the same race. (No one did).

“This is the elite of the elite,” said Sonoma Academy track and cross country coach Danny Aldridge. “It’s exposure; it’s a reward for a great season.”

But Brooks has been a tough nut to crack for both Bowen and Carter — two athletes whose names are all over local record books.

Bowen, a two-time Division 5 state cross country champ who finished fourth in the 1,600-meter at the CIF state track and field meet in Clovis two weeks ago, finished last in the mile at Brooks. She finished in 5:04 after the tight pack pulled apart halfway through the race. The winner, Anna Gibson of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, finished in 4:43. For context, Bowen’s best time in the 1,600 is 4:43.92.

For a runner of Bowen’s caliber, just lining up with peers makes the trip worth it, according to Aldridge.

“There were five girls in that (race) that had gone under 4:45” this season, he said. “It’s almost like an all-star meet.”

It might not have been the finale she was looking for, but Bowen didn’t really need any more sparkles for her stellar spring season.

She won the girls mile at the Mt. Sac Relays in April. The runner who came in second? Gibson of Jackson Hole who took the Brooks title.

She also posted the fastest 1,500 in California this year and fourth best in the nation at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational in April, finishing in 4:35. And in March she became the first girl to repeat as Texas State champ in the 2,000-meter steeplechase. Her best time in that event, 6:41.26 is a California state record.

So yes, Seattle didn’t go as well as it could have, but Aldridge doesn’t seem to be sweating.

“You always want to test yourself against the best if you are at a very high level,” he said. “Win or lose, you want to put yourself in those positions. I think the more often you can do it, the better off you are for it, regardless of the outcome.”

Plus, cross country season is just around the corner.

“Now she’s all fired up for the next season,” he said.

It wasn’t the weekend that Carter was looking for either. To be fair, it wasn’t exactly the event she was looking for.

The fact that Carter was invited by the folks at Brooks to run the 400 meters, an event she has not competed in since her sophomore year, indicates the level of her athleticism.

Readers may recall that Carter focused on the shorter sprints this season and rewrote the Redwood Empire books in the process. She ran the fastest 100 meters ever by a girl in Redwood Empire history, clocking a 11.78 in the prelims of the state meet. She finished sixth in the final.

She also owns the fastest 200-meter time in Empire history with a 24.35. And the 400 meters? She owns the Empire record in that, too, at 54.24.

But that longer race was a bit much for an athlete who hasn’t competed in that distance all season.

In just a handful of workouts getting ready for the meet, she had clocked times at 56 seconds — without competition and without starting blocks. That gave her dad, Darin Carter, who is also the sprint coach at Santa Rosa High, reason to believe that she could pull something off up north.

Carter thought so, too.

“When I was practicing it was a lot easier, I just went out and ran it,” she said. “This was the top eight in the United States and having it be a really big thing probably made it more stressful than it had to be.”

Carter finished last, crossing the line in 58.61. A disappointing finish, yes, but a worthwhile trip to be sure.

“I enjoy it when I know I’ve been practicing for the event and I know I’m ready,” she said. “The competition level is more an excitement thing.”

She just hadn’t put the time into the 400 meters this season to get to that point.

She can take solace though, her personal best in the 100 would have earned her a fourth place finish at Brooks. And her best 400 time would have been good enough for sixth.

It’s all about learning and collecting experiences.

Carter called it “insight” from other athletes.

Aldridge said enduring bad races can be as fruitful for the learning process as having good ones.

“Their highs and lows are not very long,” he said of the strongest runners. “You celebrate a race but you then you are done with it. If you have a bad race you internalize it a little bit and then you move on. It’s better than moping.”

Plus, the next season is just around the corner.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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