Benefield: Gabby Peterson makes her mark with state track performances
Healdsburg High senior Gabby Peterson made no bones about the fact that she was a little disappointed in her sixth-place finish in her best event, the 1,600 meters, at the CIF state track and field championship finals Saturday.
So what did she do about it?
She ripped 2 seconds off her personal best in the 3,200 meters to finish in 10:23.85 and fifth place three hours later, pulling off a double podium appearance at one of the toughest prep track meets in the nation.
It points to the depth of Gabby Peterson’s gifts that her sixth-place finish in the 1,600 meters early in the day was mildly disappointing. And it speaks to the depth of her strength that she was even attempting a grueling double amid the stiffest competition in the nation.
“I was thinking positive thoughts,” she said of the three hours between the 1,600 meters and toeing the line in the 3,200 meters. “This was my last race of high school. I want to give all the energy I have left into it.”
It’s the last time she’ll race in a Healdsburg uniform.
“That’s definitely a piece of it,” she said. “I don’t want to have any regrets looking back on my high school career and I really wanted to go out on a positive note on to college.”
Peterson seems perennially upbeat. Why shouldn’t she be? She had a stellar senior year ,including inking her name in the all-time Redwood Empire record books and spending all season in the upper echelon of California’s rankings in both the 1,600 and 3,200. She won the Divivision 5 CIF cross country title last fall. And oh, she has signed on to run at Oregon State University next year.
But on Saturday, she wanted a little bit more. It wasn’t greedy, it was honest. It was, “I’m going for a personal best in the 1,600 meters and I want to see how that stacks up against a field of national-caliber runners.”
“I was really going after a PR, so I was little bit sad not to get it,” she said after her first race. That’s it, no sulking, no stomping around - just an admission that it didn’t go as planned and she would regroup for the 3,200 meters a mere three hours later.
Only three athletes who made the 1,600-meter finals on Saturday attempted to double. Peterson was one of them.
But it was conventional thinking that the 1,600 meters was Peterson’s best shot to win Saturday. The longer race, the second-to-last event which went off at 9:40 p.m., was considered icing on the cake.
In windy conditions for the 1,600 meters, Peterson saw her friendly rival Sierra Atkins, a senior at Analy High, take the first lap out at her usual blistering pace. But Peterson didn’t sit back long - she moved to second and about 700 meters in, she took over the lead and ran alone.
“It’s windy out there; it’s not easy to lead that but she made the effort. She put herself in position to do what it was that we had hoped that would bring her the most success,” Healdsburg coach Kate Guthrie said. “I’m super proud of her because she committed to the race.”
“She wanted to make the race honest - let’s run it, let’s run it hard,” Guthrie said.
And that meant a long, exhausting pull at the front and in the wind.
“We didn’t get the results at the end of the race,” Guthrie said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of the way that she put it all out there today.”
And Peterson did put it all out there - until the wolves came knocking.
“Probably with about 500 left I heard them coming up on me and I was like, ‘Oh, no,’” she said. “It’s definitely the flight part of fight or flight that kicks in, but it’s a great feeling - it’s why I like running.”
But that feeling of someone passing her, anyone passing her, has got to be exceedingly rare. Especially this season. Peterson has taken it to another level all season long.
She has the fourth-fastest 1,600 time in Redwood Empire history and the fifth-fastest 3,200. Speed? She has the 11th-fastest time in the 800 meters.
But it was that speed piece that she worried about Saturday night. She is ranked 13th in the nation in the 1,600. But three other athletes on that list, at the fourth, sixth and 12th places, were in the race. And they all can turn it on in the end. Peterson wanted to push the pace so that it didn’t become a 400-meter sprint.
“I think it went well. I wanted to push the pace in the beginning because I know that the girls in the race have crazy kicks, so I knew that if I wanted to do well I needed to push it early,” she said. “I think I was definitely in the front with the wind a bit, but I think that was the best way for me to get out of the pack.”
After the 1,600, I asked Peterson what she had inked on her left forearm. She usually does that for a race - writes positive affirmations on her arm. In a nutshell, the theme was forward motion, take every opportunity and be confident.
So when she lined up for the 3,200 meters and found herself in fifth place through much of the very quick pace, she kept moving forward and she gained confidence.
“After the first mile in the two-mile, I was like, ‘I think I can keep going,’” she said. “I think this is going to be good. So I stuck on, I used all the energy I had left. I’m really happy.”
Peterson always smiles after races. Even on the rare occasion that it doesn’t go well. But the smile after the 3,200, in her last race as a ’Hound, the smile was different. There was a trace of surprise, there was a ton of joy and a good dash of pride.
After things not going the way she wanted early in the day, she moved forward, seized an opportunity and was confident. She also stood on the podium in one of the toughest meets in the land - twice.