As Natalia Martinez toed the white chalk at the end zone of Tornillo High School’s football field, her heart was pumping a little faster than usual on Saturday morning.
It typically does when a cross country runner steps to the starting line, patiently waiting for the starter’s pistol to echo through the humid air.
“It was my first race, so I was super nervous,” Martinez said. “I looked down the line and all the girls looked really fast, and I started to doubt myself. But when I started running and got out in front, I felt good, I felt better about myself.”
Martinez, who is a soccer player by nature, felt a whole lot better after finishing the 3.1-mile desert course in 20:23.20, to win the Tornillo/San Elizario Invitational in her first race – EVER.
“At the beginning, maybe the first mile, I thought to myself, ‘hey, this isn’t so bad after all,’” she said. “It was later in the race when I really felt fatigued and I honestly thought about walking but I was halfway through it, so I said, ‘I’ll just finish it.’”
Martinez, a junior, was convinced by a friend this summer to give cross country a try.
“It’s fun, except when it feels like I’m going to die,” she joked.
Martinez first-place finish, Carolina Zarrabal’s third-place finish (21:19.44) and Natalie Franco’s seventh-place finish (21:53.35) led the Spartans to a team championship.
“We have a great team,” Martinez said. “We have a great dynamic and we push each other. It looks like we’re going to have a very good season together.”
Earlier in the morning, Omer Ibrahim – another Pebble Hills junior – won the boys race in 15:49.84 – a new course record.
“Coming into the race, I honestly didn’t feel too well but I was able to push through it,” Ibrahim said. “As the race went on, I felt better and in control and I kept going and going and going and finished strong.”
It was the first time in race history that a runner broke the 16-minute barrier.
“I’m very happy with the race,” he said. “I love training, I love running, it’s my escape route. Whenever I have issues or when I’m angry I let it out on the field, and it feels great. I feel relieved, I feel energized, I feel awesome.”
The boys finished second with 83 points.
“I’m excited about what the future holds for us,” said Basher Ibrahim, Pebble Hills cross country coach. “Both teams are young but I’m very proud of both teams, they did awesome, especially the girls, I think they have a really good chance to go to regionals.”
In a difficult District 1-6A with the likes of Franklin, Montwood and Eastwood making it to regionals could be a tall task for the young Spartans.
“The district is tough, but we take it one day at a time,” coach Ibrahim said. “I tell the kids it’s not about winning or losing it’s about doing your best and showing improvement every week. If you truly do your best, you can’t be disappointed in yourself, and nobody can be disappointed in you. The whole team gave it their best.”