Sometimes, just before a race, a thought creeps into Arria Minor's head.
You can't do this, it says.
Then she fights back.
No, she says, I can do this.
And away she flies.
Minor, a junior at Denver East, has emerged as one of the top sprinters in the country. Last month, she ran the fastest 400-meter indoor time of any high school girl in the nation. Now, she's turning her attention to the outdoor season — where she is a two-time defending Class 5A champion in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races, as well as the reigning Gatorade athlete of the year.
And yet: "I feel like every time I run, I surprise myself, just being able to finish the race," Minor said this week during practice at East.
Last month, Minor ran a 52.74 at the New Balance Nationals Indoor, held annually at The Armory Track & Field Center in New York. No high school girl has run the event faster indoors this year.
"It's not exactly an easy environment," Denver East coach Steven Kiper said of that meet, noting the East Coast mentality that creeps into the competition, as well as the cramped Armory itself. "It can be really intimidating."
So it allowed Minor to work on her approach to running, something she admitted she struggles with at times.
"When I run, I get anxiety, so that's not good," Minor said with a laugh. "But it definitely helps (going to an event like that). I learned new coping skills, things to calm me down before I run. That was good. And I think it was a good experience going all the way out there to the East Coast to run."
Minor burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2016 at the prestigious Mullen Invite, setting meet records in the 100- and 200-meter races.
"It was my first really big meet in Colorado," Minor recalled of the meet. "I wouldn't say I was sheltered, but I didn't really go to that many meets as a freshman. It was kinda scary, but I enjoyed it. And ever since then, I've still enjoyed the sport equally as much as I had when I was younger."
Kiper has been working with Minor since she was in seventh grade. That meet showed a glimpse of something he'd seen in her early on.
"You could see that she had ability. It just needed to be developed," he said. "I knew then by the end of her eighth-grade summer — she was starting to grow, she was starting to get taller and starting to get some muscles and fibers instead of those twigs — she'd be special.
"We just took our time. That was our thing: We were going to take our time. I'm in no hurry, there's going to be plenty of time to grow, so let's just take our time."
Minor went on to win the 100, 200 and 400 at the 5A state meet that year — and then followed that up by doing the same as a sophomore last spring.
Now that she's only a junior, Minor feels she's shown major growth in her pre-race approach.
"Sometimes, before I run, I'm a mess, which isn't good," Minor said. "But I've gotten better at it. Especially being able to grow up, getting older, because my first state (meet), I was only 15. Now, I'm just more comfortable in my training and what I'm doing so I can perform better."
Part of that pre-race approach has been managing expectations. Minor said she stays away from social media "before big meets," and Kiper said they regularly talk about how to handle pressure.
"Media creates a lot of pressure," the coach said, "so I said, 'Hey you've got to somewhat ignore that, and just understand the excitement that they're trying to generate. But don't put it on yourself and wear pressure, because you're going to do well.'"
Another part of that pre-race approach is something she seems to have a good grip on: "I'm usually pretty relaxed and chill," Minor said. "But when I'm running, I'm definitely a whole nother person. I get super serious. I go over my race a million times in my head. Yeah, I turn into a different person."
Said Kiper: "The mind of a focused athlete in competition is amazing."
Minor took a three-week break after the indoor season, and then again starred at the Mullen Invite during her outdoor debut this spring. She won the 100 in 11.38 and the 200 in 23.23. Both marks would rank first in the state at this point, with the 200 time fast enough to break the state record of 23.29, but there was too much of a wind factor during each heat for the times to count toward state ranking.
Kiper stresses that he doesn't like his athletes to worry about times, nor records.
"The thing about state records is you never know what conditions you're going to get," Kiper said. "The wind, the weather, the temperature, it factors in so drastically. And we just haven't had a perfect hot Colorado meet towards state to really nail those times. So you've just got to say, 'If they come, they come.'
"But the talent is there, the training is there, her ability is there to get them — if the weather cooperates," Kiper added.
That's not to say those records aren't in Minor's crosshairs.
"As long as I'm progressing within myself, I think the records will come," Minor said. "But I just want to make sure I'm not falling back and I'm just keeping on moving forward."
Remember this about Arria Minor: She's only a junior. Her future is wide open. She has a long list of colleges recruiting her — "Pretty much everybody," Kiper said — and the 2020 Olympics Trials are "a focus, definitely," Minor said. Kiper said that Minor has a great chance of hitting qualifying-standards for the Olympic Trials as soon as this summer.
"She's capable of being super, especially in the (400)," Kiper said, "but I think, and I see, a lot of growth in the 100 and the 200, as well, in her future past her college years. It's there."
For now, Minor is focused on what's immediately ahead. Including the state meet this spring.
Among her goals in May?
"Weather," she said with a laugh, referencing the massive snowstorm that delayed last year's state meet. "I hope the weather is good so I can drop some good times."