When Sierra Bower crossed the finish line at the Norris Penrose Event Center last fall, it wasn't joy or elation that she felt from winning the Class 3A girls state cross country title.
It was relief.
Her time of 18 minutes, 00.1 seconds is a 3A course record and something she had been aiming for all season. Heading into 2020, she wants to be a good or better but will have a deeper appreciation for that feeling of crossing the finish line at the state meet.
"That was the goal all year to do that and break that record," Bower said. "It felt good to finally do that especially because it's something I think about all the time on my runs and when I'm training."
To say the growth she experienced as a runner between her sophomore and junior season was remarkable doesn't quite do her justice.
In 2018, she finished 28th in the state race and her time was two minutes behind where she ended her championship run. It was regimented offseason training that led to her being better and it was the same approach she took on in the time since the season ended.
"It's hard to peak for state then peak for some of those (regional and national) postseason races that happen in the five or six weeks after," Basalt coach Ron Lund said. "It's what you do in between that can have a lot to do with it."
This year certainly provides a unique circumstance given the COVID-19 pandemic that has engulfed a lot of high school athletics. She was fortunate enough to claim her state championship a year ago and according to Lund, she has colleges knocking down her door trying to get her to run for them.
That makes this season's bid to repeat more about her own personal competitive nature rather than what life after high school is going to look like.
"From a recruiting standpoint, she doesn't need to (repeat)," Lund stressed.
But she wants that satisfaction of being the first runner to cross that finish line once again. With a lot on the line for her a year ago, it was that sense of relief that washed over her when she finished 44 seconds ahead of the second-place runner. If she finds herself in the same position this year, she'll be able to enjoy the accomplishment for what it is on the surface: a championship run.
More than that, she just wants to enjoy everything about competing this year.
"Last year I raced a bunch and never thought a lot about it," Bower said. "Going into this season I know that nothing is promised. I'm going to take full advantage of a lot of these races. I'm taking each race and almost thinking about it as if it's my last."
Her desire to claim another championship will be powered by that mentality. When the starting gun gets fired, she and hundreds of other runners will take off thinking they have everything to win and nothing to lose.