Speed and strategy key to Cherokee runner Kate Rathman’s success at sectionals

Rathman successfully defended her title in the 1,600-meter run and also won the 3,200-meter run for the first time at the South Jersey Group 4 sectional meet last Saturday.

Winning races isn’t just about running fast for Cherokee High School junior Kate Rathman.

She believes strategy can make a big difference too.

“I have to learn to just get past the barrier in my mind and push through,” Rathman said. “I know I can go faster. Your mind is your biggest competitor when it comes to racing.”

Rathman showed off both her speed and strategic acumen at the 2019 South Jersey Group 4 sectional meet on Feb. 2. Not only did Rathman defend her 2018 title in the 1,600-meter run, she added another medal to her collection when she won the 3,200-meter run.

Rathman credits strategy as part of the reason for her success in the 3,200 as she identifies it as her weaker event.

“I have been trying to do more strategic racing lately,” Rathman said. “I haven’t been able to do a lot of that in the past. I’m trying to see what works.”

Even prior to this year’s sectional meet, Rathman’s resume was full of big performances. Rathman qualified for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in both the indoor and outdoor season as a sophomore and also made it to the Meet of Champions in cross country last fall.

This season, Rathman’s times are well ahead of where she was at in February of last year, even though she started the 2019 indoor season a little late because of her long cross country season. Rathman took two weeks off before she started training for the track and field season.

“It makes a big impact on my indoor season,” Rathman said of the rest. “I was pretty dead after cross country season so just having two weeks, no running, was a big refresh.”

Rathman said she’s gotten a boost in practice this season with the arrival of freshman Nicole Clifford to the team. Clifford also runs in long distance events for Cherokee, placing 11th in the 1,600-meter and ninth in 3,200-meter at sectionals.

“The past couple of years, I didn’t have anyone to run with,” Rathman said. “Having (Clifford) to run with every day has made it easy to get the miles out of the way and train and work out.”

Rathman went into sectionals with a lot of confidence. Having won the 1,600-meter run as a sophomore in the indoor sectionals, Rathman was determined to win it again. She also felt winning the 3,200-meter event was possible as the two runners she finished behind last year, Alexis Mullarkey and Kylie Anicic of Kingsway Regional High School, both graduated in 2018.

“My times seem to keep improving and I’m pretty consistent with my running, which I’m happy about,” Rathman said. “I haven’t hit a plateau yet.”

Those who saw Rathman run at sectionals got a glimpse of her versatility. In the 1,600-meter, Rathman decided to go out hard early on and push the pace. She went on to win the race easily with a time of 5:11.84, more than four seconds ahead of second-place Sarah Pierce of Cherry Hill High School East.

In the 3,200-meter, Rathman went with a completely different strategy, opting to hang at the back of the lead pack for the first mile of the race.

“I just wanted to sit back on whoever was in first,” Rathman said. “There was a pack of seven people and I was all the way in the back. I was sitting in the striking zone.”

After conserving her energy for the first half of the race, Rathman picked up the pace in the second half. Rathman and Pierce ended up breaking away from the rest of the pack and running close to one another. In the end, Rathman broke away and won the 3,200-meter by a little more than four seconds with a time of 11:23.30. Rathman’s time was more than six seconds better than what she ran in the 3,200-meter in last year’s indoor sectional meet.

“We both seperated from the rest of the pack and it was just us for the last two (laps),” Rathman said about her race with Pierce. “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have run as fast as I did.”

Rathman has a lot of goals she hopes to reach this season. She is looking to win an event at the outdoor sectional meet this spring for the first time and advancing to Meet of Champions in both the indoor and outdoor seasons once again. Rathman is also hoping to help Cherokee’s Distance Medley Relay team qualify for the Penn Relays this April.

But first, Rathman has her sights set on a more immediate goal. Rathman believe she can be a contender to win the 1,600-meter run at the NJSIAA Group 4 State Championships on Feb. 15.

“There’s a shot,” Rathman said of possibly winning her first state title. “I’m going to go for it. Even if I don’t win, just trying to go for it, I might run a PR.”