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Union runners experience joy, heartbreak at state meet

Rathe records DNF, while Youngblut and Condon set pace for team’s future

Lauren Youngblut (625) runs the course of the Class 2A Cross Country State Championship in Fort Dodge Saturday morning while sporting her signature red headband. Youngblut, a sophomore, was making her state debut, crossing the finish line in 34th place out of 130 finishers with a time of 20:35.51. Photo courtesy C.J. Eilers/Vinton Newspapers

For three Union High School runners — senior Ellie Rathe, sophomore Lauren Youngblut, and freshman Amilia Condon — Saturday’s 2021 Class 2A Cross Country State Championship in Fort Dodge was truly a mixed bag of both finishes and emotions.

Rathe — a standout runner ranked fourth in Class 2A heading into the state championship — made it past the two-mile marker Saturday morning with a split of 12:05.77 but was heartbreakingly unable to finish the race.

Her one-mile split of 5:43.19 was just a fraction off the eventual girls 2A state champion Danielle Hostetler of Mid-Prairie Wellman who recorded a one-mile split of 5:43.09.

“Ellie wasn’t feeling the best and went down and passed out,” Union head coach Justin Parson said in an interview following the race. “Certainly not how she wanted to end her [cross country] career, but she accomplished so much this season.”

For a high school athlete with so much promise — Rathe was consistently ranked high all season, led almost every race in which she ran, and was expected to medal on Saturday — it was a bittersweet ending to a stellar high school running career that didn’t even begin until her sophomore year.

Union’s Ellie Rathe (624) competes in the Class 2A Cross Country State Championship in Fort Dodge on Saturday morning prior to dropping out of the race due to collapsing. Rathe — an October 2021 KCRG Athlete of the Week — recorded a one-mile split of 5:43.19 on Saturday, while her two-mile split clocked in at 12:05.77. Photo courtesy C.J. Eilers/Vinton Newspapers

Rathe’s teammates Youngblut and Condon were making their state championship debut Saturday alongside the veteran Rathe — both completed the race with Youngblut crossing the finish line in 34th place with a time of 20:35.51 and Condon crossing just behind in 38th place with a time of 20:40.37.

The winner of the Class 2A girls 5K this year — Mid-Prairie Wellman sophomore Hostetler — crossed the finish line with a time of 18:27.23. Medals were awarded to the top 15 individuals in each race; 130 runners crossed the finish line in the girls race.

It was a tough, cold race with a 10:30 a.m. start time for the Class 2A girls, but Youngblut and Condon said they approached it like any other race this season — giving it all they had.

But in terms of race day strategy, the two approach the task slightly differently.

“I just run,” Youngblut said in a post-race interview. “I give it my all and try to stay focused on what I’m doing. I do try to focus sometimes on finding someone to chase down or keep up with.”

Union freshman Amilia Condon runs the girls Class 2A Cross Country State Championship course last Saturday morning in Fort Dodge. Condon crossed the finish line in 38th place out of 130 finishers with a time of 20:40.37. Photo courtesy C.J. Eilers/Vinton Newspapers

“I like to start off towards the back and slowly work my way up to where I want to be in a race,” Condon said. “It helps me to not overwork myself in the first mile, and leaves me with energy to spare for the rest of the race.”

During the race, Youngblut said she was tired, but felt proud of all she had accomplished this season.

“Tired because it’s been a long season full of hard work in and out of season. Proud because I was able to race again today and say that I made it to state. It was a bit chilly and the course was tougher when I ran it but I just tried to keep a positive attitude.”

Following the race, Youngblut said she experienced a lot of different emotions.

“I was sore, sad, proud, disappointed — basically you name it, I probably felt it. I was really disappointed in myself that I wasn’t able to achieve the goal or [personal record] that I had set for myself but I knew I gave the best effort I could in the race so I was proud that I pushed myself even if it didn’t necessarily end like I wanted to.”

Youngblut was also thinking about her teammate Rathe.

“Obviously I was devastated after hearing about Ellie’s race,” Youngblut said of her fallen teammate. “I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to race with her these past few years … I was grateful that even if the race didn’t end like I wanted I was able to finish. I’m so grateful that Ellie ended up being okay. So long story short, it was a whirlwind of emotions.”

Condon expressed happiness as well that she was able to finish the race.

“I am happy with how I ran today. I’m glad I got to finish this season with a time I’m proud of.”

Coach Parson said the future of Union Cross Country looks good based on Saturday’s results.

“The three [who ran] today are talented runners. Lauren and Millie [Amilia] overachieved today and they will be looking to lead the girls team next year. … Super proud of all they accomplished this season.”

Both Youngblut and Condon said they were looking forward to a restful Sunday after the whirlwind of events Saturday and the prep week leading up to it.

“I just want to take it easy,” Youngblut said. “Not sure where that will take me but a nice day to rest my body and my mind sounds amazing.”

Condon summed up her Sunday plans — and quite possibly the plans of every runner out on the course Saturday in Fort Dodge — rather succinctly, saying she simply planned “to sleep in.”