AUBURN — Combine the driving rain and gale force winds with the dreaded “spring ahead” time change and, well, admit it: You couldn’t get out of your own way Sunday, could you?
That’s nothing compared to the plight of Abby Dunn.
Eating on the road and stealing a few hours sleep on a hotel mattress is enough of a challenge. Now consider that the 15-year-old Edward Little High School sophomore committed herself to the one-mile racewalk in two elite, national indoor track and field events in a 24-hour span.
“This is the only weekend where we race back-to-back like that,” Dunn said.
Up front is a more accurate description.
After setting a personal record and finishing fourth Saturday at the Nike Indoor Championships in Boston, Dunn kept her show on the road to New York City and grabbed the gold medal in the National Scholastic Indoor Championships.
Sunday’s time, amazingly, was more than five seconds faster. In a relative sprint where fractions of seconds customarily count, Dunn made the quantum leap from 7:38.78 in Beantown to 7:33.42 in the Big Apple.
Each event earned Dunn an All-American distinction, the second and third of her budding career.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting that at all,” Dunn said of Sunday’s victory. “They were the same girls I raced against Saturday, so I knew all the other top seeds and how they raced. The No. 1 seed was a girl from New York, and I knew she was a senior and she would want to win because it basically would be her last time competing on her home track. I wanted to stick to her.”
Dunn defied logic by dramatically improving her time from the first race to the second.
It also went against her own history, or at least Dunn’s perception of it.
“I’m not usually good at recovering,” she said. “I expected to be a little bit slower. Last year I was a little faster the second day, but I thought being in the fast heat both days would make it difficult.”
But Dunn said that one of Sunday’s unsung seeds elected to set a quick pace. Dunn calmly settled into second, and most of the field kept pace.
Dunn’s teammate, Nicole Court-Menendez of Lewiston, also rode that wave of momentum to a significant time jump in the second half of the doubleheader. Court-Menendez shaved nearly four seconds off her Saturday time and advanced from 14th to eighth in the final rundown.
“It can be pretty stressful, but it comes down to their mental preparation,” said Tom Menendez, Abby’s coach and Nicole’s father. “If you compare the times from Saturday to Sunday for the top 10 girls, they were all faster on Sunday. And the slower kids all were slower on Sunday. It’s mental toughness. The kids knew going in that they were going to race twice this weekend, and they knew what had happen in order to be successful on Sunday.”
True to her grasp of race strategy, Dunn didn’t panic when the hometown favorite, Amy Cheung, stormed into the lead near the halfway point. Instead, Dunn stayed in Cheung’s sneaker tracks and made her winning move in the third turn on the next-to-last circuit of the eight-lap route.
Compared to Dunn’s training regimen, two shorter races in one weekend aren’t as taxing as they might seem. Menendez’s trainees typically walk for up to an hour at an 8½-minute pace per mile each day.
“My coach always says that your race should be like the easiest practice of the week,” Dunn said.
Menendez also acknowledges that Dunn’s other passion, dance, is as time-consuming and physically demanding as any track workout.
Her emergence on the international scene makes it easy to forget that Dunn has been a racewalker for less than two full years. But the natural ability has been impossible to ignore since day one.
“She doesn’t like to run,” Menendez said, “but she’ll walk four, five, six miles or whatever the hell they ask her to do. They’ll have a two-mile run at school and she’ll walk it faster than she can run it.”
Dunn will be a central figure in EL’s attempted defense of its Class A outdoor track and field title this spring, but other individual events weigh heavily on her agenda.
In April, coinciding with her 16th birthday, Dunn will compete in a World Cup qualifier and defend her title at the Penn Relays.
Her time in the World Cup prelim last year earned Dunn a provisional berth in the Pan American Games, but she didn’t meet the games’ age requirement.
“I would be eligible to go this year, but it would take a much faster time to qualify,” Dunn said.
Faster doesn’t seem to be a problem for Dunn these days, however. Even under extraordinary circumstances.