Eagle junior sees times drop over summer


Silver medals can be motivating. They are for Lilly Kenning.

Kenning, who will be a junior at Milford High and runs cross country and track for the Eagles, spent the summer competing and getting better.

In May, she finished second at state track in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.

“After state track, I was pleased with how I did but hungry for more,” she said.

This summer, she said, she focused on speed and improving her final lap. She ran over 175 miles and added speed work to improve her times. She said she ran more miles last summer but didn’t work on speed.

After a family vacation, Kenning ran at the Night of Stars.

“I got outkicked again,” she said.

So she went back to work. First, she started working with a nutritionist.

“I wondered why I had no push in the last 100 meters,” she said. “I find it hard to eat at meets, especially when it’s hot.”

That meant that her glycemic index dropped throughout her races, sapping her energy.

She’s changed her nutrition and hydration, and that has worked wonders, she said.

“She would eat nothing from breakfast on,” her mom Tamara said.

The nutritionist Lilly works with in Lincoln developed a meal plan where she eats something every 90 to 120 minutes.

“That’s tied it all together,” Tamara said.

Lilly won the 1,500-meter run at the USATF meet in Omaha with a time of 5:02.9. At the AAU state meet, she finished in 5:02.43, and at the AAU regional meet, she finished in 4:58 to qualify for nationals.

At AAU nationals, she saw her time drop 13 seconds to 4:45.69 in the 1,500, where she finished fourth in the country in her age group.

Tamara said she was 15th and worked her way up to seventh. At that point, Lilly said, she was thinking seventh was too close to be outkicked at the end. So she moved up to fifth.

“I don’t like number five,” she said, grinning. “I wanted to pass one more and try to catch second and third.”

While she likes to run out front, the competition at nationals didn’t allow that.

“I still wanted to push myself and don’t worry about not being in front,” she said.

One big difference for Lilly is changing her mindset to focus more on time rather than placement, Tamara said.

Lilly accomplished a goal and a title that only an elite eight from each age division can claim in their respective track event/race –  AAU national All American and national medalist.

Lilly ran new personal best times in the 400-meter dash and 800-meter run at the Cornhusker State Games.

“I felt I haven’t had the ability to kick since last year,” Lilly said.

From June 1 to Aug. 1, Lilly has cut 17 seconds in her 1,500 time, Tamara said.

Patrick Grosserode, who coaches at Doane University and at The Ville in Lincoln, has been coaching Lilly since she was about 11 through the Lincoln Community Track Club.

This summer, he said, speed has been the focus. Runners will do 45- to 120-second runs at a good clip, he said.

“My focus with a lot of distance runners is if you want to run fast, you have to run fast,” he said.

He said they talk about singular focus. During the high school track season, for example, athletes often compete in multiple events. Once the season is over, they can narrow the focus.

“We focus on running a very fast mile,” Grosserode said.

Lilly said her race strategy depends on the race. In the first part, she tries to get out out front and set a good pace.

“I like to go out front and get space,” she said.

In the middle, she tries to distract herself.

“I try to think of a song or anything but how much my legs or anything else hurt,” she said with a smile.

At the end, she works on her form and pushing through the pain.

“She has a very competitive nature,” Tamara said.

Lilly thanked her family, high school coaches and community for all the support they give her.

Now she’ll shift gears into cross country mode, with the goal of running fast in October, Grosserode said.

The Eagles will start their 2023 cross country season at McCool Junction Thursday, Aug. 24.

When she started running, Lilly said, she liked cross country more.

“I’ve learned to love track a lot more,” she said.