As she tightened the last needle spike on her neon pink and yellow Nikes, London Alexander ’18 was ready to face what she considers to be the most important race of her track and field career.
It was the 2012 Junior Olympics in Baltimore and Alexander’s first national competition.
Head down, she gradually made her way to the starting line, focused on the 800 meters waiting to be conquered. A cross country and sprint hybrid since the young age of six, Alexander was no stranger to this race.
“Don’t be nervous, you have to be tough,” she thought to herself.
Runners take their mark. “I have to make my first 100 fast and then maintain on the straightaway.”
Get set. “Don’t slow down because I know it’s going to hurt.”
The starting pistol was fired, and the runners were off.
She executed her race just as she intended, she said more than three years later, keeping her elbows bent at 90 degrees and striking her foot on the rubber to gain as much velocity as possible.
“The adrenaline takes over, so you can’t feel it in the beginning, but by the end my legs feel super heavy,” Alexander said.
She rounded the curve to tackle the last stretch, clenching her jaw to fight through the pain and reach the finish line. Three years later, Alexander still remembers the cheers from the stands and the sound of her heart pounding in her chest as she chased the opponent in her peripheral vision.
One final lean and it was all over; she had finished in second place.
“Track is very mentally tough, and it feels good to meet your goals,” Alexander said. “I was extremely happy with the outcome of the race.”
With nearly a decade’s worth of cross country and track and field experience, Alexander came to Harvard-Westlake as a new ninth grader and said she quickly found her place in the cross country program.
In the fall, Alexander ran for varsity cross country and established relationships with her teammates who would later become her best friends. Alexander said she attributes her love for cross country to the tight bond that she shares with her team.
“I look forward to practice every day,” Alexander said. “It’s my favorite part of the day.”
She competed at CIF Division IV Finals where she placed 34th, the top runner out of the Harvard-Westlake female athletes. Alexander then advanced to the California State Finals where she placed 45th, again the leading Harvard-Westlake female athlete at the competition.
After a couple of weeks off to recover, Alexander got back on her feet to join the varsity track and field team to run the 400 and 800 meters in last year’s 2015 season. Later in the season, she represented Harvard-Westlake at the CIF Preliminaries, competing in the 800 meters and the 4×400 meter relay.
At the CIF Championships, Alexander was chosen last minute to compete in the 800 meters with little time to warm up. Although she did not place in the top three, Cross Country and Track Program Head Jonas Koolsbergen said as her career evolves, Alexander will become even more and valuable to the program and a cornerstone of its success, not only this year, but as a junior and senior as well.
Like any athlete, the prospect of injury serves as a constant fear for Alexander’s running career. Even the slightest strain of a muscle can put an end to an entire season. At Arcadia last year, she fought through the pain of a sprained knee and ran the sprint medley.
“I wanted to be there for my team, so I just focussed on the race and I didn’t really notice the pain until it was over,” Alexander said.
Entering her sophomore year, Alexander joined the varsity cross country team again. Despite not qualifying for California State Finals this year, teammate Sarah Conway spoke about Alexander’s constant positivity and the support she offers the team.
“When the girls team didn’t make it to [California State Finals] many of them were very emotional, but London wasn’t,” Conway said. “It’s not that she wasn’t upset, but she was able to recognize that our team did the best we could and even though our best didn’t get us through to State, she understood that because of this loss we would be stronger next year.”
Alexander will be transitioning to sprints for the upcoming 2016 track season by competing in the 200 and 400 meters. She says it is a way for her to get back to her roots because sprinting is what attracted her to the sport when she first started running.
“We’re always thrilled to have someone who is good and committed to what they’re doing and committed to the team with us, and so [Alexander has] brought a big time energy and a big enthusiasm for the sport and a real desire and capacity to work,” Koolsbergen said.