By Kurt Zimmer | Columbian
Listening to favorite music to prepare for competition is pretty standard.
Typical choices for pumping up feature thumping bass lines, pounding drums, screaming guitar riffs or a techno beat; a party anthem or something with overtly inspirational lyrics — and probably something relatively recent.
Kelsey Klettke is not typical.
She needs to calm down before running.
Carrying on a tradition passed down by her father, the Prairie High School graduate’s last song before a race is the harmonica-laced, acoustic guitar-driven "Heart of Gold" from Neil Young’s classic 1972 album "Harvest."
"Before every race I listen to ‘Heart of Gold’ and it just totally calms me down," Klettke said. "He has such a nice voice, and it just relaxes me.
"My dad tells me that his first high school meet he was going to, he was riding out there in the bus and he was nervous as hell. That was the first time he heard ‘Heart of Gold’ on the radio, and he said it completely calmed him down. Now it’s kind of like a little thing I have, a little superstitious thing. I listen to that song right before I start warming up."
After two seasons of frustrations — not qualifying for the state meet as a senior at Prairie, followed by a freshman year of college essentially wiped out by illness — Klettke is now having her best year ever.
A sophomore at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, she earned All-Frontier Conference honors as the Warriors claimed the team title.
Now she is returning home — and she is bringing some friends with her.
Fort Vancouver National Site will soon play host to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics cross country championships.
NAIA titles and All-America status will be on the line Saturday at the 54th annual men’s meet and 30th annual women’s meet dubbed "The Finish at the Fort."
The men’s 8-kilometer (5-mile) race begins at 10:30 a.m., followed by the 5-km (3.1-mile) women’s race at 11:45 a.m.
"I’m running the fastest I’ve ever run before, so that’s a good thing," Klettke said. "This is why I’m running — to get better and improve your times. Everything’s headed in the right direction for me, and now nationals is in my hometown, so family’s going to be there and friends are going to be there. It’s exciting.
"At first, I was like, ‘Oh, we don’t get to go on a plane and go somewhere cool?’ But I’m excited. Of course I’m looking forward to going home. ... It’s just another race. Just a little bit bigger field, and more competitive."
Peaks and valleys
After running in the state championship meet in each of her first three seasons at Prairie, Klettke just missed qualifying as a senior by one place at regionals.
Her best time in high school was from her freshman year.
Klettke said she was "done with high school" as a senior after the disappointment at regionals, although she was named an All-Region runner by The Columbian.
Klettke began the recruiting process for college herself, sending LCSC a résumé.
That initiative led her to a team and a place she loves, running both cross country and track.
"After that, I was just ready for a change," Klettke said. "I wanted to get out of high school and start my running career kind of over again. I wanted it to open up a new door for me, and it did."
Everything was looking great.
But something was wrong.
"Last year coming into the season, I felt really strong and I was doing awesome," Klettke said. "I came in the first week of the season and ran a really good time, but then all of a sudden, I started to get really bad stomach aches. I wasn’t really sure what was going on with my body. I was passing out during practices. It cut my season short."
Testing determined that her body was producing too much adrenaline, which was blocking her intake of potassium and sodium.
Klettke said the doctors "weren’t 100 percent sure" why that was happening, but fluid and salt intake overcame the problem.
But a season was lost, and she had to again rejuvenate her running career.
"This season I wanted to show people what I’m all about — that I’m not a runner who gets sick and drops out of races or passes out," she said. "I put all of that behind me and I looked forward. I was like, ‘OK, let’s have a better season this year.’ "
This year, she has joined seniors Kyli Astle and Lindsay Szybura in leading the Warriors to a third consecutive conference championship.
As the team’s top finisher in a meet Oct. 3 in Salem, Ore., Klettke was "way excited" about establishing a new 5k personal record of 18 minutes, 13.35 seconds — her fastest race in five years.
Klettke has been on the Fort Vancouver course before.
As a seventh grader, she competed in an open race held the day before the Reserve played host to the USATF Winter Cross Country Championships.
"I know the course," she said. "I’ve been out to Fort Vancouver, and I know the area. I looked at the map of the course, and I was like, ‘OK, I know exactly where it starts, and what hill that is.’ I know the course pretty well. I’m visualizing it, but I’m going to be comfortable with the area, for sure."
After last year’s tribulations, Klettke knew she would be back for her sophomore season.
She decided not to be just happy to be back.
She planned to be running at nationals this weekend, and has high hopes for herself and the Warriors.
"I have a goal set of Top 30 in the nation this year," she said. "That was my goal from last year after the whole sick thing. When you’re sick and you’re having a bad season, you question yourself, like, ‘Why am I doing this? I’m not having fun right now.’ You get back on the horse and keep going strong and realize why you’re doing the sport. When I got back into that and loving the sport, I was like, ‘OK, let’s set the goal high. Let’s get Top 30 in the nation and be an All-American.’ That’s my goal for this weekend. I’m going to just go out there and run hard and see what happens."
LCSC’s women slipped from No. 11 to No. 16 in the final NAIA poll of the season despite winning another Frontier Conference championship. The Warriors have been ranked as high as ninth during the season.
Klettke believes that LCSC can finish in the Top 10 of the 32-team field because of the team’s dedicated senior runners.
"I want to be up there pushing them to make sure that happens," she said.
Klettke said that Neil Young’s music is a favorite of her entire family, starting with her parents who "go to Idaho every other week" and have not missed any of her races.
Her dad is not the only one who thinks her race day last song is an appropriate choice.
"Of course I have a heart of gold," she said with a laugh. "I have a great heart. That’s what my mom tells me, anyway."