Back at full health, Conger finishes strong at home

Brad Frank and Brad Frank

Sometimes, having your family can be a comforting feeling.

That was certainly the case for Heather Conger last Saturday at the Falcon Invite. The junior was able to run in front of her family for the first time in a while, and they picked the perfect time to come watch.

With her mother and sisters watching her run, and after returning to full strength from an illness earlier in the season, Conger placed third overall and first for BG, leading the Falcons to victory in their last home meet of the season.

Conger raced through her illness in the 4K season opener, Sept. 4 at Toledo. She managed an 11th-place finish (15:20) as the sixth Falcon to finish.

But illness forced her to sit out BG’s first home meet, the 5K Mel Brodt Invitational on Sept. 12, but she was cleared to run the next week at a tough course for the 6k Iona Meet of Champions in New York. Conger placed 74th overall out of 186 runners. Clearly not at full strength, she was the seventh runner to finish for BG, with a time of 24:59.

Then, the team had a weekend off from competition for the first time. The illness had clearly set her back, so she had to work extra hard to reach the level at which her teammates were already.

‘I felt like I was behind because everyone was improving and doing better. I definitely had to work extra hard,’ Conger said. ‘[Coach Cami Wells] wanted me to sit out practices, but I didn’t want to. I had to catch up to everybody else.’

Still working to get back to full strength, Conger improved slightly at 5K All-Ohio Championships on Oct. 2, finishing sixth among her teammates and 76th overall with a time of 20:34.

With another weekend off from competition, Conger again was afforded another two weeks to train intensely in order to make more progress.

The 6K Falcon Invite meet was BG’s final home meet of the season and the meet when Conger would return to full strength.

She became the fifth different top runner for BG this season, with her breakthrough performance surprising both her and her teammates. The coaches were not surprised, however, as they knew she had that type of potential all along.

‘Heather is a very gifted athlete with an amazing blend of speed and endurance. The only area Heather has had to develop was her confidence,’ said coach Wells. ‘Working hard gives Heather confidence and her drive to get the most she can out of herself is what allowed her to make the breakthrough this weekend.’

Conger’s time of 22:15 was the third-best in BG history at home and the 14th-best all-time of any BG runner at a 6K meet.

Though her lack of confidence thus far in her career was an area she needed to work on, according to Wells, Conger believes she can do even better, even though she said what she did Saturday was ‘surprising.’

‘I definitely think this last meet wasn’t my full potential,’ she said. ‘I think I can break 22 [minutes].’

Her teammates were glad that she stepped up in order to help the team win. Conger hopes not to disappoint her teammates at the Mid-American Conference Championships in two weeks, admitting that she’s a bit nervous and afraid the teammates expect her to race like she did Saturday.

Conger recorded a career-best 5K time at the MAC Championships in 2007 as a freshman but did not participate last season. She also ran in the Great Lakes Regional meet in 2007. With more experience, Conger expects to fare better at both meets this season.