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Girls cross country preview: St. Charles West's Jackson takes aim on run to the top

Girls cross country preview: St. Charles West's Jackson takes aim on run to the top

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St. Charles West's Lily Jackson (1398) competes during the 2019 Missouri Cross Country Class 3 Girls State Championship on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, Mo. Gordon Radford | Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

ST. CHARLES — Some may turn up their nose to it, but not Lily Jackson.

Especially not now.

"I have a whole nightly ritual before I race," Jackson said. "I always ice. I've had knee problems forever, so I always ice my knees. I have a peanut butter sandwich and a banana. But I always have beet juice."

The St. Charles West junior wasn't sure about adding beet juice to that routine, but it's hard to argue with the results of her first two cross country seasons.

Jackson was the Missouri Class 3 state runner-up last season as a sophomore. Her time of 18 minutes, 39.6 seconds, was a personal best on a 5-kilometer course and the third time last season she set a new program record.

She also finished fifth in the state meet as a freshman, so the benefits of beet juice appear to have outweighed the bitter taste of the unique drink.

Plus the suggestion came from a close source — Jackson's mother, a former high school runner who trained Lily before she started competing for St. Charles West.

"My mother does a lot of research on everything, so I trusted her and it was good," Jackson said. "I was like, 'Well, I'm going to keep going with it.' "

The listed benefits of beet juice include lower blood pressure and improved stamina. Jackson said the mental boost has become tangible, as well.

Her achievements last season included victories in five meets and she never finished lower than fourth in 10 races.

Jackson's titles included the Class 3 District 3 meet and the Gateway Athletics Conference North Division meet.

Heading into the state meet in Columbia, she had the fifth-best entry time of the competitors and used that as motivation.

"I'll always try to do better than I'm ranked," Jackson said. "I was obviously pushing for the win, but I was super happy with second. I thought I pushed myself and was happy with myself.”

Lily will be joined on the St. Charles West roster this season by a familiar face — her younger sister, Avery Jackson, who is a freshman.

Avery said she hasn't joined team beet juice but is excited to run with her older sister.

"It's really awesome," Avery Jackson said. "I've always cheered her on and met her at the end of every race last year. It's really fun to see her come through at the end and be able to follow in her footsteps this year."

Over the summer, Lily Jackson didn't spend a lot of time doing tourist things when her family was in Colorado and Utah for vacation.

She was too busy doing high altitude training for this season.

Even though she wants to bring home the individual state championship, she said she's more focused on bringing her teammates with her this time.

"I do want to win, but I really want to get my team to state because my freshman and sophomore year, I wasn't able to do that," Jackson said. "I really want my team to come to state with me."

That kind of attitude is consistent with what St. Charles West coach Will Rohlfing said he has seen from his standout.

And no doubt Jackson has set a good standard.

"I think she's always been a leader based on her times,” Rohlfing said. “But now she knows she's an upperclassman and is taking more initiative in that direction and helping lead younger kids.”

GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY RUNNERS TO WATCH

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