A Fight to the Finish


Rebecca Shroyer

Emily Mrakovcic, captain of the Wilton High School girls’ cross country team, runs a final race on the CIAC State Open course on her road to the New England Championships.

“Runners, on your mark.”

Anticipation echoes across the field as runners settle into their starting positions. Arms cocked in ninety degree angles and torsos tilted forward, the tension is finally broken as the air horn erupts.

At the New England Cross Country Championships, there’s no time to be wasted. Within milliseconds, the stampede surges forward, and within seconds, a select pack of veteran runners vying for a spot in the top 30 emerges at the front.

In this pack, Emily Mrakovcic, a Wilton High School senior and captain of the girls’ cross country team, rushes to the front. Ever since joining cross country in the fall of her freshman year, she had developed a deep passion for running, picking up numerous medals and records along the way, such as her 2:14.40 800 meter Wilton High school record last spring. Mrakovcic had never imagined that signing up for cross country on a whim would take her this far.

“Going into the season, I had never run more than a mile in my life,” Mrakovcic said.

Now, her weekly regimen consists of 6-7 days of running a week, two workouts a week, and an average of 25 miles. This all includes hill workouts, longer intervals, tempos, and long runs during the cross country season and speed work during the track seasons. In order to prioritize recovery and cross training, her training consists of light days to allow her body to rest, with core strengthening every day and leg workouts twice a week.

No one on the girls’ team had made it to the New England Championships since 2017. After qualifying by placing 20th at the Connecticut State Opens, Mrakovcic strategically approached the championships.

To prepare, she created an informal list prior to the race, addressing key components like mentality, goals, and plans to reach such goals. Instead of enforcing structure and conformity in her races, this approach provides a general sense of what Mrakovcic hopes to achieve.

“Having a plan going into the race, whether it’s just a couple things to keep in mind or an entire list, helps me feel confident and prepared,” Mrakovcic said.

Located in Thetford, Vermont, the course consists of numerous hills. After visiting the course over the summer, Mrakovcic had a slight sense of how to implement racing strategies.

However, with the weather forecast showing unfavorable conditions, these plans soon grew unreliable. Heavy rains meant a muddy course, and with the boys’ race placed right before, 300 runners uprooted and trampled the course by the time of the girls’ 5k race.

After struggling up hills for 3.1 miles, while dodging puddles and splashing through mud, I’m not surprised that my (and everyone else’s) time was significantly slower. The poor course conditions made it extremely difficult to get anything even close to a personal record.

— Emily Mrakovcic

Regardless, Mrakovcic fought her way to 36th place with a time of 20:53.3. But this isn’t the only instance where she has shown resilience in the face of adversity.

During COVID, she demonstrated leadership and tenacity worth marveling at. During the 2020 indoor and outdoor track and field seasons, Mrakovcic, as a junior, filled the team’s captain position, carrying the hefty responsibility of this role while continuing to improve exponentially.

The Wilton High School girls’ cross country team trains in the afternoons at Allen’s Meadow. (Catherine Dineen)

Her fellow co-captain, Catherine Dineen, observed her fortitude and poise despite the countless hurdles ahead of her.

“Emily will push through difficult times to become the best version of herself and make other people reach their full potential… Everyday she becomes stronger and stronger. Not even a pandemic could take this girl down,” Dineen said.

New members of the team quickly notice her infectious grit.

“What I most admire about Emily’s character is her determination, one of the many aspects the girls on the cross country team look up to,” Lia Lombardi said.

Unlike other sports, running presents a duality of running as a team and an individual. Mrakovcic discusses the responsibilities and self-discipline that running has taught her over the years.

“You must value yourself and your goals as an individual before you can contribute on the group level. You have to want yourself to succeed before wanting the entire team to succeed.”

Success can easily be hindered by comparing personal achievements with others’. Learning to find a balance between being proud of success and wanting to do better is the most important lesson that Mrakovcic has learned.

“In a sport where everyone’s times—a reflection of their entire running career—are just a click away online, it’s easy to compare yourself to athletes who are better than you. Even though I’m a bit of a perfectionist, cross country has taught me to fall in love with finding this balance between having pride in my accomplishments while also believing that I’m capable of doing better has been the best mindset I could take away from this sport,” Mrakovcic said.

Mrakovcic confesses that when she became the top runner on the team during her sophomore year, her peers would often ask about her plans to run in college. She couldn’t even picture herself going to college yet.

On national signing day for Division I athletes, Mrakovcic announced her verbal commitment to Brown University. (Rebecca Shroyer)

“When junior year came around though, and people were beginning to envision what life in college would be like, I couldn’t picture myself going to college and not running for another four years of my life. My future wouldn’t look complete if I wasn’t running every day,” Mrakovcic said.

Recently, Mrakovcic announced her commitment to Brown University’s admission process to run on their cross country and track and field teams.

“I met the team in September and everyone was super nice. Middle distance events—the 800, 1000, mile, 4×400, and 4×800—will be my focus during indoor and outdoor track,” Mrakovcic said.

The girls’ cross country and track and field teams are so proud of how far Emily has come, and support her ineffably as she transitions into her college running career.