While Oakmont's Karlie Garcia and Vista del Lago's Clare Carroll were pleased that they bettered their places and times in their second go-around at Saturday's 33rd annual Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships in San Diego, they also felt gratitude.
They were healthy, feeling good and happy to be competing again among the nation's elite distance runners.
It wasn't that long ago that physical problems had left them miserable and uncertain.
Garcia, a junior who won the Dec. 3 Foot Locker West Regional, placed fifth with a time of 17 minutes, 36 seconds over the 5-kilometer Balboa Park course.
It was the highest finish by an area girl in the prestigious event, surpassing the previous best of eighth by Ponderosa's Jenn Schindler in 1996.
Oak Ridge's Alex Kosinski (20th, 2005), Folsom's Natasha LaBeaud (25th, '04), Laguna Creek's Rachel Bryan (18th, '03; 16th, '02), Granite Bay's Caitlin Chock (26th, '02) and Davis' Sally Pinkner (13th, 1983) are among the area girls distance standouts who have competed in the race through the years.
Garcia also bettered her time of 18:00 and 15th-place finish as a freshman in 2009.
Carroll, running just her fourth race of the season, finished 27th in 18:18.
That bettered her 30th-place finish and 18:32 time at last year's event, when she competed as a freshman for Granite Bay.
A left-calf strain kept Carroll out of competition most of the year and wondering if she'd ever get healthy.
"I didn't have any expectations as far as where I might finish," said Carroll, who placed eighth at the West Regionals. "So it's nice to improve on what I did last year. Running in the Foot Locker is a great experience. Hopefully, I can qualify all four years of high school."
Although Garcia has been healthy this season, a one-two punch of illness and injury knocked her out of most of her sophomore season.
She missed the cross country season because of an intestinal infection that she said left her hospitalized for two months. A stress fracture in her right foot ended her track season prematurely last spring.
"I watched the live feed of last year's (Foot Locker) race, and it was disappointing not to be there," said Garcia, who finished second in the CIF State Division III cross country finals Nov. 26. "It seemed then like running was always on the horizon."
Although one running website had Garcia listed as the best bet to beat Saturday's champion, Molly Seidel, a senior from Hartland, Wis., who finished 14 seconds ahead of Garcia in 17:22, she expressed no disappointment with her effort.
"I'm just happy to be back running again," Garcia said. "To make it back to the Foot Locker championships was a great experience."