When Yvette Felix is running with the lead pack, she sometimes finds herself in a state of wonder. After all, the 2015 Anzar High graduate was on the back end of the Hartnell College starting lineup a year ago, lining up as the team’s fifth, sixth or seventh runner, depending on the meet.
But this season has been a breakout one for Felix, who is coming off the seminal performance of her burgeoning community college career. Felix, who is Hartnell’s No. 1 runner this season, finished in sixth place in a personal-record (PR) 18 minutes, 50 seconds at the prestigious Mount SAC Invitational last weekend, a race that involved some of the top runners in the state.
“This entire season I’m trying to accept the fact that I am in the front pack,” said Felix, whose time at Mt. SAC was the fourth fastest by a woman in Hartnell College history. “That I am right there and supposed to be there.”
Panthers coach Chris Zepeda calls Felix “Our female Diego Leon in the making,” referring to the former Hartnell and Anzar standout who made a quantum leap in improvement from his freshman to sophomore season. Leon, who is now running at Division I program Montana State University, set a couple of Hartnell records and became one of the state’s top runners, winning the 1500, 5000 and 10,000-meter runs in the 2015 California Community College State Track and Field Championships to go along with a state title in the Cross-Country Championships.
Now Felix is looking to do the same. The sophomore has made a meteoric ascent in just one year, as she never went sub 20 minutes last season in cross country. However, Felix is running one to two minutes faster than at this same point a year ago, having put in some serious mileage in the off-season.
During the summer, Felix would often do three workouts a day: a run in the morning, a swim session in the early afternoon and cycling in the evening. She also did a lot of core work and strength-training, making her fit and strong entering the season.
Felix knew she had to get physically stronger after a freshman season that saw her finish with a disappointing time in the NorCal Championships. Last spring during the track season, Felix only competed in a handful of meets due to injury.
“I was really trying to make my base strong so I could do all the races and workouts in the season,” she said, “because injuries really hindered my first season. I felt too weak strength-wise and knew things needed to change.”
Felix first noticed a huge improvement in her fitness during a workout in July, when she did a 2-mile tempo run followed by a 1-mile lactic threshold run. Felix ended up going 5:40 for the last mile, a personal best. All of a sudden, Felix was hitting paces that she hadn’t nailed since her senior year of high school.
And to top it all off, her times continued to improve once the season started. Before her breakthrough performance at Mount SAC, Felix’s fastest times came in the form of a 19:27 in the NorCal Preview Meet and a 19:47 in the Fresno Invite. But it was at Mt. SAC where Felix started to realize her vast potential.
After the finish, Zepeda told Felix that she had run a faster time at Mount SAC than former Hartnell standouts Rachel Shimabukuro and Brandi Hopson, two runners Felix looked up to and followed.
“Now I was on the same list as them,” she said. “I was like, ‘What the heck?’ It feels amazing that my work is paying off. It was definitely the highlight so far in my Hartnell career. I didn’t expect this at all, but I knew if I put the work in, good things would happen.”
If Felix’s career at Hartnell follows along Leon’s arc even to a lesser degree, her effort at Mount SAC will only be the first of many highlights to a season that promises to get better with each passing meet.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t want to project myself too far out there,” she said. “But now I’m running with more confidence, and I know what I’m capable of.”