It’s late April – that means it’s Shelby Houlihan’s favorite time of year.
“The Drake Relays are my favorite. I definitely like it better than State,” said Houlihan, a senior at Sioux City East. “I like how all the classes are in one group and run together.”
Houlihan, a five-time Relays champion, gets one more weekend to collect a few more white flags, and she’s not holding back.
She currently holds the Drake Relays for the 800 meter run at 2:09.22, a record she set at last year’s Relays.
She wants to crush that.
“I ran 2:08 twice indoors this year,” said Houlihan. “I’m hoping to run a 2:05 at Relays.”
Her head coach, Richard Clarahan, certainly likes how she’s progressed.
“She’s a lot stronger in practice compared to a year ago,” Clarahan said. “She’s more mature, and you can see her speed has come along. She’s running a lot of fast 400s.”
“Each year,” continued Clarahan, “she’s done a better job in the off-season. She put in more miles this summer and fall. I think the biggest thing was that starting in fall, she was a lot more focused.”
The fall was when Houlihan finally added a cross-country championship to her storied career. After two consecutive top five finishes, she said the victory was a lot of fun.
“It felt great,” Houlihan commented. “It felt great to win. When I got to the finish line, it was a big relief.”
Now she finds herself in an unusual position – she’s the prohibitive favorite at the Drake Relays in any race she enters, and she’ll be favored to take home a state championship in the 800 and 1500 come May. She’s not letting the pressure get to her though.
“Last year was hard,” said Clarahan about last year’s state meet. Though Sioux City East won their second consecutive distance medley and 4×400, Houlihan finished second in the 800 and fourth in the 1500, leaving her still without an individual state track title outdoors. “She was really disappointed. But she’s always been good at not letting losses get to her. She’s very determined now. She’s set high goals and expectations for herself.”
“I don’t really feel a lot of pressure,” commented Houlihan. “I’m just setting goals right now and keeping on my training regiment.”
Right now, she’s focused on adding to her legacy at the Drake Relays. Houlihan started track in 8th grade, and ran at the Relays for the first time her freshman year, where she had three top three finishes. But, she says, it wasn’t until her sophomore year that she really fell in love with the sport.
It was that year, at the 2009 Drake Relays, that she won the 800 and 1500, and was part of the winning 4×800 team. The Black Raiders 4×400 team finished second behind Waukee by a fraction of a second.
“I was shocked and excited. I was really pumped,” said Houlihan of her performance that year. “I’ve never felt anything like that before. I was lucky to have such good teammates. We really pushed each other.”
Last year, as a junior, she defended her 800 meter title and took was part of the winning 4×400 team as well. She finished second in the 1500. This year she looks to finish in style.
“She’s looked great indoors this year,” said Clarahan. “I’ve been fortunate to work with her and all the girls here. They’ve all got great attitudes. This will be an exciting year to watch.”
Houlihan’s biggest joy comes from lining up in front of 14,000 people at the Relays. “I just get this heated adrenaline rush,” she said. “There’s nothing like it.”
This will be the final chapter of a storied high school legacy at the Drake Relays. You certainly won’t want to miss it.
This appeared in the April 2011 edition of the Iowa Sports Connection magazine.