ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Eaton spent her summer days outside, where she launched into carefully conceived workouts, mixing long and short distances that covered flat surfaces and hills.
Some days the Shorecrest senior went 13 miles, some 6, as she ran through the winding streets in her neighborhood or along trails. She trained for speed on her high school track and for hills on the Bay Way Bridge.
Joe Burgasser, coach of the Forerunners Track Club, has been the guiding hand in charge of Eaton's speedy feet. He was the steward of the clock and calendar, devising workouts to maximize her potential.
After logging more than 60 miles per week, Eaton hopes the time invested in becoming a faster runner pays off with personal records and state titles, both of which appear attainable.
Eaton, who finished third at last year's state meet, is ranked No. 2 in Class A by flrunners.com.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on myself," Eaton said. "My biggest goal is to break 18 minutes. Of course, I want to win a state title. But I'm focusing on my time more than anything else."
If Eaton can run a sub-18-minute race at states, she'll have a chance to win considering last year's champion, Melbourne Holy Trinity's Julie Wollrath, ran 18:35.
In nearly every race, Eaton will be the overwhelming favorite. With no one to push her, she'll have to invent new challenges to keep herself going. Already, she is running with some of Shorecrest's boys in practice.
Though she will pile up victories with ease, Eaton is equally adamant that the wins mean little compared with what she sees as the big picture: a state team title.
The Chargers are in contention for that, too.
Shorecrest returns its top seven runners from last year's team that finished third at state. Besides Eaton, the Chargers have two other runners, Olivia Rovin (16th) and Kai Greenlees (28th) who finished in the top 30.
Shorecrest's lineup also got a boost with the addition of Sophia Vesely, a sixth-grader who already has won 1,500-meter races in her age group.
"Sophia is our hidden gem," Eaton said. "She's really good and could move into our top three."
The Chargers are so deep they can afford the loss of seventh-grader Reagan Quilty, a standout triathlete who planned to join the team before injuring her hip this past month.
Those numbers are a big reason Shorecrest enters the season No. 2 in flrunners' Class A team rankings.
"These things come in cycles, but we're real fortunate to have this many strong runners here at the same time," Chargers coach Jeff Raab said. "They all worked hard in the offseason, and they work in helping each other, too."
Raab knows there are a number of things that could derail Shorecrest's championship hopes: injury, illness, an upset. Any little thing could cause a team to lose.
Eaton has battled injuries before. She missed track season in the spring because of tendinitis. By June, she was back stronger, focused and injury-free.
"My injury last season was just an unlucky break, part of the wear and tear of running," Eaton said. "I wanted to come back completely healthy, and I've been working really hard ever since. So has everyone else on the team. We should do really well."