Before her first race for the track team at Occidental College, Michele Trimble's coach made what she believed was an odd request.
Bill Harvey asked Trimble to stay back in the pack of 1,500-meter runners and let the others do the work. But by the end of the second lap, Trimble had taken a 30-meter lead.
It didn't last long.
"In the last lap this girl chews her up, spits her out and leaves her for dead," Harvey said. "I mean it was just a dumb freshman move. She's never made a mistake like that again."
Trimble, 20, has twice earned All-American honors in track as well as cross-country. The 5-7, 120-pound junior has personal bests of 4:30.56 in the 1,500 and 9:45 in the 3,000-meters, an Occidental record. But it is in cross-country that her talents have proved invaluable.
Trimble, from Nevada's Douglas High near Lake Tahoe, has dominated the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, winning two titles in as many seasons. She has finished among the top five runners in every race since her sophomore season and has lost only once in conference competition, placing second at University of Redlands when she followed the lead runner off course.
"If she gets beaten it's because somebody was flat-out better," Harvey said. "There's no way you can beat her just doing the same kind of job or having the same ability. You've got to be a lot better than she is."
Said Trimble: "I never think I did my best. If I don't achieve my goal, I'm not happy. Sometimes even when I achieve my goal I think that I could have done better. I'm told by a lot of people to be easier on myself."
She would do well to heed that advice.
Trimble has plantar fascialitis, an inflammation that runs from the inside of the heel to the ball of the foot. Although it is not a career- or season-ending condition, it is a debilitating injury, nonetheless. Trimble has been advised to taper her training. "That's the catch-22 of women's running," Harvey said. "I don't know of very many women runners that have been ranked in the top 10 for two consecutive years. If you have a girl with the ability, the drive and the determination to excel and a thoroughbred's body rather than the plow-horse body, then when they have a problem they think 'I'm not going to let it stop me'. For women runners that's a very foolish mistake.
"Michele tends to want to go out every day and make it the end of the world."
If the Tigers lose Trimble, it would most certainly bring a halt to Occidental's bid for the conference championship. More importantly, the regional title and a trip to the national championships would be out of reach.
Occidental (4-1) lost, 27-28, to conference rival Claremont-Mudd this season. And The College of Notre Dame, last season's regional winner, has a strong team returning. Only one team advances from each regional. Harvey believes Occidental can win the November regional if his four freshmen continue to improve.
But much of the pressure remains on Trimble. And apparently, that's how she likes it.
"She would be very unhappy if there weren't any pressure on her," Harvey said. "She wants to be the one that everyone is counting on."