At last week's Southern Section cross-country preliminaries, Martha Pinto of Katella High School took an explosive 30-yard lead in the first 150 yards of her race, which confused many unknowing spectators.
"She's nuts," said a man watching the race with binoculars. "What does she think she's doing? She'll be dead tired before the first mile."
Pinto, a 4-foot 7-inch, 87-pound freshman, did not tire by the one-mile mark. Instead, she passed it with a 50-yard lead.
A minute later, Pinto reached the top of the steep switchbacks with a 60-yard lead. It still looked as if she were sprinting.
She won the third heat of the girls' 3-A division, 29 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, Sita Jones of La Habra.
Pinto's time for the hilly, three-mile course was 18 minutes 45 seconds, the 10th-fastest time of the day and the third-fastest time in her division.
She will meet the two 3-A runners with faster times--Ranya Cervantes (18:14) and Teresa Sandoval (18:38), both of Montebello--in the Southern Section cross-country championships Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.
"I think Martha can run with those girls or at least stay close," said Mike Cochrane, Katella coach. 'She has the ability to rise to the occasion."
Pinto has failed to win only two races this season. She finished second at the Millikan Invitational, her first high school race, and she finished 15th in the sweepstakes division of the Mt. SAC Invitational.
"She finished that race (Mt. SAC) in a lot of pain from side cramps," Cochrane said. "Then she told me why. She had eaten a bunch of churros and chocolate right before the race."
But the rest of her efforts have led only to winning.
Pinto had the best overall time (18:24) at the Orange County Championships.
Pinto was undefeated in league meets and won the Craig Park Invitational by nearly two minutes. There, as she has in most races this year, Pinto went out like a flash and crossed the finish line a champion.
"That is the way she goes out in every race," Cochrane said. "She's been starting like that since I first saw her run."
That was when Pinto was a seventh-grader at South Junior High in Anaheim. There, she set Anaheim district records for seventh-graders in the 440 and 880 yards, and in the one-mile run (5:40).
"People would always say you got to watch this little girl run," Cochrane said. "She was even tinier then, maybe 75 pounds, but she went out fast at the gun and didn't slow down."
Though Pinto started running at 8, her six years' experience hasn't taught her everything.
"I get real nervous," she said. "I'm always nervous when I race. I just want to get it over with."
As fast as she can.
Santa Ana Valley, ranked second to Palos Verdes in the girls' 4-A, is one of seven Orange County teams running in the 4-A final at 9:20 a.m. The Falcons are led by Maricela Benavides, who will challenge for the individual 4-A title along with Riverside Poly's Brigid Freyne, Santa Barbara's Jamie Park and Palos Verdes' Ashley Black. The other county teams competing in the 4-A final are: Irvine, led by Barbara Kozlowski and Andrea Caminiti; Newport Harbor, led by sophomore Kim Robinson; Villa Park, led by Laura Doering; El Toro, led by freshman Shannon Liddy; Santa Ana, led by Maria Mendoza; Mission Viejo, led by Annette Escher, and Tustin, led by sophomore Erin Cunningham. Woodbridge had the third-fastest team time (103:04) in the 2-A preliminaries. The Warriors, who will face Agoura and Hesperia in the 2-A final at 10:10 a.m., are led by Cathi Peck.