Profile: Pioneer’s Zofia Dudek takes the lead heading for the final lap – Saturday’s State Finals

Pioneer’s Sarah Forsyth and Saline’s Madi Wood headed for the home stretch side by side during Saturday’s Division 1 girls’ cross country Regional at Lake Erie Metropark. Two of the best runners in the state crossed nearly at the same time and both with incredible times as Forsyth clocked in at 18:04.72 and Wood at 18:04.94.

But what was most amazing about this finish is that it wasn’t a finish for first place. This was a race for second place. First place was long decided before they reached the finish line.

Meet Zofia Dudek – the Pioneer runner who prefers to run all by herself because maybe she doesn’t like crowds, maybe she doesn’t want to trip over someone else’s untied shoe lace, or maybe she is just too fast.

Anyone who has seen Dudek run knows that it’s the last maybe for why the senior spends most of her cross country races running all by herself. It’s really as simple as that – no one can keep up with her incredible pace.

While it doesn’t appear to be a problem for her, Dudek says there are challenges running by yourself and in the lead. “It’s harder because I don’t have anyone there pushing me,” she says. “Having competition next to me or near me pushes me more and makes me go a little faster.”

Dudek called the Lake Erie course “very interesting.”

“I like that it’s not two separate loops and parts of it are different. It’s a really nice course,” she said just a few minutes after dominating the course. “It does have the one hill that we go up twice but it’s not really that bad. It does get windy out here which makes it harder but overall I really like this course.”

Dudek won Saturday’s Regional with a time of 17:04.12. Two things to note: Her time was a minute faster than that great sprint to the line by Forsyth and Wood; and it wasn’t even a PR – Dudek ran 16:46.9 on Oct. 11at the Ypsi Run Co River Rat Open at Willow Metropark. Running 16:46.9 is just crazy fast!

Dudek broke down her racing strategy, which sounds a lot easier than it really is.

I try to get out fast and I listen to my time at every mile,” she says. “But I focus more on the effort than the time. And I try to just keep pushing as hard as I can. If I feel myself slowing down or feeling comfortable that’s when I know I need to push myself. 

Dudek has run seven races this year and has seven first places. She won the SEC Jamboree 2 with a time of 16:58.0 with Forsyth second in 18:20.5. And, remember, Sarah Forsyth, who is only a sophomore, is among the top runners in the state. She was 26th in the state last year as a freshman.

Dudek heads to the Division 1 State Finals on Saturday as the favorite to win the individual race and perhaps lead her team to a state championship. She finished third at last year’s state finals – behind two seniors – with a time of 17:59.8 at MIS as the Pioneers placed second overall. 

“I think I’m seeded No. 1, but I know there will be some good runners out there,” said Dudek, who finished 20th in the state finals as a sophomore.

Dudek’s first few years at Pioneer were spent running alongside Anne Forsyth, Sarah’s older sister, who is now a standout runner at the University of Michigan. She says she learned a lot from her older teammate.

“It was a wonderful experience and I loved having her as a teammate,” Dudek said. “She really helped push me. I got to see her always get out fast and the way she ran was very inspirational to me.”

Dudek hasn’t crossed the finish line when it comes to picking a college – she’s pacing herself. The University of Michigan and a few Ivy League schools are on the course but nothing has been decided yet for Dudek, who also is an excellent student.

It’s been quite a run so far for the talented Pioneer athlete.

“I joined a running club we had in elementary school and I liked it a lot,” she said. “It was a fun hobby for most of the time. It started to get a little more serious in middle school. But I just liked it especially the team aspect. I love the team part of cross country.

The goal at MIS is first place – both individually and as a team.

“The key for us is to keep pushing each other,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard to just push yourself but if you know that everyone on the team is counting on you then you push a little harder. You don’t want to let your teammates down. And finishing first as a team makes it that much more special.”