There were many things that most people couldn't or wouldn't do over the course of the last 14 months due to CoVid-19. Spending time alone in nature wasn't on that list.
So when the outside world shut down, Daphne Banino headed toward what would prove to be her sanctuary - Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville. There are 45 miles of carriage roads and trails in the park and Banino got to know them all while running, reflecting and refining her technique.
Now that the world has begun to reopen, the work Banino, 16, did in the park is paying dividends. The Ursuline High junior went into COVID as a runner with potential. She came out as one of the most versatile and impressive middle-distance runners in Section 1. Banino's efforts in the mile and on a variety of Ursuline relay teams this spring have been nothing short of spectacular and she, along with her coach, give much of the credit to what she did - mostly on her own - in the park.
Banino has picked up victories in the 800 meters, 1,500 meters, 1,600 meters, the mile and the 3,000 meters at a variety of meets this spring. She ran a sub-5:00 mile for the first time, breaking that barrier on three occasions, two of which were victories. The third was a second-place finish at the Athletics Westchester Open on April 18 when she ran a personal-best 4:55.18.
"I had a lot of time to train during COVID which was definitely a big help," Banino said. "I think before I didn't know how to train right. I run cross country and that definitely helped but I've also been training with good people, both from in school and out of school. Sometimes we train with the boy's team, too, and that has been really great, too.
"I didn't expect this success. Breaking five (for the mile) was always a goal but I didn't think I would do it before the end of high school. It was a goal but I didn't think it was achievable. It was a really big improvement. My previous [mile] time was at the beginning of my sophomore year and it was in the upper five teens. I didn't think I could make such a big jump in such a short period of time."
Ursuline coach Jan Mitchell also pointed toward Banino's improved gait and increase in upper body strength as two of the reasons why she has improved. He is impressed with the fact that she was able to do much of it by herself.
"She has improved phenomenally," Mitchell said. "COVID had a lot to do with that. She lives across from the Rockefeller estate and when we got locked down she got in a tremendous amount of distance and a lot of upper-body training on her own. She also kind of changed her gait. She used to bounce too much. I don't know how she did it on her own but it's been mind-blowing to see how much she has improved this year. She works really hard."
Banino said her upper-upper body strength is due to the strength training. The regimen, she added, becomes addictive when you begin to see results and that only made her work harder. Those results in the gym have led to results on the track, allowing her to stay stronger later in races.
As for her gait, Banino said she can't take all the credit. Mitchell's influence was felt there.
"Coach helped me a lot with my gait," said Banino, who also had a dominant cross country season in the fall during which she earned six first-place finishes. "He said I bounced when I ran. He called me bunny. So, I focused on that with my races. I did road runs and strides and paid attention to how much I was going up and down and focusing on form. He definitely brought it to my attention so I worked at it.
"I didn't know about it before he told me. He told me I had a weird stride. I didn't realize I was bouncing so I tried to smooth it out a bit."
Banino's efforts have also paid dividends on Ursuline's relay teams. She has run in both the 4X8 and DMR this spring as the squad's anchor and said the relays are probably her favorite events because she enjoys collaborating with the team. That she spends so much time warming up and cooling down by herself for solo events doesn't always allow for the teamwork and camaraderie experienced during a relay so Banino appreciates the togetherness that comes with training and running as a relay team.
Her efforts have also begun to get her thinking about college. Banino knows she wants to run but she also wants to study environmental science. She has always loved the outdoors and was leaning in that direction anyway but her runs through Rockefeller only strengthened her desire to make it her major/career.
"I love trail running and being out in nature," said Banino, whose sister, Stella, also ran for Ursuline and now runs on the club team at Virginia. "I love learning about environmental science and how it works."
Her love of running and of nature likely means the visits to Rockefeller State Park won't end anytime soon.