But Le Mars Community Schools sophomore Kenzie Theisen proved she could run right with them.
Running her personal best time, 14:40, Theisen claimed fifth place of more than 125 runners at the Fort Dodge course.
"To finish fifth in that field is really good," LCS girls cross country coach Adam Moss said. "It was a tough pack, and she had a great race."
This was Theisen's second year running at state, and she used her experience to shape this year's race, Moss said.
Theisen usually prefers to start her races more slowly, but in a packed race like Saturday's, that kind of start can make it difficult to catch up with the lead pack, so Theisen lead off a little stronger, Moss said.
Theisen said she quickly realized what she needed to do to make it to the top Saturday.
"At the first corner, I noticed how far back I was," she said. "I started to weave through a lot of people in my first mile. That's my style. I like chasing people."
By about the middle of the race, she was running near the front.
"She navigated well in that first mile to get herself high in the pack," Moss said. "Around the mile mark, she really found her rhythm with the front pack."
The race leader, Anna Holdiman of Waverly-Shell Rock, had broken away early, but the next four runners were racing tight, Moss said.
"Kenzie hung in there with Bethany Dykstra, of MOC-Floyd Valley. They've been racing with each other all year," the LCS coach said. "It was good for her to have someone familiar, to know the pace."
Theisen, the daughter of Brian and Lori Theisen, of Le Mars, shaved almost a full minute off of her state race time from last year, Moss said.
"That's a tremendous accomplishment," he said.
As a freshman, Theisen placed 36th at state.
Theisen has often placed in the top three spots at meets during regular season competition, but this top five finish on the state level reveals the level of the sophomore's improvement, Moss said.
"People might not have realized how much work she's put in," he said. "Her work ethic is great; she has a desire to compete and a desire to improve. She has a lot of heart."
Theisen said she raised the bar on her training this year to prepare for this level of racing.
"I put in more miles in the summer and harder workouts during the season," she said.
And it payed off Saturday, Theisen said.
"I felt good," she said. "Afterward, my legs were sore and tired, but it was good."
Now Theisen is looking forward to having a little fun, running the Coca Cola Classic road race in Sioux City this weekend.
"Then I'm going to take a few weeks off, let my body heal for a while," she said.