Spotlight: Pioneer’s Rachel Forsyth might be the best distance runner in the state—ever

By Terry Jacoby/

Throwing the term GOAT (greatest of all time) around in sports can be quite subjective and certainly controversial. Even Michael Jordan in basketball or Tom Brady in football is sure to get some pushback and alternate choices. But when it comes to high school girls cross country in the state of Michigan, the name Forsyth really can’t be argued or debated. The only question might come from which sibling do you pick.

Running obviously runs in the family and it starts at the head of the table. The father is former U-M national champion Ian Forsyth and the mother is former U-M cross-country team captain Jessica Kluge. So, that’s a pretty good couple of steps in the right direction.

The first one to the starting line was Anne Forsyth, who enjoyed an incredible career at Michigan. But before she crossed the street, she was a superstar at Pioneer where she was a four-time top-15 cross-country finisher at the D-1 State Finals, including runner-up as a junior in 2016. Sister Sarah Forsyth twice finished among the top 10 individually at the State Finals before heading off to run at Michigan State.

And then there is Rachel Forsyth, who finished off one of the best running careers in Michigan’s long history of high school cross country with her second victory in four runs at the MHSAA D-1 State Finals with the fastest time ever recorded at Michigan International Speedway. The Pioneer senior ran past the field to cross first in a record-shattering 16 minutes, 28.5 seconds, breaking the course record by 25 seconds.

Forsyth, who won every race she ran this past season as a senior, was “first” in 2020 as a freshman in her race at MIS with a time of 17:55.60. But the event was split into two races because of Covid. Based on her time, she was second overall because another runner ran a faster time in the other heat. She was first as a sophomore in 2021 in 17:09.32, winning by more than 10 seconds over the runner-up when the event returned to a single race. Health issues slowed her down last year resulting in her missing a big part of the season. She returned late in the year and placed 62nd at MIS.

So, two first-place finishes as a sophomore and senior, a debatable second-place finish as a freshman, and a course record certainly qualifies you for GOAT status. At least until the next GOAT comes running along.

Forsyth also took first at the NXR Midwest Regional Championships this past November in Indiana. Her time of 16:31.1 was more than 40 seconds better than the runner-up in a field of 259 runners from all over the Midwest.

Before we get to the finish line, let’s backtrack all the way to the starting line and see how the No. 1 runner in 2023 approaches a race.

“Before races my first instinct is to get very nervous, but I try not to let that take over,” she says. “I’m usually joking around with my teammates and trying to stay relaxed and having fun. At the starting line, I take a deep breath and am ready to give it my best.”

During the race, things change. “My thoughts during races depend on the circumstance,” she says. “If I’m all alone, I’m focused on running a really fast time. If I’m running alongside or behind someone, I’m focused on trying to pull away/pass them.”

Forsyth says her main motivation comes from within. “I really enjoy running, so most of the time I am able to motivate myself,” she says. “There are definitely hard days though, and on these days my motivation comes from my coaches and team.”

When she is not running, you can find her signing. “I am in an Acapella group at school which is part of the Pioneer choir program,” says Forsyth, who has a 3.88 GPA. “I am in a group with about 10 other singers and we perform pop songs.”

Forsyth did a lot of running on the soccer field growing up. “I have played soccer pretty much my whole life,” she says. “My parents and older sisters run, so I have also gone to watch them race many times. I joined the cross-country team in 6th grade. My biggest skill while I played soccer was my speed and that translated on the course as well. I love the way that running is very team and individual based which is a lot different from your typical sport. The way for the team to perform the best is if each person gives it their own personal best.”

And Pioneer has had plenty of runners performing their best over the years. The Pioneers took second overall this past season in the team standings at the D-1 State Finals after running third last year. They were state champions in 2021 with Rachel Forsyth taking first and Sarah Forsyth finishing eighth and the team finishing with 68 points, 32 points ahead of runner-up Holland West Ottawa. They also were state champs in 2020 and 2019. 

“The team this year was very close,” said Rachel. “There were a bunch of seniors on varsity, so we had already known each other for multiple years. It was special being able to have a really fun last cross-country season all together. My favorite part of the day is practice so being able to hang out with my friends every day was the biggest highlight for me.”

So, how do you get to be a GOAT – or at least in the conversation? Well, Rachel obviously worked hard to accomplish all that she has accomplished in cross country. “My off-season is in the summer,” she says. “My team practices 6 days per week. We train the same way we do in season plus extra miles/workouts. We also strength train twice per week, also minimal strength every day.”

And what advice for young runners out there? “For someone just starting to run, I would say staying on a consistent schedule is the best way to keep you on track,” she says. “Having a set time to go for a run every day might help you remember and be a good first goal to have.”

Forsyth will follow in the footsteps of her sister Sarah and head to East Lansing next year. “After this year, I will be going to Michigan State University and running on the cross country and track team,” she says. “I am probably going in as an undecided major. I picked Michigan State because my sister already runs on the team and I felt really connected to the head coach and am confident that I will keep improving in my sport while having a fun time with the team.”

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