A Coe-Brown graduate from the Class of 2016, Liz Danis graciously penned a “Senior to Freshman” series for NHCC last Fall. We asked her to give us an update! Thanks Liz!!!
I was wicked excited when Cox asked me to do a follow-up to the Senior to Freshman series that was developed last year. Watching everyone in New Hampshire run wicked fast, watching all the results and all the race videos, is something I spend time every weekend doing. It’s so cool to see everyone grow faster and faster!
With that being said, I want to update everyone! Coming to the University of Alabama marked one of the biggest changes in my adult life, and was not without challenge. As documented by New Hampshire Cross Country, my first semester was a lot of falling, and getting back up. Literally. Thanks, Notre Dame (it happened again this year, too).
Now, a week away from our Regional meet, and possibly marking my half-way point through Alabama Cross Country, it’s great to see the differences between my freshman self, and my sophomore self. If there’s one thing that holds true, it’s that everything gets easier – except the workouts. Those just get faster. After a tumultuous indoor and spring season, summer came with a single mission: to come back to Alabama ready to be in the best shape of my life, and for the team to rise to the next level.
And it’s been great. Coming back to Alabama, I know where I fit. Being something that I struggled with much of my freshman year, it was refreshing to come back to school with the idea in my, “Okay, I want to be the number two on the team this year,” and to know that was something that wasn’t out of reach. I think the biggest difference is knowing almost everyone on the team already, and having positive relationships with many of the other girls. Living on my own isn’t something scary anymore – one of my teammates and I got an apartment together and I even adopted a kitten in early September.
One of the big things I’ve tried to emphasize this season is having a closer relationship with my coach. I truly believe for an athlete to make it to that ‘next level,’ there needs to be a lot of trust between the coach and the athlete. Developing that rapport with Coach Tribble has consisted of me dropping by his office often throughout the week, talking about an upcoming workout or race, and making sure I’m incredibly honest with him, almost blunt, about how I’m feeling. When I had an awful race at our home meet, I had just come off a week of the highest mileage I’d ever done, and communicating that I was tired and feeling beat up was wicked important. In fact, it was one of his concerns going into the race – and it was good to hear that it wasn’t unexpected that I felt so rough.
The team has come a long way, too. A lot of girls had great summers of training, and when we got back, everyone was ready to work hard. We’ve focused on putting in the right miles at the right time, but more than that, we made the decision early on to work on being more supportive, encouraging, and to get to know one another on a more personal level. The atmosphere on the team this year is almost completely different from my freshman year. Everyone’s working hard, but everyone’s a little more relaxed. We have fun on runs, now. We play whatever music we want during track workouts and we dance along. There’s a lot of joking, a lot of long runs that end in coffee and breakfast from our favorite bakery, and a lot more laughing. Being relaxed and having fun with running, especially at the end of the season, has made practice something we all look forward to a little bit more each day. As opposed to last year, where a warm-up consisted on seven or eight girls quietly marching towards the line, we’re all talking and chatting now, checking in with one another and making sure everyone’s confident and ready when we step on the course.
One of our biggest challenges of the year was our conference meet. The course was in Georgia, and let me say, I don’t think I’ve ever run a hillier course. Without much hill training (because most of Tuscaloosa is flat as a pancake, but trust me, I tried to go up everything I could) everyone was a little nervous. We hadn’t had a good race since early September, and we all knew we had to get the ball rolling if we wanted to have the opportunity to run well at Regionals. The course was literally two hills, and you went back and forth between them. It was like being in a skate park. Coach told us it would be a ‘death march’ from the gun, and we all looked at one another, because no one wants to hear about how much pain they’re going to be in before they do it. Instead of being afraid, everyone stepped up. It was the best race of our season (phew) and even though it wasn’t perfect, it was a turning point. I don’t think anything creates a tighter bond between a team than that kind of race.
College running, I would daresay, is fun. After the ups and downs of freshman year, I was spent. But this year is different. It’s hard to describe, but I think some can understand that shift in the atmosphere that occurs when the team, the girls together, decide that they want to be better. I know, personally, this year has been about getting comfortable being at the front again, and getting comfortable putting myself in the front. While less prevalent in cross country because, well, I’m not going to be racing with Karissa Schweizer, being comfortable being uncomfortable in the first mile of a race is something that’s always in the back of my mind, and being willing to put myself in a better position has been too. If freshman year was about learning, this year has been about practicing execution.
To any runners getting ready to start their freshman year, or half way through, know freshman year is not the best year. At all. Even if your freshman year is great, it will only get better. Being comfortable at your school and with your coach and teammates is a huge help in all aspects of running. There was a point that I questioned whether Alabama was right for me last year. I wasn’t sure if I had made a mistake, and I was scared that I did. I can say, with confidence, Alabama was a great choice. From an athletic standpoint, and from a personal-growth standpoint, there’s no place I’d rather be.
See NH in a few weeks!!