My alarm goes off. I fall out of bed into my sneakers and running clothes. Drowsily, I stumble out my door to the elevator. I scroll through YouTube, picking the first song I see. It happens to be Gavin DeGraw’s, “She Sets the City on Fire.” I have my first coherent thought of the morning. “I’m going to light up this course,” I tell myself before I run out of my building at a pace slightly faster than a walk. For six minutes.
I’m back in my room making a peanut butter and jelly. I don’t like peanut butter. As many runners can relate to, I choke down the sandwich solely because I understand my body will need to fuel. It doesn’t taste very good. Vitamin Water follows quickly, an attempt to hydrate before the race. Before long, I finish my breakfast and stagger into the shower. I look at my watch. Only four and a half more hours till it’s over.
I receive a text from my mother. She and my father flew down from New Hampshire for the meet. They are outside waiting to drive me over to the athletic facilities, where I load up into one of the University vans. We all wear bright pink shirts, a nod to Breast Cancer Awareness, the cause our meet supports. I look at my watch again. Just over three hours till I will be finished racing. I borrow a sharpie from one of my teammates, and on my hand I write “Far, Fast, With Heart,” – an abbreviated reminder of a sign in Coach Cox’s office. I know that even if I forget what I’ve written while I’m racing, my friends and teammates at home are still with me. As we pull up to the cross country course, “Sweet Home Alabama” blares through the speakers. We are almost ready to go.
Our home course is by far my favorite course we have gotten to run on. I stand on the start line. Surrounding me are the girls I’ve come to know and love as my teammates. Before me is six thousand meters of pain. Unlike the two courses we had run on before, our home course actually includes two hills. While not Derryfield level, we go up one three separate times and the other once. It’s enough to consider the course rolling. Or at least, not flat. All the better for me.
The race consisted of three loops all increasing in distance until the finish. I am incredibly lucky that I have teammates to race with. One of the upperclassmen and I had planned on going out together before the race and were able to follow through. Even though the race was only 1000 meters more than I’m used to running, it was nice to have someone with experience to guide me. Although, truth be told, running the 6k wasn’t that much different. It reminded me of racing with Hannah Parker before she graduated. We were able to help one another through the rough patches, keeping the pace honest and working our way through the masses. The trick to this course was to get through the first 4k-ish, and then drive the last two home. Once we had come through that, the hills were all over, and it became a game of surging and covering.
I cross the finish line in 21:14, the third girl in for Alabama and fifteenth overall. I would later learn that Alabama Women won the meet as well. I drag myself over to the benches to gather myself before exiting the finishing area. One of my favorite parts of this race was that when I finished, my parents were immediately there! It was great to have them at a race again, and I’m so fortunate that they were able to make the trip to Alabama. The time conversion for my 6k, to a 5k, is exactly two seconds faster than my PR in the 5k. It’s really cool to know that even though the distance was further, I was on pace to run my best time ever. What makes it better is that it’s only the beginning of October, and I’m already flying. It’s nice to see all the hard work we’re putting in, individually and as a team, paying off.
Although my race went smoothly, not everything was perfect that day. Three hours prior to the race, we learned our number one girl would not be running that day. Then, just over 1200 meters into the race, our number two pulled out. It was a big day for the freshmen to step up – four of our top five girls at the Crimson Classic were freshmen. We had to adjust and adapt quickly and efficiently throughout the course of the race, at a distance none of us had run before. It was a testament to the depth we are developing and that becomes more and more important as the races become more competitive. Cross country isn’t like track in the way that every mile or lap is the same as the last. There’s a lot of movement, a lot of time, and a lot of ways for things to go wrong. From twisted ankles to falling flat on your face to just not getting out well enough, being flexible, I’ve learned, is incredibly important in racing. It’s a good lesson for all of us going into Championship season. Next up for Alabama is SEC’s in two weeks – I’m glad to have gotten the opportunity to run a good 6k before toeing the line in Arkansas. Having a good race behind us, individually and as a team, builds the confidence we’re going to need to have in ourselves when we line up again.
While I’m racing at SEC’s in two weeks, everyone at home will be toeing the line at States. Whether a new freshman or a seasoned senior, that’s something wicked exciting. Don’t let the butterflies control you – control them. Love every second of it. Derryfield is one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever raced on and I sincerely wish the few colleges courses I’ve experienced were more like Manchester. Take every moment in, because time flies when you’re quick on your feet!
Good luck to those competing and I can’t wait to see the results!