Three months and eleven days ago my parents dropped me off in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In the last three months, I moved over thirteen-hundred miles away from home. I left my loved ones, my teammates, my coaches, my favorite teachers, and my best friends behind in New Hampshire. I’ve gotten homesick. A lot. I’ve made new friends. I submerged myself in a new culture and a new program. I’ve run more miles than I ever have before. I’ve traveled to more courses than I ever have before. I’ve explored new cities. I’ve tested my beliefs and formed new opinions. I’ve lived on my own for the first time.
My last race over the course of those three months took place in Tallahassee, Florida, and was run at NCAA Regionals. The course was, we joked, completely downhill. It was supposed to be fast. We all put our heads and our hearts together because we wanted to make NCAA’s more than anything. Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way. With four of our top seven being freshmen, one can understand how a young team would struggle at the end of a season. It’s taken me ten days to write this after Regionals, because honestly, I was wicked disappointed. I didn’t run as fast as I wanted to or place as well as I wanted to, individually. The biggest kicker was when our single senior found out we weren’t going, and let a few tears slip out. The rest of us were quick to follow.
I may have been, well, disappointed, ten days ago. Ten days is a lot of time to think, though. We didn’t run at NCAA’s. Okay. I wasn’t thrilled with my last race. Okay. Maybe you’re noticing a pattern concerning how I view my races… it’s not good unless it’s my very best. For a reason, though, I pointed out how many changes I’ve gone through in the past three months. And in the words of our head coach, my “freshman campaign was pretty good.” Before coming to Alabama, Coach Cox told me that I probably wouldn’t PR this season. He warned me not to get my hopes up. Sorry, Coach. I did. And that’s okay. This season I PR’d in the 5k en route to a 6k. I met my goal of being in the top five my freshman year. I got to race at NCAA Regionals! Heck, I got to race in college. That alone is something to be proud of. And while I know I’ve grown as a runner, more importantly, I’m growing as a person. One of the biggest reasons I chose to go so far away was because I wanted to challenge myself, and challenge myself I have. I’ve learned a lot. Running was important this season. But, something just as important (or almost more) was learning to be a DI athlete. I wanted to share a few of those lessons.
- Being the fifth runner is harder than being the first. Coming from a program where, in my senior season, I was consistently the top runner, I can honestly say I believe being the fifth runner is a harder job. There are more people to pass, more bodies to push, and a bigger number resting on your shoulders. Give your fifth runner props. I know often, I would look around and realize I was fifth, and that alone made me know I had to give it more than everything I had. There were girls relying on me to finish as low as possible. When you’re in the top ten, there are only so many spots you can move up. When you’re in the top fifty, you’ve got room to progress. Always.
- Do the little things right. I spent about two hours in the training room every day. No exaggeration. I stretch for about forty-five minutes. I am always rolling or getting a tight hamstring rubbed out. The ice bath is a daily grind, and if Coach ever asks anyone where I am, it’s with our trainer Darah. Pre-hab is my best friend and it’s what has allowed to me stay healthy, particularly with such a large mileage increase from high school.
- To run hard, rest hard. If I’m not in class or in the training room, I’m asleep. Rest is incredibly important to recovery. I probably, on average, get close to eleven hours of sleep a night. That’s a lot and sometimes it means giving up going out with friends. It’s worth it, though, because with the right amount of sleep, I feel much more awake and ready to run. It gives my body the opportunity to reset and rebuild and if I wasn’t sleeping so much, I promise you that season would have been unbearable. Sleep is your best friend!
- Your attitude is everything. When I first arrived in Alabama, I had a few bad workouts and I got negative. Everything after that got worse and worse. I kept telling myself that I just wanted to go home, and that it wasn’t working. That was the worst thing I could be doing. After a phone call from the one and only Coach Cox, and motivation from Coach Tkaczyk, I finally got my head on right and went into the workouts with a better attitude. Even if I didn’t believe it, I opted for the “fake it till you make it” mindset, and after a few successes, everything turned around. I started PRing in workouts. I got faster and faster. When you begin with a negative view, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you believe in yourself and trust your legs, everything will start to work itself out. Stay positive. Keep trying. Negative thoughts will get you nowhere. Now, Coach says I’m the happiest person on the team. I’m never without a smile.
- Appreciate it. All of it. Everyone told me to appreciate high school cross country. Now, they tell me college goes by even quicker. I love running in college, I promise, but high school i loved way more at this point. The courses are more interesting, the coaches have more wiggle room, and it’s not a business. Enjoy New Hampshire running because it’s by far the best in the country. Enjoy it all, every moment, and take it in. Whether you get to run in college or not, it’ll never be the same as it is in high school. Maybe that’s better for you, but my high school team was special to me, and I go back to what I learned there every single day. And I’m sure in another year, my college team will be just as special to me.
Cross country is long and hard, an uphill battle – one could say. In the end, we all keep coming back. Thank you for letting me share my first season with you. I’m thankful for every race, every workout, and every step I’ve taken as an Alabama athlete. I wouldn’t choose any other team. I’m thankful I’ve gotten to share my experiences thus far. Going into indoor, I couldn’t be more excited to see what kind of wheels I have and take another step forward.
See you soon, NH!!!