By Elisabeth Danis
Redshirting cross country season was by far the right decision. I thought I would take a little more time to explain what that means. I am on the team, but I’m not racing for University of New Hampshire in order to preserve my eligibility for a fifth year. The biggest reason Coach Hoppler and I chose to do this is to allow me to adjust to being at UNH. Taking the time to adjust to Coach Hoppler’s training, move into an apartment, and get comfortable academically was the right choice. It’s been hard to balance training and school. I would love to say I’ve excelled in this transition and that it’s come easily. I would be thrilled to tell you that coming to New Hampshire has been a breeze, but honestly, it hasn’t. New Hampshire is my home, you’d think coming back would be a breeze. I’ve struggled to find cohesiveness in my academics and athletics. It might sound silly, but school was a lot easier in the south. In addition, I’ve been running a little less than I’d like over the past few weeks thanks to a temperamental hamstring and that’s definitely thrown me off.
I’ve had to learn to manage my academics again. Sometimes that means studying through lunch, or spending time going over notes for class before and after lecture. For me, it’s also meant that Coach Hoppler and I chose my off day to be on Monday, my busiest day of classes. Time management was something I worked hard at while I was in high school, was something I had to consider less at Alabama, and is something I am currently relearning. It means a little less time for Netflix and for stretching. It’s a little less time talking to my friends who are still down south, and a little more time with my head in the books. In the words of Coach Hoppler, I can’t be perfect. My running isn’t going to be perfect, and my academics aren’t perfect. I’m trying to accept the idea that B’s get degrees. One C on an exam (or two, whoops!) isn’t going to be the end of the world. What’s important is taking the time to learn the information I need to know in a manner that works for me, which is not necessarily how the professor presents it. So, to everyone who thinks going to UNH is a breeze, I can confidently say this was not the easy way out!
But that being said, there are way more fun things to do than study. One of those things is racing. This past weekend I got to line-up with some awesome runners, including Emily Sisson, Erin Clark, and other professionals at the Reebok Boston 10k for Women. The event, formerly Tufts 10k for Women, is 42 years old, and is organized to support women in sport and in movement. It was by Coach Hoppler’s recommendation that I take the opportunity to run with some amazing talent, appreciate all that athletics has given me, and spend some time with my family. It was also a pointed move toward running a 10k in outdoor and evaluating where my training (which has been great at some points, less than great at others) has left me.
Truthfully, I was really nervous going into this race. I was unsure of my few weeks of training building up to it. I had gone from running a lot of mileage to running around 30 miles in a week due to a nagging hamstring and IT band. I took the Saturday before the race off because my leg hurt. I was stressed academically and didn’t feel like I had a great handle on myself. There was a part of me that was really considering scrapping the race and just staying home to sleep and study. Down to Boston my mother and I went, anyway. Since there was no race-day bib pickup, my mom and I drove down on Sunday to get my bib and to spend the afternoon in Boston and see the course. We went out for dinner, I ate a chocolate chip cookie (or two) and we proceeded to get ready for the upcoming day.
It was 55 and windy down in Boston, and I was anxious to get going. I started warming up a little too early, in part because I was cold, and in part because I couldn’t bear to wait another second. Standing on the line, the announcer called our attention to a special athlete lining up. A young girl, either 7 or 9, was the sole wheelchair athlete in the race. She had competed the year before, too. Everything felt surreal. There was this little girl, less than 10 years old, and she was going to push her way through this course. I was standing on the line with some of the country’s best talent. There were thousands of women in line behind me, too. I was able to take a moment and let the nerves go. I wanted to appreciate where I was. I was at home, racing, inspired, with my family. And that’s when it became fun, and when I truly started appreciating the opportunity given to me.
35 minutes and 17 seconds later, I crossed the line ecstatic. 35 minutes and 17 seconds was a 10k PR for me, on and off the track. The race had gone smoothly. I had gone out too fast, but I had maintained an 80-90% effort throughout the course, never red-lining. My parents were there to celebrate a 17th place finish with me, and in that moment, I was more excited about racing than I have been since leaving Coe-Brown.
Flash-forward to a few hours later. As it turns out, someone placed a cone wrong on the course. It was 300m short. I did not run a PR. At first, I was disappointed. I had been so excited, so happy to have run faster than I thought. My parents had been excited for me. We were all excited. Then, I thought a little harder. Sure, it stinks that I didn’t run a PR. That race was so much more than a PR though. For me, it was affirmation of everything the past few months has thrown at us. It was affirmation that the stress, the move, the instability, and the tears (more than I’d like to admit) were worth it. It was solidifying the decision to come home and be with family and friends. It was reminding myself to go into races confident and relaxed, regardless of what happened prior. I was sure that coming to New Hampshire was the right decision for me. Nothing’s been more fun to me than learning all the new trails, getting to know my teammates, and learning from Coach Hoppler. But it’s still great to have that assurance – to look at a clock and see a time that excites me. It was incredible to line up for a 10k that went well, and to me, this 10k was two years in the making. I’ve been trying so hard to get that distance right and it’s been frustrating not to be comfortable racing it. Had that course not been 300m short, I might not have gotten to appreciate how far I’ve come and how far I want to go. I would have dismissed it, been happy, but not been excited. So, it was short, and I didn’t run 35:17 in the 10k. I did in the 6 mile though, and hey, that’s a start. We’ve got a long time until I step back on the track for a 10k, but I know when I get there, it’ll be exciting and a lot less scary.
I want to encourage student-athletes to make the decisions they know are right for themselves. Some of these decisions are really difficult. Moving to Alabama was difficult, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It made me a better, more well-rounded person. Transferring to UNH was difficult, but again, I’m so thankful to be back. It’s okay to struggle sometimes, whether it be academically or athletically. Both are important parts of our lives. One of the best decisions can be asking for help. If I hadn’t maintained a great relationship with Coach Cox and called him when I decided I was transferring, I might have been stuck in Alabama. So, understand struggle is part of the natural cycle, that nothing progresses in a linear fashion, and like I’ve heard from many people in my life, it’ll all work out.