The marketing and branding surrounding this event, or shall we say simply, the HYPE made me think that I wasn’t going to enjoy this race that much because it wasn’t “serious” enough about the running.
I’m sitting in a park in Nashville, still 4 hours away from my last race of the season, THE RACE, the focus one I’ve been training for since, I guess, my last track 5k in 2012.
2012 was my senior year of college, and my last year of running for Baylor. I set PRs in everything from the 800 to the 5k that year, and it was hard to feel too bad about choking in the final race of the year at regionals. You’ll get ’em next year, champ. I trotted up to Colorado for my summer job as a camp counselor and focused on 2013.
Injuries always suck, but the one I got in Colorado that dragged through fall was the worst I’d faced. I didn’t handle it too well (you can read all about it and the resulting mental breakdown in the archives here though … Yay writing) but suffice it to say, I didn’t do a lot of running that next year. In fact, I didn’t run a step for six months. When I came back, at the urging of a wisened running coach who visited the store where I worked, the first 10 minute jogs around the Twin Lakes golf course in Waco were almost surreal. I felt like myself again.
I started running with my cross country team again, although I was the old, weird one who kept showing up even though she was in grad school.
The next year, I finished school and moved home, and Steve Sisson at Rogue Athletic Club in Austin let me on his team. I was majorly outclassed for my fitness, coming off six months of 35 miles per week, but my stale PRs and collegiate “pedigree” gave me hope that sticking around would eventually not be as weird as starting. Most of all, Steve looking me in the eye once or twice and saying “I think you can do this,” encouraged me to keep going even when it seemed dumb to me.
Everyone has to answer “why are we doing this?” Why expend so much of our time, energy, our money, our resources, and our hearts in this sport?
I used to think that if I was better at running, my choice to keep doing it would somehow validate it. “Yes… But she’s an All-American! See? It’s not a waste of time. You can put that on a resume.” I never got one of those spots. Next, I thought being a pro would validate it. Then I made it on Rogue AC, and I still have to ask why I’m doing this. I’m not on our sponsored team, so there is another level of “pro” to achieve here, but even my teammates deal with the questions of meaning in running.
They still have to navigate being twenty something in our world, as an athlete, working or at least considering other careers, pursuing relationships, and living on their own. They’ve achieved more than me in running, but I’ve seen behind the Emerald City curtain in pro running and it’s not another world apart from what I do now. It’d be nice to achieve at a higher level, and I sure don’t know what it’s like to run at a USA championship or represent Team USA in a world meet, but at the end of the day you’re still you.
I’m 25, and I’m still running. It makes just about as much sense as it ever did. I run because I like pushing myself, and the daily successes and progress towards a goal makes me feel pretty damn good about myself. Vain as this may be, it’s the best way I can sum it up.
In 2014 my spring season consisted of a trail race and a road 5k where I barely broke 18:00. The main wins that year were showing up every day and not quitting in the face of discouragement.
I got hurt last fall, and you know, married, so I guess that was a good enough distraction. My first run back was on the honeymoon, and I haven’t missed a day (that I wanted to run) since then. I’ve raced one each of a road 5k, a half marathon, a 1500, a mile, a 10k, a trail race, and a 3k, and with the exception of the 10k have been really happy with my progress. My fitness has taken a seemingly impossible amount of time to return, but I’m consistent, healthy, and having fun, so it’s going as well as I can ask.
This year is the first year I’ve run anything close to a track season since 2012. And hey, it’s going pretty well. I PR’d in the half marathon and ran a 4:34 in the 1500. Considering I never broke 4:30 in the 1500 until senior year, I was happy to even be in striking distance this year.
So that’s why I’ve traveled to Nashville – pro title be damned, I’m here because I’ve trained for this and I belong. We all are.
My sister, B, started running a couple years ago, and I accompanied her when she bought her first pair of “real” running shoes. We were shopping for shoes again today and reminiscing about that first trip, and she said I could re-post this hilarious entry she wrote for her own blog in 2011.
One thing I was really looking forward to during my trip to Austin was getting new running shoes. I bought my old ones because they were the cheapest, cutest sand-proof shoes I could find, and I needed them to wear to the elementary school where I teach. When I started walking and running, I wore them because they were my only athletic shoes. I wasn’t even sure I’d keep it up long enough to bother buying real ones. Shows you how I felt about myself!
But now that I’m planning to continue running for the foreseeable future, I wanted to spend the necessary money on good shoes. Proper shoes that fit your feet and are designed for your activity are one of the only things I think it’s worth to buy the best. DVDs, gym memberships, performance wear, heart-rate monitors, ipods and home equipment can all be optional or cheap, second-hand or improvised. But not shoes! And most people need to be fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing. Since Austin has several stores with such people, and my tiny hometown has none, I was excited to get myself a shiny new pair of shoes while I was there.
My sister, obviously in-the-running-know, recommended Luke’s Locker, a new place in Austin. I instantly loved the decor and vibe, described by Cate as “Anthropologie for runners!” Hearing I needed to be fitted for running shoes, one of the young, friendly employees directed me to “Matt”, who would be “taking care of you.” Hello, Matt.
Matt was young and good-looking, but not so good-looking that he knew it and was full of himself. Yes, I knew this just from looking into his blue-green eyes. He stared deeply into mine as he explained why it was important to wear shoes fitted to your feet and to replace them as they wore out. He questioned me about my running regime and I knew that he really, really cared about my answers. He had me run inside the store for him and praised my high arches that collapsed with each step as “ideal”. As he knelt to unlace my shoe, I began to feel my level of attraction to him ridiculous for a married woman. I tried to deflect attention off to my sister, much better suited to his age, which worked fine until she got up to go look at the clothes. We were alone in a corner of the store, with him holding different shoes for my feet like Cinderella’s prince, chatting like a good salesman about why each one was perfect for me. Finally out of shoe talk, he asked me where I was from, how long I was here, and so on. It really started to get frankly uncomfortable as I became more intensely aware of how attracted I was to him and the specialized attention he was giving me. I AM MARRIED. HE IS COLLEGE-AGED. HE IS JUST TRYING TO SELL ME SHOES. STOP IT.
In the car, I confessed to my sister and reproached her for leaving me. She laughed and said that the same thing happens to her, the feeling of intimacy caused by someone who is deeply interested in your running schedule while dressing and undressing your feet. In fact, she was once so flustered that she bought the wrong shoes! She said she thought he was cute, too, but she figured I was above such shallowness. Apparently not.
When I got home, my annoyance with Matt for being so good-looking was erased as I saw he had written me a note on my shoe box, on a fill-in-the-blank form taped to the side:
“__B__ Thanks for shopping at Luke’s Locker! __Matt__ ”
We’re BFFs again, Matt.
Behold, Fall 2013:
1. Rode my mountain bike a lot
The sport of mountain biking got the most love from me this semester. I went all-in, traveling and competing with my school’s cycling club to seven USA Cycling collegiate races. We had a blast camping and competing at venues across the state against other collegiate teams.
I put all my focus on biking this fall because it’s my last semester at Baylor and my last chance to be a member of the school’s team. Since I don’t have any NCAA eligibility anymore, and no urgent running goals other than get back into training, I figured this was a good time and maybe the only time to really get some good riding in before I make running everything again.
I freaking loved this season! Biking is obviously much lower-key than NCAA Track and Field, and while I took the races seriously I didn’t have any outside pressure to perform. Mountain biking is similar to running in that you have to stay mentally engaged, it challenges you aerobically, and you get to be outside competing in beautiful places. But it’s different because the fittest girl doesn’t always win! It’s also about finesse – your technical skills on the trail can take you a lot further than interval training. My technical skills are MUCH better than last year though, after all my summer practice in Austin, and it was really satisfying to actually be able to use my aerobic fitness and push myself in a race. It was great to try to work into a new sport, where a different required skill set challenged me in new ways.
I crashed every race weekend at least once, but I got up and finished all the races. It wasn’t too bad, and wearing my scrapes and bruises to class the next few days after a race always made me feel so hardcore.
I was happy with the season – I got 2nd or 3rd in all my races, depending who showed up. It was a huge improvement from last year, and I ended up qualifying for and getting to race at collegiate nationals in North Carolina! I got 45th/80 there, which I am proud of because one year ago I was 100% brand new to this sport.
2. Baylor Cycling Club: a new athletic and leadership experience
As much pride as I drew from being an athlete at Baylor for five years, I have to say people in the cycling club and other club sports are the real “student-athletes” on campus. The NCAA athlete experience was fantastic at Baylor and I wouldn’t change it. We were treated very well and our coaches had high expectations from us – often I felt like a pro athlete who did school on the side. Club athletes on the other hand have to run the team themselves, without the help of athletic scholarships, coaches, and an entire athletic department dedicated to their success. They organize the club, buy equipment, plan trips, register for races, host competitions, raise funds, participate in the community, keep up with their studies, and most importantly, COMPETE year-round.
I’ve been in the club since Fall 2012, and became an officer last spring. It’s really cool to have been part of the leadership, and see how the student leadership has matured, grown the club, and shaped it into an organization that provides so much fun and so many opportunities for its members.
3. Running is still #1 in my heart and my future plans
I’ve heard a few folks ask me if I’m still running, or just mountain biking now.
My response to this is Think I give up that easy!? But I guess I haven’t been vocal enough about my goals. Or I can just blame Facebook (which is ironic because I’m still not actively using the site right now), because I think I’ve been tagged in a bunch of biking photos this semester. Guess I need to start sending selfies from 6:30 a.m. practice at Cottonwood. Sorry, I know, Facebook is the easiest way to get this gestalt idea of how people’s lives are going, and I can see how my profile would be misleading.
But still. No. Just no. I still run. I still love running. I still want to run for a post-collegiate team. I still train. I’ve done a few races this fall.
This semester I’ve trained with my old XC team, and did a meet with them (the HBU Invite, ran an XC 5k in 17:30 woohoo). Feeling my fitness returning after 6 months off due to injury last school year is simply exhilarating. I’m experiencing the purity of running, re-discovering the joy that it is to feel my legs turn over, to have to dig again, and to be able to open up and run uninhibited by nagging pain or heavy legs. I can feel my talent asking to be unleashed, running these workouts and races months earlier than I thought I’d be able to. It’s weird and awesome and I love it.
4. I’m graduating grad school in December!
I love my school and my faculty but I’m ready to be done! And so is my bank account. Hoo boy. I am experiencing the typical pre-grad anxiety of oh em gee there is a lot to do before December, but whenever things get too bad I can always count on a run to bring me back to feeling alright. Something about that physical effort just pushes all the other thoughts out of your brain. This semester, more than any other in the past, I’ve experienced running as a drug that gives me a high, and an escape from my own negativity.
With this master’s degree, I will become the most educated child in my family. This is a total joke because my siblings are all quite brainy (engineer, special ed teacher / 4.0 UT grad, and a legit accountant-in-training) and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be more well-read, well-written, and/or well-paid than me in the future. Naturally, I’m planning to milk it for all its worth over Christmas.
WHAT’S NEXT? : the question of the hour for any soon-to-be-graduate.
In January-May I’m going to move back to Austin (hey parents hey), work a part-time job, and visit / interview with the post-collegiate running teams I’m looking at. I’ve had conversations with a few coaches, but most of them asked me to visit before we discussed anything serious. Since I spent all fall cavorting around to my mountain bike races, and most of the team contracts begin in June, I decided to do visits in the spring with the goal of joining a team in the summer.
TL; DR: This fall, I rode my mountain bike, got back in shape as a runner, I will graduate in December, and move to Austin in January.
I get tripped up deciding what to post on here, bouncing back and forth between “here’s what I’ve been doing” posts or “here’s how I feel” posts. The former can be boring to read and are sometimes hard to write because life’s constantly evolving – how do you sum up events in storybook chapter? But you can’t only write reflective “here’s how I feel” posts without the context of the “here’s what I’ve been doing” posts.
So, this is a “here’s what I’ve been doing” post, or rather “here’s what I did.” Deeper thoughts and insights to come. And this is still 1000 words long :( I’m sorry. I do a lot of stuff.
I went here because it’s in my hometown, and it was cheaper than Baylor (wrote more on that here). I wanted to go here for college my whole childhood, and I almost did – but I got waaay more financial aid at Baylor so I went there. As much as BU has tried to indoctrinate me, I’m still not able to hate the Longhorns, so getting to go here for a summer was its own special gift of status and achievement. Of course, after being at Baylor I didn’t really care anymore, but in high school this was something I really would have cared about. Even though that dream’s about five years expired, it makes me proud to say I was good enough to be a Longhorn this summer.
I completed three graduate-level classes – an Educational Psychology course that covered statistics, testing and measurement, and two advertising electives (creative insights and consumer insights). The ad classes were online, so my real stint as a UT student on campus lasted just 6 weeks. I went to school Monday-Wednesday, from 9-12. I’d ride the bus to campus, grab lunch with my dad (a time-honored Westenhover tradition began by my older siblings who used to go to UT), and sometimes study with my classmates on campus or just ride the bus home.
Some of my UT friends asked me if UT was harder than Baylor and perhaps making implications about the relative rigors of these two institutions. Ok, so I had a small sample size obviously, but the answer is a resounding “no.” It was higher ed and it was exactly the same.
- We had class in a building built in the 1970s
- There were some motivated, smart students who wanted to be there, and there were some slackers who complained.
- I went to class, took notes, studied, and took my tests.
- I had to do homework assignments, but nothing exorbitant or challenging
- Sometimes my teacher encouraged my thinking on a subject and sometimes I was waiting for the lecture to end because I was bored.
The best part of going to UT, even more than the prestige of attending the biggest school in the state, was getting a semester of grad school done in one summer … leaving just ONE semester at Baylor. I really think I can swing it. Graduation with a master’s in 5.5 years from a private school, debt-free. Praise God! Next up …
I only got to work here 15-20 hours a week, and I had to quit in August when I went back to school at Baylor, but it was good while it lasted.
Since I already had run specialty experience from working at Waco’s On the Run store last year, a friend of mine got me an interview for the Cedar Park store, and I got hired in June! Rogue is a company with a lot of integrity – stating their values and following through with them. They seek to build the Austin running scene on all sides, through their own training programs, sponsoring events, sponsoring their own post-collegiate professional team, and of course providing the right equipment through what we sold at the store. I have a lot of respect for the organization and it was so cool to be a part of that machine.
Also, Rogue knows how to par-tay. I had a blast at their events like the Pizza Pirate Costume Run and the Sayonara Shuffle Pub Run.
Run Pro Camp in DC
This three-day conference was the real-life manifestation of RunPro.com, which is geared toward post-collegiate runners who want to continue their running careers and figure out the nebulous world of professional distance running. This is exactly where I’m at, so you can imagine how excited I was to meet other athletes like me dealing with similar challenges.
It was hosted by the Road Runner’s Club of America, and they brought in speakers on subjects that surround pro distance running on all sides. We had sessions on choosing a training group, finances, road races and appearance fees, avoiding injury and nutrition, building your personal brand, community engagement, not doping (thanks USADA!), USATF involvement, and USATF Foundation initiatives.
I felt outclassed by my fellow attendees there – they were all fresh off the USA Championship or at least the NCAA Championships – whereas I was like “I ran one good 5k race in 2012!” But hey that’s the power of the internet I guess – I applied in the spring and they accepted me. All the travel, hotel and food was covered. It was crazy hospitable! They wanted it to be a professional event, and that’s what professionals would get, so I guess it worked.
This was also an awesome trip because I got to stay a couple extra days with my friend/teammate from undergrad, Kristen! I’d never been to DC before so she played tour guide for me. Catching up about our Baylor days was pretty special too.
But back to Run Pro, the whole experience was eye-opening. It was a reality check that confirmed to me the goal of pursuing professional running would be more difficult than I realized, as in you can do everything right and still fail… but that it’s still worth pursuing.