A few weeks ago, I decided to change my Instagram handle from @runningbetweenthelines to @rachelandherlaces. Although I had grown quite fond of my former handle, I had been thinking for a while that I wanted a handle with my actual name in it so that it was easier for people to find/recognize me. As I was trying to conjure up a really catchy and creative name, I thought back to a conversation I had with a gentleman I met at the Gate River Run a month ago.

This man, who was a coach of one of the athletes competing, came up to me after the race and asked if I had competed at the USATF Indoor Championships the weekend prior. I told that I had indeed run the 2 Mile there before coming to Jacksonville. He replied with “Aha! I knew it. I knew I recognized those things in your hair! They’re shoelaces, right?”  He then went on to say something that really touched me, and has stuck with me since then: “Those things are fantastic. They make you unique, and they make you standout. Don’t ever stop wearing them.”

The second I remembered that conversation, I knew that my new handle needed to somehow incorporate my laces. And thus, @rachelandherlaces was born.

So in honor of the changed, I thought it would be fun to update and share a blog I actually wrote over a year ago explaining the origin of the laces, and how they came to be my signature race day piece of apparel.

Last year, I ran into a former member of the Dartmouth Women’s Track team during a night out in Boston. Even without her forest green on, I recognized her right away, but I unfortunately didn’t know her name. Excited about the possibility of geeking out and reliving Heps glory days, I decided to go over and say hi. I wasn’t sure if she knew who I was or not, so I introduced myself, “Hi I’m Rachel Sorna, I used to run for Cornell”. Her response, “Oh hey, shoelaces girl!”

Over the years, a lot of different people have asked me about my laces – competitors, spectators, interviewers, small, confused-looking children – and each time I never really know quite what to say. I think people ask hoping to hear some awesome, inspirational story about why such a unique and unconventional accessory is part of my race day outfit, so when I answer, I can’t help but feel like I am letting them down. The truth is, there really isn’t a story behind the laces, they are sorta just my thing.

However, before I go any further, I have a confession to make – not all of my laces are actually shoelaces. Yes, yes, I know, treason, blasphemy, and misrepresentation. The red and the neon yellow are true shoelaces. I bought the yellow pair in high school along with an orange pair and put one of each in my trainers, therefore having one of each leftover. The red lace I believe was given to me by someone during cross-country, perhaps as a Secret Sister or Heps gift, but it never made it into my shoes. That leaves the blue as the fraudulent lace. It came not from a shoe, nor was it ever intended to lace a shoe – it was the drawstring of my favorite pair of running shorts. One day, as I was putting them on, I stretched them just a tad too far and instantly the string disappeared within the waistband. I was heartbroken. Since I could no longer wear those shorts (without them falling down), I decided to re-purpose the drawstring as a way of honoring and remembering all we had been through.

Until I wrote this post, I actually couldn’t remember when exactly I started wearing my laces. I knew it was sometime during outdoors my sophomore year, but after that I really had no idea. They have been an integral part of my race day routine for so long now that I can’t remember a race where I didn’t wear them. To figure out when it all began, I had to actually go and Facebook stalk myself to find the first race where they appeared sprouting from my ponytail. After almost a half-hour of investigation, I finally figured it out – the 2012 Outdoor Heps.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember why I felt so inclined to randomly affix a bunch of old laces to my head and go run around for all the world to see. Maybe since it was the Heps I was searching for some hidden source of mojo, and thought the wearing of said laces would somehow magically give me superhuman speed and strength. As I recall, the steeple I ran at that meet was a breakthrough performance for me – I got second and ran 10:13, coming within a second and a half of the Cornell school record. The likely explanation for the success of that race was the months of hard work and hurdle drills and strength training and help from Arthur finally coming together, but perhaps not. Perhaps it was the voodoo power of the laces seeping into my head and allowing me to do things I never thought possible.

But even if the inaugural running with the laces was done on a whim due an overdose of Heps adrenaline, my continuing to wear them and their eventual place as a staple part of my race day attire was definitely not by chance or accident. I like the idea of having something that is especially reserved for race day. For some people, it is a favorite pre-race breakfast. For others it is a lucky pair of racing socks. For me, it is my laces.

I know a lot of girls wear ribbons and bows in their hair when they race, so the idea of attaching something to your ponytail is by no means novel. At Cornell, a bunch of my teammates had these super snazzy matching bows that were red and zebra (the girls teams’ unofficial animal print). But as fierce as everyone looked in them, I couldn’t see myself wearing one. I just didn’t feel like a ribbons and bows kind of girl.

My laces are unique and quirky and yes, a little strange, and that is exactly why I like them. I like that they are different. I like that they make me standout. I like that when I’m wearing them, there is no hiding.

When I put them on the morning of a race just before I leave, I know that it is time to get in the zone. When I walk into a meet and feel them brush against my shoulder, I know that I am there with purpose. When I tighten them one last time as I stand on the line, I know that I have done all I can to prepare and am ready for what is to come. When my laces are on, I feel fierce and powerful and confident, and ready to battle.

Yes, occasionally they do get in the way. Sometimes they get tangled in my shirt or uniform. Sometimes they get stuck in closing doors since they are so long and trail so far behind me. Oddly enough, if I slow down significantly due to traffic or a barrier or something mid-race, one may whip around and get me in the cheek, a gentle reminder to pick back up the pace. However, I find the complete encompassment of my head that is shown in the featured image for this post to be quite astounding. I do not remember during any of the jumps in that race feeling like I was being simultaneously strangled by 6 different pieces of string, but clearly since it was captured on film, such madness actually transpired.

I have always wondered if they get in the way of anyone else in the race. The yellow one is particularly long, and if it can reach around and whack me in the face, I imagine it could just as easily go back or to the side and attack someone else. If anyone reading this has ever or knows someone who has experienced said trauma, I would really love to know…

But regardless of these minor nuisances, the laces will remain. I will don them throughout my post-collegiate, semi-professional running career, and I will proudly continue to be known as Shoelaces (Pants-Drawstring?) Girl.