There and Back Again: A Runner’s Tale

So far in my life, I have competed in the 3000m Steeplechase at the USATF Outdoor Championships twice. The first time was in 2013. I was coming off a huge break-out junior year at Cornell where I set a 23 second PR of 9:50 and finished 4th at the NCAA Championships. Although by the time I got to USAs I was pretty burned-out as a result of the long and rigorous collegiate season, I was still in the best steeple shape of my life, both physically and mentally.

I had run under 10:00 in each of my 6 steeples that Spring. This consistency was the result of not only the higher quality of training I had been putting in all year long, but of the overflowing reservoir of steeple-confidence I had built up. When I stood on the line before a steeple, there was never a shread of doubt in my mind about what I had to do and how I would do it. All of my strengths as a runner played into the steeple: my strong and durable build, my grit, my love of running from the front. A track with barriers in place and the water pit uncovered was my sanctuary. When I was there I was untouchable.

At the 2013 USATF Outdoor Championships in ran 10:22 and finished in 17th place. Going into the race I knew my body was pretty fried, but I was determined to put myself in the mix and make the race honest. I led for the first mile before being passed by basically the entire field and dying a glorious death. Despite coming in as the 14th seed, I was at peace with not making the final. I had given it all I had on tired legs. I had gotten the opportunity to compete against the Nation’s best. I had been there.

Flash forward to the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships. As I stood in the warmup area about to compete once more in the 3000m steeplechase, I couldn’t help but think about how different things were this time, about how different I was this time. So much had happened in four years. My senior year at Cornell was a highlight – I lowered my PR to 9:43 and once again took 4th at NCAAs – but the next three years were a roller coaster marred by one bad steeple experience after another. Injuries, falls, and bad luck had all but depleted my once plentiful store of steeple-confidence, making me fearful and resentful of an event which once brought me so much joy.

After a very successful 2017 indoor season where I ran 15:58 for 5k and qualified for the 2017 USATF Indoor Championships, I thought perhaps this would be the year where things would finally come back together for me in the steeple. In the end they did – I made the meet and ran 10:04 to take 18th – but not before taking me on yet another crazy ride.

Presenting: my journey to the starting line of the 3000m steeplechase at thee 2017 Outdoor Championships

March 25th – Ran 10:09 by myself at a tiny D3 meet on Long Island. I went out very conservatively as I was still unsure about my ability to navigate the water jump. The first jump of that race was actually the first I had done since I dropped out of the steeple at the Stumptown Twilight meet back in June of 2016. My jumps got better as the race went on, and I was able to pick it up every lap. I finished that race feeling really hopefully that my steeple troubles were behind me.

March 31st – DNF at the Stanford Invitational. Strained my hamstring on the 3rd water jump and had to drop out. After not dropping out of a single steeple (or any race) in my entire high school and collegiate careers, I had now DNF’ed in 4 of the last 7 steeples I had run.

April 1st – Decided on the flight home from San Francisco that I didn’t want to steeple again this year…possibly even ever again. Shifted focus to trying to make USAs in the 5k.

May 13th – Ran 4:26 for 1500. A good start.

June 1st – Ran 9:08 for 3000m. A 1 second PR and indication that I was ready to do big things in the 5k.

June 10th – Had the 5k where I was hoping to qualify for USAs go HORRIBLY wrong. It was hot. I was super dehydrated. My body gave out at 2 miles and I crawled home to finish in 16:24. I took three days off to try and recover, but it took almost 2 weeks of no workouts and easy running before I stopped feeling completely dead on my runs.

June 13th – Decided on a whim to enter my 10:09 for the steeple at USAs, knowing full well that a mark that slow had not made it in almost 4 years.

June 14th – Did hurdle drills for first time in almost 3 months.

June 15th – Attempted practice water jumps. First couple were absolutely dreadful: stuttering, two-foot landings, running at the barrier and then stopping last minute because I was scared. The next few went better – I got up and over them in once piece – but on the last one I landed funny and tweaked my right hamstring and knee.

June 16th – Painful run that had to be cut-short.

June 17th – Crosstrained. Got a massage to help loosen hamstring.

June 18th – Crosstrained. Hamstring was feeling better, but still not 100%. Seriously doubted whether or not I would be able to make it through 7 water jumps.

June 19th – Slowly jogged 4 miles. Found out my 10:09 was officially accepted to USAs.

June 20th – Ran 6 miles. Did 4 200s – my first ‘workout’ in almost 3 weeks – 37, 37, 36, 35. Got on a plane and flew to California.

June 21st – Easy 6 mile prerace run. Stopped at a local college track to do hurdle drills and hurdling. Decided at the last minute to try some practice water jumps. To my surprise and delight, my jumps went incredibly well. For the first time since I decided to enter, I thought I might just be able to make it through the race without something going terribly wrong.

June 22nd – Stood on the startling line. Finally felt ready. Finally felt excited. Finally felt like I was home.

The race itself was nothing spectacular. The first lap was a bit overwhelming what with everyone all bunched up. Even at the height of my steeple prowess I was never truly comfortable hurdling next to other people (hence why I bolted to the front in virtually every race) so I definitely freaked out a tad that first lap. I wound up going all the way to the back of the pack so I would have more space.

After 800 meters or so I had finally found my rhythm, so I started moving up. I got around a group of three girls only to discover that, while I had been hanging out on the end of the train, a massive gap had opened up in the field. The next girl now was almost half a straight away ahead.

I ended up running the entire last mile completely by myself…except for when this one chick snuck up on me and kicked me down in the last 150 -_- There was a point with 2 to go where I thought perhaps I could make a run at a girl who seemed to be falling off the pack that was in front of me, but I couldn’t really muster the motivation to do it. With all the uncertainty regarding whether or not I would make the meet and then whether or not I would actually physically be able to compete and finish the damn race, my competitive fire just wasn’t burning all that bright.

The truth is, I was pretty content with where I was and how things were going. I know it sounds kind of lame to essentially ‘settle’ at a national championship, and anyone who knows me well knows that being content with things is not often something you hear me say. But after everything that’s happened over the three years, simply being out there, where things were finally going right and I was truly enjoying it again, was enough for me.

Being a steeplechaser once more, a fearless, flying steeplechaser, was enough.

However, the moment I crossed the finish line, it was no longer enough. The moment last week’s race was over, all I could think was “when can I go do this again!?”

And that is not something I have thought in a very long time.

So it is with great pleasure that I announce that USAs was not the end of my track season, but rather (in quite unconventional fashion), only the beginning! I’m going to be competing on the track throughout the summer, continuing to have fun, *hopefully* sets season’s bests, and restock that steeple-confidence supply 🙂