One Year

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It’s been exactly one year since I had ankle surgery, and it’s been both harder (physically) and easier (mentally) than I expected. After finally having my first pain-free run in nearly three years just a few weeks ago and looking forward to a fall full of base training, I can’t imagine not having fixed my ankle. But if I had known how long of a process it would be, I’m not sure I would have taken the plunge.

A few days before the Sir Walter mile last summer, my left foot and ankle completely locked up. I had no power to push off, and there was very sharp pain whenever I did. Lining up on the start line, I had a feeling it would be my last race of the season. I didn’t know it was the last time I’d really run for over 6 months. I saw several different doctors, and with my history of previous injuries for about a decade in that area, I was looking for answers.

I learned that I had a subtalar coalition in my left ankle and a longitudinal tear in my posterior tibial tendon. Essentially, the coalition (which is a genetic condition) is extra bone growth in the joint that was slowly growing over time and increasingly limiting my foot/ankle’s mobility. The tear started in the tendon directly over this coalition some time early 2016 trying to hold everything together, and I’d been babying it ever since.

There was hardly any indecision. I could either continue to semi-train with various injuries cropping up every few weeks and constant pain when running, hopefully trying to have another solid season of around 4:05 or 4:06 for the 1500 but unable to progress, or I could try to completely fix the problem and have a shot to really train. Three weeks after this diagnosis, I had surgery in Chicago.

I originally wrote this blog a little differently, leaving out a lot of my emotions and thoughts about the process. It was more a statement of facts. A chronicle of what it’s taken this past year to begin to recover and how far I still have to go. I originally chose to write it this way because it reflects how I processed this past year: this surgery was my choice, and right or wrong, I didn’t feel allowed to dwell on the challenges or struggles. So many other parts of my life are great. The inconvenience of some time off running needed to be kept in perspective because it could be so much worse. There were good and bad days, but I had locked away any self-pity. I had made a decision to fix what was broken, and I would stay the course.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the most challenging years of my career. I hit a new low in physical fitness and had to slowly claw my way back out. I still lack so much aerobic strength. There’s always a new sense of appreciation for running after going through an injury, but I had learned that lesson long ago. I’ve approached each run with gratitude for some time, regardless of how difficult or uncomfortable it may be. Instead I wanted to share what it means to keep your eyes and your mind fixed firmly ahead, not swerving in long-term goals despite the obstacles that arise. I don’t know if my dreams will come true, but I’m going to do everything in my power to keep chasing them.

October 2017

My doctor is amazing. On my consultation visit, he spent nearly two hours talking one-on-one with me about everything wrong with my ankle, my options, what the surgery would entail, and what recovery would look like. I was so grateful for his expertise and finally finding a concrete reason for many of my injuries.

I spent some serious time bonding with the couch this month. To prevent swelling (and the concurrent pain with swelling), I had to keep my foot elevated 50 minutes out of every hour for the first two weeks. The first week was the worst. With my leg elevated on a pile of pillows, I constantly lost circulation, which was painful. If I moved it at night, it was painful. I didn’t like my medicine and didn’t take much, which meant it was painful. Weeks 3-4 my foot was elevated 40 minutes out of every hour, and weeks 5-6 30 minutes of every hour. Thankfully I had family and friends bring meals, my husband to lay out my daily supplies within arm’s reach of the couch, a weekly Starbucks drink from one of my training partners, and lots of Sudoku, all to keep my sanity.

November 2017

That 6-week appointment had been shining like a beacon of light since surgery. And it was a great visit: my doctor gave me the all-clear to begin weight-bearing and walking in a boot. So I skipped out of that appointment room, right? Wrong. I had no idea how painful it would be to try to put weight on a limb that hasn’t touched the ground in 6 weeks. I shuffled out of there still using my crutches and gingerly placing a tiny bit of weight on my booted foot. That first night I took about 5 steps on my own without crutches and was so proud of my progress from that morning.

December 2017

During my second week of PT (8 weeks after surgery), I tried out the Alter-G for the first time. I ran 5 x 2 min run, 1 min walk at about 13:00 pace at 20% body weight, and it was shockingly painful. I was a little alarmed that every step felt like a shockwave went through my foot even though I was so light I could barely touch the treadmill. My ankle was also very still and limited in mobility, so my walking pace was super slow with a nice limp. I did countless hours of rehab, trying to slowly improve my mobility and learn how to walk and run again because my foot was moving in a way it never had before. That’s the part I didn’t quite understand beforehand and would continue to realize throughout the year: this wasn’t a simple injury to recover from. After 27 years of moving one way, my foot and ankle had to learn a completely new way to land, roll, and push-off now that it had full mobility. That doesn’t happen overnight.

January 2018

January was full of cross-training. Probably the most I’ve ever done before, a little over 800 minutes a week. I progressed on the Alter-G from about 50% to 80%, still doing my little 2 min run, 1 min walk. I was probably a little obsessive with my cross-training this month; when that’s all you can do, that’s all you do. I couldn’t wait to start running again because once I hit the ground, it would be smooth sailing (I thought).

February 2018

This was a frustrating month. I got the all-clear to try running on land at the beginning of the month. I’m not sure why I assumed it would feel good when it was still painful at 80% on the Alter-G, but it definitely hurt on the ground. And my foot was too weak to fully push off, so after a few minutes I was favoring it more and more. I ran on the ground about twice a week from around 5 minutes to 15 minutes. I kept thinking I was turning a corner, just to have pain in new areas and new sensations flare up a few days later. My doctor told me I could run more than I was, but it was too painful to do much. The days until outdoor were starting to tick away, and I felt helpless watching them fly by as I got further and further behind my planned comeback. This was the first of many times I had to learn that your body doesn’t follow a set schedule. It heals at its own rate, and the fitness follows at its own rate.

March 2018

I continued running on the ground about twice a week, slowly building up to 4 miles by the end of the month, but still feeling quite a bit of pain, especially sharp pain on the top when pushing off. I starting wondering not when, but if, I would ever run again without constantly worrying about pain in my foot. I thought surgery was supposed to fix the pain! I still struggled even walking for long periods, and my foot would swell up and get sore if I stood too long.

I tried a few strides at the end of the month. It was painful, and my foot was a little shaky supporting me, but I counted it as a win. I’m such a planner (not always a good thing in this context), and I was constantly looking two, three, four steps ahead. My mind was already racing ahead to when I’d be ready to compete again.

April 2018

Outdoor season was upon me, and I was getting a little antsy again. All winter I had been telling people Don’t worry, I’ll be fine by outdoor. It’ll be back to normal and you won’t even notice I took a break! I think I was convincing myself more than them.

I began some light tempo workouts on the Alter-G, and a few weeks later I tested the waters on the track with 2 sets of 4 x 400 @ 86. The cadence felt good, but it was so tiring. By the end of the month I had done two workouts of 10 x 200 around 32-35, and I’d ran up to 5.5 miles straight with 20 miles on the ground the last week. Looking back now, I realize how little training this is, but at the time I convinced myself I was nearly race ready and fit.

May 2018

I planned my first race back for May 4th, but I had a bit of a flare-up and took the first week of May off running. I tried some broken runs the following week, with the first few steps of every segment being very tentative as I felt sharp pain on the top of my foot. But it slowly improved, and although it was still very present, I was able to run through it by the end of the week and start up light workouts again.

I ran my first race back at the end of the month (800 in 2:10) that I was woefully unprepared for, but I was so excited to be back out there. It was a different kind of fear on the starting line. I didn’t wonder if I could pull off a PR or win; I was trying to hold back the terror that I was making a huge mistake thinking I was ready. Finishing that race felt so freeing; even though I was well back in last place, I remembered how to race and push myself, and my foot made it 800m in spikes. People afterwards came up and asked Amanda, what’s wrong? Are you hurt? and I had to sheepishly admit that no, I just wasn’t fit. I was a little quieter about the fact that 2:10 was actually a good time based on my training.

June 2018

I went to USAs because I’m an eternal optimist. I thought maybe, just maybe, I’ll light it up and sneak into the final. I had been running about 25 miles a week for the past 6 weeks, and the few 1500s I ran went better than expected. But you can’t fake fitness, and it was a sign of the coming summer of races: I got really good at running around 68-69 sec/lap, but I had no ability to change gears or respond to moves. I’m still glad I went to race because going to USAs helped me feel like a real professional again. I had my most recent doctor appointment at the end of this month, and I was thrilled to hear that my tendon was finally back to normal size (it had atrophied to less than one-third of the usual size before surgery). I was ready to take some steps forward in training.

July 2018

I was determined to put together a solid summer of races, so I amped up the training this month. I increased from 28 to 42 miles a week over 4 weeks, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been so tired from training in my career. Every workout was an all-out effort. Every easy run was a slog. I’m so grateful for my teammates helping me out with those days.

I still had some sharp pain when starting to run and especially when sprinting and pushing off, but it was manageable. My cross-training dropped dramatically because I was just too tired to do much of anything. I was finally running decent mileage, and my workouts were getting better and better. Practice was becoming fun again.

August 2018

August is one of my favorite months as a professional runner. I love local track races at night under the lights, with the homestretch becoming a tunnel of screaming fans. I’ve had some of my best races at these events, and the emotional high of winning is hard to beat.

This year was a little different. I never like to count myself out of races before they start, but there was no way around the fact that I just wasn’t very fit. I was no longer the runner who could respond to every move and gear change. My kick was nonexistent. Some people would choose to train instead, and that’s often a wise decision. But for me to feel engaged in the sport, I had to get out there. I enjoy running, but I love racing. Even if my body wasn’t ready to win, I could work on training my mind and learning more from every time I got on the track.

And so I raced. And raced. And raced. I ran nearly every track mile in the states this month and was consistently in the mid- to high- 4:30s. A breakthrough seemed just out of reach each time, like the next week would finally catapult me back to the runner I was the previous two summers. We backed off the workout intensity so I went into each race feeling great, but that breakthrough never happened. Stepping on that starting line as less than your best isn’t easy. My confidence comes from knowing I’ve done everything in my power to best prepare myself for that race. This time, my “everything” was a little different. I kept apologizing to race directors, saying I’m sorry, I’m just not quite as fit as the runner I used to be. I really thought I’d be faster by now! I’m just grateful you let me in! I know that my self-worth doesn’t come from my race results, but at times I felt guilty not performing up to expectations.

September 2018

My last race was a win, and it felt so good. I went all-in earlier than I anticipated and didn’t worry about if I’d have enough to hold on. I have to thank Kellyn Taylor for making an aggressive move and helping me break down that mental barrier. After so many sub-par races on the track, mixing it up with a road mile was just what I needed to break out of that pattern.

I took a short break after the summer season and then eased into some light jogs. At first I thought I imagined it, but by my first week of training back I knew it was finally true: my left foot was 100% pain-free and felt exactly like the right foot, 11.5 months later. The first few steps of every run since are a wonderful, but slightly alien, feeling. My body had been broken for so long and now it’s healed. Injuries may still be ahead of me, but for now I’m embracing this moment.

I still have a very long way to go to get back to the 4:03/4:25 shape I was in two years ago. My lack of strength still surprises me sometimes when I try anything resembling a threshold/tempo. And I honestly thought that I’d be so much more fit by now; it’s hard to not compare yourself to others coming back from injury and wonder how they did it so quick. But everyone’s trajectory is different, and this is mine.

I was very quiet about this surgery over the year because it was easier to take it day by day than to try to reflect on where I’d been and how far away my goals were. But injuries and comebacks are a part of being a runner. If there’s one thing I can pass on to other injured runners, it’s that you can’t rush fitness. Keep your eyes up and focused on your goals every single day. It may take longer to get there, and the path may be more circuitous than you planned, but keep the faith and keep moving forward. That’s my focus, each and every day.

 

 

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Patience

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I wish I could go back in time and tell my high school and college self that it will all be okay. Those times when it seemed like the end of the world that I was injured, or when I just couldn’t fathom how I’d ever be able to compete with the best girls. Be patient, I’d tell myself, just put in the work one day at a time, and you have no idea how far you’ll go.

It’s so easy in retrospect to see how well everything worked out, and how what seemed like an eternity of struggling to run was just a blip on the radar. That’s the beauty of perspective; you know the end result, and there’s no need to worry when you know how great everything will turn out.

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But it’s so hard to be patient in the moment when you don’t yet know where your path will lead. I don’t know whether I’ll come back better after each injury, although I always believe I will. I don’t know how long it will take to heal and be able to compete again, and it’s always longer than I want. It’s hard to be patient when my competitors are putting in mile after mile, dropping big workouts and impressive times. How can I be patient when just keeping up with the curve is hard enough?

Sometimes being patient feels like being lazy. And this is where I really struggle. There’s days when any activity is aggravating my injuries, and the smartest thing is to rest so that I’ll feel better sooner. My mind can start to go a little crazy in those situations. Am I truly resting to feel better? Or am I just being lazy? Will this even help me feel better? How much do I push through and when do I stop? Does this one day of training really affect my fitness?

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As a runner, all we want is to be the best possible runner we can be. I want to win every race I’m in, make every World and Olympic team, and crush every workout along the way. I know that perfection is not realistic, but it’s still the dream.

It’s not that I want the process to be any easier; I just wish I could speed it up. And this is where patience comes in. I have to respect the fact that my body works and recovers at its own pace, and the only thing rushing will do is prolong achieving my goals.

I’m such a planner, and I usually have a pretty defined timeline in my head when it comes to my running. I know where I want to race and when, and I have goals years in advance that I’m looking forward to. I can so easily get caught up in what I want and become frustrated when things aren’t working out on my schedule. But that’s when I need to take a step back and realize it’s not my schedule at all, and I’m completely missing the point. It’s not my timeline that matters; it’s God’s. He has a purpose for every step of the way, and he knows the final outcome.

When I just remember that God knows that outcome, it’s so much easier to accept the situation. He is in charge. Being able to rest in this knowledge gives me the strength to remain patient and optimistic.

My most rewarding times as an athlete are overcoming injuries and slowly being able to experience the joy of running and training again. When you start from the bottom, you get to see huge gains in fitness every week. Every mile feels like a victory! And that magical day I’ll finally get to spike up and race again – that’s what keeps me smiling every day. Until then, I’ll just be patient.

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It’s Always Worth It

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It’s taken me a lot longer to write this post than I thought. Some of it was just setting aside the time to write, but part of me just wanted to put the season behind me and move on to new goals and a fresh slate. I didn’t want to dwell on the fact that for the first time in 14 years of running, I didn’t PR in my main events.

If there’s one word I can think of to describe my past season, it’s frustrating. And I don’t like to admit that, because on paper my season wasn’t half bad. I ran under the World Standard time 5 times, and I finished top 10 in the country for the third time. (Although finishing 9th in the 1500m finals at USAs was hard to swallow after how well I performed there last year). I had some really good races this summer, particularly wins at TrackTown and Sir Walter, and I had a great string of races over in Europe. I’m grateful to be so consistent and be competitive in most races I’m in, but I had a hard time embracing the good parts of my season as they were happening. When my foot flared up in early August, forcing me to stop running and shut my season down, it seemed like a fitting end to a frustrating season.

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Part of me was just relieved to be done; I wasn’t mentally ready for a few weeks of all-out cross-training to just run moderately at a few more races, even if they were some of my favorites. I just wanted to be able to train fully and without interruption. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case this past year, or most of my career in fact.

I feel like the king Sisyphus, who’s forced to continually roll a boulder uphill, only to have it slip from his grasp just before reaching the top and roll back down again. It seems like the majority of my races have small asterisks next to them, for when I’m sick, or had to take off several days before the race, or had months of low mileage leading up to it.

It’s easy to get caught in this negative mindset, when it seems like you’re constantly taking two steps forward and one step back. But I’m one of the lucky few. Every single day I wake up with my dream job, getting to do what I love more than anything, even if that means spending countless hours in the pool and on the bike. And I’ve had success that I never imagined even 5 years ago. I may have had some struggles, but many more have had much worse trials to overcome.  If anything, these struggles have helped me develop a greater appreciation for when things feel great and have taught me to take advantage of every opportunity I get.

But more importantly, this summer has taught me to keep my own running in perspective. Running is something that I love and that God has blessed me with, but it’s just one part of who I am. I’m inspired daily by Gabe Grunewald, who maintains an incredible force of positivity despite battling cancer. I love following my competitors online working hard every day because that motivates me to keep pushing too. And coaching at Michigan has helped me focus on the team’s goals and celebrating their successes.

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So I’ll continue to keep pushing that boulder up the hill, even if it rolls back every single time. I have goals, huge goals, that I may never reach, but that’s no reason to not try. It’s the chase that I love, the grind of working hard every single day to be better, whether you’re stuck in the pool or hammering an interval workout. It’s the relationships that I get to build as I meet others pursing the same goals as me. People often ask what it’s like between me and my competitors, and they’re often surprised when I say those are some of my best friends. We may be fierce competitors as soon as the gun goes off, but the truth is those other runners understand you in a way no one else can. They understand what it takes to push the limits, how hard it hurts when you fail, and how the journey is so much better when you can share it.

I’m excited to see where I can go from here in my running career. Despite the setbacks I know I’ll face, I’ve always been able to come back stronger and with a greater sense of purpose in my running than ever before. So while it’s been a rocky and at times frustrating year, and it definitely won’t be easier going forward, I can’t wait to embrace the new challenges I’ll face.

The Team, the Team, the Team

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The power of a team is a beautiful thing. When seven girls come together and pour their heart and soul into 21 minutes of pure fight, striving for a goal bigger than any of them alone, the final outcome doesn’t matter; you’ve already won.

I could not be more proud of the Michigan women’s XC team this weekend for their second-place finish at the National Championships. Second place was better than we had even imagined, but finishing just one point shy of the victory was incredibly bittersweet. I mean seriously, one point?!

But what more can you ask for than your absolute best? We came focused, determined, and confident. Everyone expressed complete commitment to the team and a willingness to dig deeper than ever before this season. Experiencing this journey from a coach’s perspective has been a joy. I love seeing how the girls have handled adversity with calmness and success with perspective. Every time we screamed at them for more in a race, they responded. Every place was fought for, and nothing was given away.

More than anything, I just want the team to realize how much respect and admiration I and the other coaches have for what they just did. Girls, you represent everything that Michigan stands for. You upheld a legacy of constant success that Coach Mike McGuire has established in his 25+ years at Michigan, and you’ll walk away arguably the best team in that history. Your performance inspired everyone who saw it, and you can stand tall with no regrets because you gave your all.

It’s something special to witness the bond on a cross country team. Day in and day out, a team must mentally and physically break down barriers and come together as a cohesive, supportive unit to achieve success. Our team is filled with individuals with different strengths, from pure talent to grit to positive attitudes. Only seven of these girls competed this weekend, but all 37 girls on the team contributed to the success of second place. My heart is so full with joy from watching these girls encourage one another and run harder for the team than they would for themselves.

I wish so badly they could have walked away as National Champions, because to me they already are. I’m just thankful I got to cheer them on, and I hope that I can fight as hard as they did to go after my dreams.

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Three Races that have Shaped my Running Career

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Every so often a race leaves a lasting impact on you that’s far more than just a good time or a nice win. Over the past 14 years of my running career, there are three races that stand out as defining moments to me.

The first race was way back when I was a freshman in high school. All year I had wanted to make the state meet in the 1600, which meant I need to run a time of 5:26.0 or faster. I had consistently been running in the 5:40s and 5:50s throughout the season, and the week before the regional meet I ran all out to hit a PR of 5:39. But that was still a whopping 13 seconds away from the time, and I only had one week. I had never really tried race visualization before, but that week I focused more than ever on imagining running a 5:26 and believing 100% in my ability to do so. I had a white board in my room, and each day my Dad would draw a little picture of a train, the little engine that could. And above it he would write “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can, I will, I will”.

The morning of the race finally came, and I lined up completely terrified out of my mind but believing that I was going to run faster than 5:26. The gun went off and I jumped right behind the top girls, who were significantly better runners than me. I remember being shocked at 500 into the race that I was still right up front and hanging on. Finally, as I came off the final curve, I heard my coach yell out “20 seconds!”, and I threw back my head and started pumping my skinny arms and legs as fast as I could. I crossed the finish line and saw 5:23 on the clock. I was elated; I couldn’t stop smiling for days. This was the first race that really showed me how powerful your mind can be in running.

The next race was the 2011 DII NCAA Outdoor Championships my junior year of college. I qualified in the 1500 and made it to the finals. I actually don’t remember anything about the first 1400 m of the race; all I know is that it must have been a tight pack the whole way because the majority of us were still in contention with 100 to go. I was running on the outside of lane 1 behind a few other girls, and as everyone unleashed that last surge down the homestretch, I stayed in the outside of lane 1, behind the girls in front of me, running strong but not passing anyone and not digging deep. I ended up finishing 5th and less than a second off the win.

For about 5 seconds I was okay because 5th matched my highest finish ever and I was All-American, but then I walked off the track incredibly disappointed. It was like a switch flipped; I suddenly realized that I had the potential to win a National Championship, and I had just completely blown the opportunity to go for it. Before the race it never crossed my mind that I could accomplish something that big, and so when the opportunity came, I had already mentally removed myself from that battle. I was so furious with myself after that race, and I immediately set a goal to win the following year. And one year later, I won the 1500 at DII NCAAs, my third National Championship of the year.

The last race, as you may have guessed, was the Olympic Trials final. Once again I faced a daunting task, but this time I came to the line completely prepared. Physically the rounds went better than I expected, and I came to the bell lap of the final race believing I had a legitimate shot and going for it. I kept repeating to myself throughout the entire race that I was okay, I was still in position, I could still make the team. That kind of engagement during every second of the race was huge for me. At some point I usually start to doubt a little or worry when it’s getting really tough, but I didn’t allow those thoughts to even enter my mind in the finals. And although I fell just short of my goal, that doesn’t mean I failed. Instead it proved to me that my dreams weren’t unrealistic. Most importantly, my performance at the Trials backs up my belief that I can make World and Olympic teams and compete with the best in the country. The mental side was there before, and now I have complete confidence that physically I can be there as well.

These three races don’t stand out as physical accomplishments; instead they each reflect a mental breakthrough and turning point. Each time I was able to make that leap in my mind that I could compete at a higher level, and from that point I had a new set of standards to hold myself to.

One of the hardest things about our sport is the mental battles we wrestle with every day. But every so often there’s a race or a workout where suddenly it clicks in your mind that you are capable of so much more. I try to hold on to those moments and use them to both motivate me and remind me of what I should be striving for.

As the summer season has finally ended and I’m gearing up for a new year of training, I like to look back on what I’ve learned from these races. I use that to set my new goals and mentally refocus myself for the challenges ahead. I also love looking back at these three races to see just how much my goals have changed over the years and how far I’ve come. I hope this inspires other runners to think “Why not me?” Sometimes it takes only one moment for your perspective to change and open up new doors.

 

0.03 Seconds

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0.03 seconds is about the amount of time it takes to blink your eyes. It’s also the amount of time that separated me from becoming an Olympian. It’s funny, in an ironic sort of way, because you see the scenario playing out in your head thousands of times, sprinting down the homestretch battling neck and neck with another athlete for that final coveted Olympic spot, and you wonder if you’ll really dive for it when the time comes, so you just imagine that you throw yourself across the line and the crowd will scream like crazy because you just slipped into that third spot and will forever be an Olympian. And that’s exactly how the story played out, with a fairy tale ending, only it wasn’t my fairy tale.

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Jul 10, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Brenda Martinez (right) outleans Amanda Eccleston to finish third in the women’s 1,500m, 4:06.16 to 4:06.19, during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-Press-Enterprise

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of racing and travel, but I’ve had some time to finally process the Trials final. I lay there on the ground just past the finish line with my hands over my face, not because I was too emotional or in pain from falling, but because I was trying to block everything out and listen to the announcer. I heard “Jenny Simpson… Shannon Rowbury…” then a pause. I was repeating over and over in my head Amanda Eccleston, Amanda Eccleston, Amanda Eccleston, and then, “Brenda Martinez!” Someone helped me to my feet; I remember looking into the stands in daze, trying to find my family because I knew they were just past the finish line. I gave them a small wave and then slowly stumbled off the track. I didn’t feel devastated or heartbroken at that point; I didn’t feel a lot of anything.

I had a hard time at first describing how I felt because it was like swinging back and forth on a pendulum. On one side I am absolutely thrilled and so proud of my performance and competitiveness through all three rounds. I sailed smoothly through the prelims and semis feeling very relaxed and controlled, knowing there was more there for the final. And in the final, despite the fact that I made a few tactical errors with being too far back to cover moves and place myself within reach, when the time finally came with 100 to go and I could see third place, I went for it heart and soul, and I know without a doubt there’s nothing else I could have done at that point. But the outcome was tough to swallow. On paper it may seem like a surprisingly good finish for me, but I expected nothing less; I expected top 3.

Luckily for me, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to dwell after the Trials. Three days later I boarded my first international flight ever to Italy, and that’s when the story starts to get good again. Running has literally taken me to places I’ve never imagined and given me incredible opportunities to both run and explore the world. I just got back from my first ever Diamond League race in London, a race that I was only able to enter after my performance at the Trials, and ran two 1500 PRs in 5 days. I’ve received overwhelming support and condolences, with the general theme being that I’m young and will be there in 2020. And you better believe I’ll be out there, God willing, going for the Olympic team in four years. But I won’t worry about 2020 until 2020. Although the title Olympian is the most coveted honor our sport offers, it should not be the only definition of success. There is so much more to strive for in both racing and life between now and then, and I plan on taking advantage of each and every opportunity.

I really thought fourth place would be incredibly painful, but now my heart is so full of joy from support and getting to do what I love that there isn’t much room for sadness. God has blessed me abundantly this past year and given me the strength and ability to go after my dreams. So many things have to go right to have a chance at the Olympic Team. I was blessed enough to have everything fall into place at the right time, and that is a very rare gift. I don’t know if that will be the case in 2020, but I had my chance this year, and lining up for the Olympic Trials final is a memory I will always cherish. I can think back to that race and smile because I have no regrets.

There are moments when heartbreak still gets to me, like when I walk into a coffee shop or store with no thoughts of that race at all, and suddenly a TV begins playing a commercial for Rio. It’s hard not to feel a slight stab of pain seeing Olympians and the inspiring music set on the beautiful backdrop of Rio and not wish things had ended just a little differently. But 0.03 seconds doesn’t have to define me. The joy I receive through running and the people involved far outweighs that fraction of a second. I have countless goals left and things I want to accomplish in this sport, and I feel like I’m just getting started. I honestly can’t wait to see where running takes me and all the incredible people who get to share this journey with me. Thank you to all of you, because you are what picks me up from disappointment and keeps me running strong!

 

The Privilege of Chasing a Dream

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The first round of the Olympic Trials 1500 is one week away. It’s hard to believe that the culmination of thousands of miles, hundreds of hours of cross-training, and countless rehab and strengthening exercises are all centered around a race just over 4 minutes long that comes once every 4 years. But that’s the reality of chasing an Olympic dream. We often fight in obscurity, balancing full-time training around real life, quietly dealing with setbacks and obstacles but reveling in every sign of progress. Society rarely fully understands the professional track and field world, but add the word Olympics, and suddenly it makes sense.

This year I’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to chase my dream and see myself making physical strides towards reaching that dream. This was the first year I’ve voiced my goals out loud to more than just my family. I told my coach at the start of the year that I wanted to make the Olympic Team. At the time I had a PR of 4:08.08 and a 2015 season best of only 4:13 after some injury issues in 2014-2015. I thought that third 1500 spot would be wide open and that I wanted to be one of 5-6 women who could legitimately contend, and my coach agreed.

But even more than an outcome-based goal, I decided that I wanted to do everything physically and mentally possible to put myself in the best position to make the team when I step on that starting line. I wanted to be able to look back and know with 100% certainty that I did absolutely everything I could to prepare myself every single day. There’s nothing special about this goal; everyone chasing an Olympic dream has incredible drive and motivation, which is what makes the Olympic Trials so emotional. But for me, it has provided a sense of confidence to know there isn’t a single thing I could have done differently, and I can step to the line with a sense of peace.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing; hardly a week has gone by since December where I haven’t had to alter my running to cope with various ailments, and the past four months in particular I’ve dealt with a nagging ankle injury that forced me to take a couple steps back. But hindsight is always 20/20, and my limited running in March and April has now set me up to reach the Trials on an upward trend, feeling stronger and more fit every day.

I don’t feel much nervousness when I think about the trials. I feel confidence, a sense of peace and excitement, and I just feel ready. I’ve stepped to the line in my last several races very relaxed because I finally trust completely in my body and mind’s ability to lay it all out on the track. I’ve always been a confident runner, but I used to be wracked with nerves to the point where I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to quit the sport entirely every time I stepped to the line. Now I feel calm, fueled by the fact that time and time again this year I’ve asked my body to give more and I’ve always found it. All doubts and fears have left my mind when I race. I used to be terrified about the last 100 in a race, to the point that in high school I would try to win races in the first lap. Now the final 100 is my favorite part because it forces me to be completely vulnerable, and only then can I can see what I’m truly capable of. It’s about placing yourself in a position where you have no choice but to find an inner strength when you think you’ve used everything up. I feel the most free the last 100 of a race because at that point the only thought going through your mind is to give more, push harder. It’s those moments that define what you are made of as an athlete.

I know it’s going to take something special for me to finish top 3, but I truly and completely believe I can do it. I’m giving myself up completely to this goal and not looking back. Everyone comes to the Olympic Trials wearing their hearts on their sleeves and with their eyes full of dreams, and sometimes you have to be emotionally vulnerable and exposed despite the consequences. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have had so much fun this year training with this lofty goal in mind. I am literally living my dream each and every day right now, and making the Olympic Trials in itself is a cause for celebration.

So with the trials a week away, I can’t help but smile because I feel so ready. I don’t know if I’ll get knocked out of the first round or qualify for the Olympics, but I know I’ll be able to find the strength inside to run the best I absolutely can, and that’s all I can control. I’m coming to the starting line in the best physical shape of my life, having PR’d in every event I run (800, 1500, mile, 3k, 5k) this year, with 3 PRs in the last month. And I’ve reached a state of mental peace where I trust in my ability to give my all every time I step to the line and run to glorify God, and I’ll be able to walk away with no regrets. This next week I’ll keep dreaming, I’ll keep believing, and I’ll relish the chance to go for a dream that’s far bigger than me alone.