In high school, I was a runner, and I was seriously committed to becoming a better athlete with each day of training. I ran what my coach told me to run, I rarely complained, I dug deep and breathed heavy and pushed myself as hard as I could, taking comfort in knowing that my efforts would pay off. My ultimate goal was to break the 800m record (again; I broke it my freshman year, but it was snatched up pretty quickly by my French friend, Vanessa). My dad never missed a race, and I would hear the trademark whistle of my coach when I was gaining on my competitors, which translated into “Go- go- go!” Although I never grabbed the 800m record again, I did compete at the state level practically every season (sans the Frenchie-exchange season, of which I was injured. I watched her crush my record at the state meet, and it was absolutely amazing).
Then I went off to college. I chose Michigan Tech, aside from the location and program of study, because I could continue to run competitively. I joined the cross-country team and life continued as normal. Well, maybe not normal, but the transition wasn’t too abrupt. I still had a team, albeit new (and majorly fast) girls. I still had practice. I still had a routine. I still got nervous before races, listened to certain songs before putting my spikes on, and sat with my parents, who would travel great lengths to watch me race. Although the practices were much different in college, I got to experience a new aspect of training that made me faster with every year. I had hills to run up, snow to run through, and trails to get lost on. I hammered down my personal best in the 5K and then I’d peak for the season on Lahti repeats. I could hear my old coach’s whistle in my ears. In college, I met some amazingly strong and incredibly smart women, women that wouldn’t just settle for mediocrity. The carrot would dangle and they’d chase after it. We’d all chase after it. The finish line could keep taking less and less time to get to, but our race for being our best would never end.
And then I went to New Zealand for study abroad. And I got tendonitis from hiking in the South Island and then I drank a lot of beer. When it was time to get back to the U.S. and train for my last season, I was out of shape and ten pounds heavier than when I left. I worked my butt off and ran the longest run of my life at the time (18 miles) and I was convinced by our team captain to join the Nordic team. I continued to race through the winter, and I got faster and stronger every day. I admit that I cried a lot. I cried going up the Balsam hill on skate skis. I cried going down Cemetary on skate skis. I even cried while riding in the van with five half-naked freshman boys (but that was from laughing so hard). My last track season seemed to come and go like the spring in the UP (which is really fast, by the way), and then I was done. It was quite anticlimatic.
Then I was in Montana. I signed up for some local 10Ks but nothing serious. I felt burnt out, and I even stopped running for about 9 months. I just didn’t feel like going. I started lifting weights, thinking that I’d find some enjoyment out of pushing myself harder in my brute physical strength, but I got bored. And eventually, I found my way back to running. I signed up for the Bridger Ridge Run and tried to prepare as best I could. I raced for nearly four of the five hours with a heart rate about 170, and I puked. After that, I signed up for my first marathon and trained my butt off. Discipline drove me to run on the treadmill every day, sometimes twice, during that harsh, frigid Montana winter. I’d run tempos and hills with my iPod shuffle in hand and America’s Next Top Model on the TV. I’d watch the weight lifters doing what I admittedly didn’t want to do. And I ran once for three hours, just plugging away with the belt moving beneath my feet.
Then I was in California. I was toeing the line for my first ever marathon, surrounded by half naked, anxious and excited runners (that oddly resembled in figure that of the freshman boys). The sun was rising and I was off. I listened to my body and I felt my lungs breathe in the most fresh and clean air I could imagine. I ran with two women for a few miles who were shooting for a 3:35. I left them. I ran for a guy using the marathon as a “training” run (something I thought of as absolutely absurd at the time… go figure). After six miles or so, I left him. I ran past vineyard after vineyard, aid station after aid station, and cheering crowd after cheering crowd. I ran by myself for the last 10K. I dug deep and felt my feet hit their rhythm on the pavement. I wove through the subdivision and felt my legs burn. Felt my arms burn. Felt everything just burn. And then I saw the spectators, the finish line, the clock, and I heard my coach’s whistle in my head. I felt everything disappear.
Then I was back in Michigan’s UP, running and training and racing, and I’ve not stopped since. It’s been just over 3 years since I ran my first marathon, and two weeks ago I finished my sixth. Racing marathons has exposed me to a whole new world of athleticism- and it helps nip my travel bug as well. Triathlon is not much different. There’s so much dedication and passion involved in endurance sports, and so much potential that I keep striving to reach. The further I push myself, the deep I reach into the giant vat of opportunities in sports like these. I see this pursuit for personal bests every day in my training partners and teammates. We don’t just settle, we keep advancing. We keep training. We keep racing.
Then I was in Madison, Wisconsin… racing my first Ironman. Then I was in Ohio, beating my personal best in the marathon 5wks later. It will go on and on.
Next weekend, I’m tapping into my retired fast-twitch muscles for my first Olympic distance triathlon. This will be the first triathlon of the season, and the first I’ve ever done shorter than than the half-iron distance. I’m nervous and excited. I’ve got my iPod charged and ready to rock with some of the classic pre-race pump me up songs. I’ll have my dad cheering from the crowds, and I’ll have my teammates beside me. I’m ready to go.