Throughout my years of running, I’ve kept a log of all of my training, detailing the highest highs and the lowest lows. During the buildup to the indoor season of my sophomore year, as I was getting back to training after a particularly brutal run of injuries, I wrote the following in my log:
“Seems like by the end of college I'll either be too broken down to run or I'll hate running so much I'll never want to do it again, which is sad because I loved running more than anything and it's done so much for me.”
The following is a letter to my former self, but also for those in a similar place with their running. Anyone who could have written those words above, who had (or has), simultaneously, an unhealthy addiction to training and hatred for running:
You’re at a low right now. You’re going to get out of it, but not before going even lower. That ankle pain you’ve been feeling is going to turn into a stress injury right before the biggest meet of the season. It’s going to take running away from you for two and a half months. At the same time, a global pandemic is going to hit, adding even more stress and uncertainty to your future. Are you going to lose motivation? You’ve been injured your entire career, why would this time be any different? Believe it or not, this time it will be.
These two events will actually shape your life and point you in a positive direction. With the help of others and a self-obsession of figuring out a way to make it all work, you’re going to crack the code of training at a high level with the cards you’ve been dealt. “Leave no stone unturned,” you'll tell yourself over and over as you drag yourself out the door to aqua jog and bike to make up for your lack of running volume. Will it all be worth it? Slowly, it’ll seem like it—but you won’t be sure. Over the next two years you’re going to get pretty good, not ‘NCAA Championship Qualifier’ good—you won’t make it during your time at Miami. You’re not even going to finish your career at Miami either, despite planning on being there for four years. Mostly for academic reasons, you’re going to transfer to Ole Miss. Deciding whether to leave or stay will tear you apart and it’ll feel like betrayal, leaving the team and coaches that got you to this point. But your leap of faith will pay off, as you’re going to get even better as an athlete and a person. Steady growth. (It’ll work out for Miami too as they’ll win conference without you, maybe you were the problem all along 😉)
You’re FINALLY going to make an NCAA cross country championship accompanied by your team. You’re FINALLY going to make an NCAA indoor championship in the DMR. You’ve been dreaming of anchoring a DMR team at NCAAs for years, and you’ll earn your chance. Despite being so nervous that you contemplate not even leaving the hotel room to go to that race, you’re going to have the race of your life, anchoring the team to a second place finish in emphatic fashion. It’s going to feel good. It’ll be the best moment of your career, so enjoy it. But, once the excitement wears off, you’ll realize there’s only one place to go from second: NCAA champion. And that’s all that will be on your mind going into your last season of eligibility. It’s actually going to feel like a possibility at the beginning of the season, as you’ll run 13:26.
But then your head is going to get too big and you’ll think you’re invincible. The dream of being NCAA champion is going to come to an abrupt end. You’re not even going to make the meet. You’ll be the first one out after choking at the two meets before Regionals. You’ll have some excuses, but the bottom line is you couldn’t get it done when it mattered most. You’re going to feel like you let everyone down. You’re going to feel like a fraud. Just like heartbreak, though, you’re going to get over it and you’ll finish your college career competing for Ole Miss at USAs. You won’t do great, but it’ll be a nice consolation prize and it’ll give you perspective on how far you’ve come. You’ll reflect on feeling like a nobody going into your junior year. A nobody who hated running and couldn’t even consider running a 5th year in college and competing against the best in the country.
But your running career won’t end here. Remember that delusion you developed during your junior year, that you could be good enough to run pro? The one nobody (even you, at times) seemed to believe? After your last outdoor season, that feeling of being a fraud will have you questioning whether you belong or not, despite the success. But, just as you’ve always done, you won’t leave a single stone unturned. In the same way you got just good enough at the right time to go to Miami, and got just good enough at the right time to go to Ole Miss, you’re going be just good enough to join Tinman Elite. And now, you’ll expect that trend of rising to the next level to continue. You won’t be ‘just good enough’ for long.
Being able to run post-collegiately on a team is a dream come true. A dream that never seemed possible when you were in the throws of injury, self-doubt, and failure. But a dream that you never gave up on. A dream you earned. But also a dream you never could have realized alone, you had so much help along the way. Support from family, friends, teammates, coaches, trainers, and more who have made this dream a reality.
So to answer the age-old question: “Is it all worth it?” Yes. And not because you’ll get to call yourself a ‘pro runner’ at the end of it all. And also not because of any performances that you’ll end up having. It’ll be worth it because you’re going to be able to travel around the country, something you never got to do before. You’re going to meet so many good people, creating relationships that will last a lifetime. You’re going to be able to move to Mississippi and Colorado and live and train with your friends, and enjoy life more than you ever have along the way. Whether your pro career lasts one year or 10, you’ll be able to say you’ve lived your life to the fullest. And that’s the dream that came true.