I Wish You Could See. I Wish You Could Feel. I Wish You Could Know.

 

I wish you could see my training log from freshman year- all the workouts that went unfinished because I wasn’t strong enough. I wish you could feel the burdens of the family stuff, and divorce stuff, and alcoholic parent stuff (see earlier posts) that I’ve dealt with all of college just like so many other students have. I wish you could know the pain of dealing with inconsistencies in racing. I wish you could feel the heartbreaks of all of the “almost but not quite” moments that come along with this sport. I wish you could see me hiding in a bush sobbing into the dirt after a race, feeling like I had failed miserably. I wish you could know what it’s like to be standing on the top of the hill at Wisconsin and have your coach tell your team through her tears that you were the first team NOT to make XC nationals. I wish you could see all the tears on my face after the coach I’ve had all of college told me she was leaving before I was going to graduate- that she was staying for cross country but would be gone for track. And then I wish you could have seen the 20 bravest women that I know crying right along with me upon that announcement. I wish you could see all of the hours and hours of conversations I’ve had with so many people when I’m in the need of encouragement- because let’s be honest- stay in the sport long enough and we all get to that point of being completely and totally broken.

But I also wish you could see the women around me, who believed in me even when I couldn’t finish workouts. I wish you could feel the love I felt when my teammates would make me coffee and cook me breakfast during one of the hardest years of my life. I wish you could know the joy of finally having a breakthrough after many many many moments of not having one. I wish you could see that I wasn’t crying in that bush alone, there was a teammate there patting my back and reminding me that failing doesn’t make you a failure. I wish you could feel the part that is opposite of the heartbreaks that come with this sport, when it’s no longer “almost but not quite-” when it finally happens. I wish you could know the overwhelmingly positive and highly motivating reaction the 7 women on that hill at Wisconsin had when we learned we wouldn’t be going to XC Nationals. I wish you could have seen the support given to us through teamates, coaches, and support staff after coach left. And then I wish you could have seen the 20 bravest women I know pressing on and fighting and refusing to make excuses. I wish you could have seen the hours and hours of conversations I’ve had with people when they’re in need of encouragement – because let’s be honest, this all comes full circle. We all are brought to tears. We all are heartbroken. And we all need to be built back up.

It’s really easy when super exciting awesome fun things happen to look at the person that they are happening to and think that super exciting awesome fun things have always happened to that person.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m sure that every single person on my team has their version of, “I wish you could see, I wish you could feel, I wish you could know…” and that’s what makes the sweet days so much sweeter. It’s knowing that there’s been a fight, but you’ve found a way. It’s knowing that you have been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows yet you still keep coming back for more. It’s being passionate about what you do and why you do it. It’s running.

What happened at French Field House last night will forever bring a smile to my face.

For anyone that’s reading this that has no idea what I’m talking about, let me fill you in:

In collegiate track and field, making the NCAA Championship and winning Conference Championships are two of the most highly sought after goals in the sport. The NCAA meet highlights individual successes, and the Conference Championship meet is a chance to put it all out there on the line for your team.

In Indoor track and Field, there is only one way to qualify to the NCAA Championships, and it’s pretty non-trivial, but it’s pretty tough: You must clock one of the fastest 16 times in the nation in your respective event (mine is the 800) between the start of December and the end of February.

So, with this being my senior year, one of the goals I have been chasing after, and am going to continue to chase after, is earning myself a spot on that NCAA starting line come the second week in March. And I knew that in order to achieve that goal, it meant that I would have to take advantage of every opportunity I was met with.

Last weekend at Arkansas, I took advantage of an opportunity. I had a great race, but it wasn’t quite enough- it put me just outside of the top 16, just outside of one of those coveted spots.

But this presented me with another opportunity- one that I had never thought about: The opportunity to race at home the following weekend. Usually at this Buckeye Tune-Up home meet, I rabbbit (pace) my teammates part of the way through their races and use it as a training day. But this year, I knew I needed every opportunity if I was going to secure one of those 16 positions. The coaches all got on board, and one of my training partners (Olivia Smith you literally are the bomb dot com) agreed to give up her races that night and instead pace me through the first 500 meters of the 800.

We got all of the details ironed out this past Monday, and coach sent me a very descriptive email detailing exactly what was happening and what had to happen in order to do what needed done (2:04ish). The email is included below, because it’s honestly really helpful information for understanding the process of qualifying to NCAAs, flat track conversions, and everything in between. The email is also awesome because my coach understands that my brain thinks in numbered lists, and I definitely appreciated the structuring of this email!


So, based on history, we knew that running a 2:05.5 would put me in a really good position to make the NCAA meet. We had a plan. We had a goal. We had a rabbit (Olivia Smith).

The warm up was really fun (it was 65 degrees today in FEBRUARY!). The sunset was beautiful. We ran along the Olentangy trail, just like every other normal day. We did drills in the parking lot of French Field house. We walked inside and the meet was running 30 minutes behind, which was actually a relief because I was SO HUNGRY so that gave me time to eat a blueberry bagel (the best kind) during our warm up!

And then we got to race!

Olivia was perfect on pace. My teammates were SO LOUD. Everyone knew what I was trying to do, and they were doing their best to make sure that it happened. It truly takes a village. Thanks Bucks- you all are amazing! I think more exciting than actually finishing the race was getting to be excited with you guys after crossing the line. I felt so cared for and loved by every single person last night, and that is something really unique and special. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by the people I am surrounded by, because what happened last night was a product of the people that were in that building.

I wound up running a 2:04:82, which converts to a 2:03.40- and if everything holds, will make that NCAA meet. And if at the end of the day 17 women wind up running faster than 2:03.40 and push me out of the top 16, then WOWZERS speedy ladies, you all deserve it, I respect you a ton, and good luck at College Station!

… but I’m hoping it holds… and I think it will:)

So yes, it would have been awesome to run faster at Arkansas, secure a top 16 spot there, and go with the original plan of not racing this weekend. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I believe that God had a different plan. He truly knows my heart and love for this team, this school, and my family. He delayed everything by just one week. All so that my last meet in French Field house as a Buckeye would forever leave me smiling. Jesus sings a sweeter song.

The season is not even close to over yet (thank goodness for that, I love this sport and never want it to end), and I am so pumped to head into B1G’s next weekend with the toughest people that I know… let’s go get em’ Bucks!

I wish you could see that the ups and down of this sport are real. And I wish you could feel the emotional roller coaster that the highs and lows of running leave you riding. But I wish you could know the encouragement of the people on this team, because they make every single heartbreak worth it.

Go Bucks Forever!!

The Bouquet of Roses I’ve Been Missing All Along

It was May of my freshman year, and I vividly remember sitting in Coach Vergote’s office next to a box of tissues. I was lucky number 49. For those that might not understand what the number 49 means to a Division One Track Athlete, number 49 on the East Regional Performance list, after all the scratches have taken place, is the first person NOT to qualify on to the First Round. It’s the person that is almost but not quite. It’s the person that sits in their coach’s office crying and feeling sorry for themselves and awkwardly trying to smile and laugh and hold back tears all at the same time.

My ever-wise (and incredibly patient) distance coach spoke to me through my tears and shared with me one of the harshest truth’s of running and athletics in general:

“Rachel,” she said, “Running track and running cross country is like 100 punches to the face for just one bouquet of roses. You’re gonna get punched. And knocked down. And then punched again. But we don’t do this sport because it promises us a painless ride into victory. We do this because at the end of the day, we believe that we’re going to get that bouquet of roses in spite of being pushed to the ground 100 times.”

Over the past four years, I’ve been figuratively knocked down and punched by this sport more times than I can keep track of. There are pages and pages in my log that detail every single bump, bruise, and cut that have been caused by this thing called running. Besides just being number 49 my freshman year, there was the Cross Country Season of 2014, where I was forced to deal with the mental and emotional injury of my parent’s divorce and Dad’s alcohol addiction. There have been hamstring injuries. There have been periods of time that I have been sidelined with the instructions of no physical activity under any circumstances. There have been periods of time when I’ve been stuck and can’t seem to break a certain time barrier. There have been mental struggles and times when it seems to be me racing against my brain instead of me racing against my competition. There have been times when I literally have ripped up my log out of frustration and then tapped the tear-stained pages back together because I can smell the bouquet of roses….. just to name a few.

Last Outdoor Track Season ended with another punch to the gut. I was sitting outside our hotel after the NCAA Regional recapping the season with Coach. She was giving me the you-need-to-freaking-race-like-you-deserve-this-and-just-freaking-do-it speech that she didn’t give me my freshman year but probably wanted to when I was upset in her office about being 49th. I was holding back tears. I had been knocked down again, and was trying to pick myself back up.

“I feel like I have had a million-trillion punches to the face, Coach. Like, too many punches to even count. But I’m still just waiting. I’m waiting on this bouquet. I feel like I’ve gotten a couple of singular roses. This team has had some great moments. But I haven’t gotten my bouquet.” I told Coach Vergote.

I went in to my senior year of Cross Country determined that this team was going to get that bouquet. We were going to go to Nationals. Those punches and moments that had knocked all of us down were all going to be worth it because we would have that bouquet.

At team camp at the beginning of the season, I knew we had a special group of women that were going to toe the line this season. We had 20 women that were all on the same page. 20 women that were willing to put it all out there for each other. 20 women that understood that it was going to take everything, including some punches to the face, to make it to nationals. 20 women that were ready to roll.

And we did roll. Right through the punches. We had people sidelined because of injury. We had people dealing with life stuff. We had people dealing with relationship stuff and family stuff. We had people running with one shoe on at The Big Ten Championships (Lilly you are such a stud). Just like every other team in the NCAA, we had people dealing with punches. And we took care of each other through these punches.

The women on this team are some of my best friends because I get to see how tough they are. I get to know their stories, their backgrounds, their experiences. Being on this team, we get to see each other’s real pain because of the punches of running and of life. And we get to pull each other though that pain. We get to laugh until we cry. We get to cry until we laugh. We get to talk for 16 miles at a time. We get to dance to Rebecca Black on a Friday workout day. We get to share life over cups of coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts post long run. We get to know each other’s families and hometowns without actually visiting. We get to encourage one another and build each other up. We get to give each other weird nicknames which incidentally are usually some kind of food. We get punched together, we get up together, and we focus on getting that bouquet together.

This past Friday, we were ready to get that bouquet and punch that ticket. And it made sense in our minds that it was going to happen. Every workout, every race, every practice was on point. We truly believed that we were going to get that fairy tale ending; we were going to get that bouquet. That’s what made all of the other punches worth it. We just hadn’t even considered the possibility that maybe we weren’t going to be the ones that got it. When you’re getting knocked down, you’re never thinking about the fact that maybe it will all be for nothing. That maybe the sacrifices and pain you are putting yourself through just wouldn’t be enough. That maybe you’ll never get the bouquet.

We finished 6th as a team in the NCAA Great Lakes regional. After finishing that race, the weirdest 90 minutes of my athletic career ensued. Our ticket to nationals, our bouquet, was completely dependent on whatever happened in the other regions. It felt like we were just stuck in this place of not being able to control anything and just having to wait and hope for things to shake out in our favor. We cooled down, did our strides, and then we all followed coach around like little ducks. She knew how to interpret the results of the other regions. She believed we had a shot, and that’s what kept our hope alive. We sat in front of our tent while coaches continued to refresh results. Some of us just sat around and nervously laughed and chatted. Others (freshman) laid on the ground and ate goldfish. We all were waiting on a bouquet.

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Post Regional-Race Waiting Shenanigans

And that’s when it hit me. I didn’t want to go Nationals just to say we made it to Nationals. I didn’t want to go to nationals to get cool gear. I didn’t want to go to nationals because I believed that it was the end all be all to my existence. I mean, I kinda wanted to go to nationals so I could dramatically throw my spikes in the shoe tree at Terre Haute. But the real reason that I wanted to go to Nationals, the reason that I wanted all of this so badly, was because I wanted to buy myself another week training with these women. I didn’t want the season to be over yet because I wanted to spend three hours a day at practice with them this week. I wanted another week of Antrim loops. I wanted another week of van rides filled with laughter.

I wanted another week of Abby crawling around on top of the lockers. Of Kaitlyn updating all of us on the current events and going out of her way to serve everyone. Of Lilly making sarcastic jokes. Of Brittany yelling, “Dooooooood!” Of Emily being the epitome of “Very British Problems.” Of Grace laughing at herself and telling stories about Annie. Of Olivia thinking of ways to make people feel awkward and also having a dance that goes with everything. Of Erin cheering, “Have a nice run, ladies!” Of Rachel L. asking questions and talking about skinny calves. Of Maddie and I twinning and looking identical as we run stride for stride. Of Sarah calmly encouraging us, “three minutes to go!” as we near the gazebo on the back of the Antrim loop.Of Claire being the most thoughtful person and giving the best hugs. Of Kelsey’s unexpected joke that comes out of nowhere but is perfectly timed. Of Annie’s drawn out stories that she tells all of us.Of Courtney being the best artist I’ve ever met and talking about creative ideas. Of Devin loving nature and picking up the bugs instead of stepping on them. Of Christine being a fighter, a mamma bear, and a kind friend all at the same time. Of Jess answering all of our health questions because she’s gonna be a freaking awesome nurse one day.  Of Lainey being a mini Lilly and giving some of the most mature advice and encouragement.  

I wanted another week of us. I wanted to go nationals because at the end of the day, getting the bouquet was never about going to nationals. The bouquet was about extending the time of doing what I love the most with the people I love the most. I’ve had my bouquet this whole season. In fact, I’ve had my bouquet for the past 4 years.

Turns out, we lost on a tie breaker with UCLA and we were one of the first teams NOT to qualify to Nationals… which is a feeling I’ve become pretty familiar with over the years. It sucks, every time. It is a punch to the face, every time. But standing there on the top of the hill at Wisconsin, I didn’t feel the punch to the gut like I normally do. As the women around me huddled together, I felt like I was being handed the most beautiful bouquet of roses. Yes, we were sad, we were heartbroken, but we also were encouraged. We were encouraged by the future potential of this team. We were encouraged because we were the bouquet, and I had been missing it all along.

Always in life, God offers a sweeter bouquet. He knows my heart far better than I know my own.He takes our almost but not quite moments and turns them into something beautiful. Sure, I knew God had blessed me so incredibly much with the people that He had put into my life on this team. But I didn’t realize that these people were the bouquet He was choosing to offer me so graciously. And if these people are my bouquet, I will take 10 trillion punches to the face for them, because they are worth every single hit. They are worth every single knock down. They are worth every single almost but not quite. They are my bouquet.

After 4 years and several thousand punches to the face later, I would like to modify Coach’s statement she made in her office from my freshman year. Running track and cross country is not one hundred punches to the face for one bouquet of roses.

Running track and cross country is so many punches to the face you won’t be able to put a numerical value on it. But every single punch, every single hit, every single knock down is worth it as long as your team is your bouquet.

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Ohio State Track and Cross Country, thank you for being my bouquet.