Tough days. Rough Races. Loving the Hard.

“Running is hard. And it’s really hard to always love the hard. But it’s worth it.” -Kelsey Bruce

I met Kelsey Bruce last summer at RRCA’s RunPro camp. At the time, I didn’t really know what she meant when she shared this with me. I was coming off the best six months of my running career. I PR’d in my main event almost every weekend. I was an Indoor and Outdoor NCAA qualifier and an Outdoor USATF Championships qualifier.

I was on a hot streak with a shiny new 2:02.67 next to my name. I forgot what it was like to have tough days, rough races, and be forced to love the hard.

Cue USATF Indoor Championships this past weekend… yep… now I remember all those feelings. Now I totally understand what she meant.

This past weekend, I didn’t handle my nerves well. At all. I let my brain take control of the result rather than letting my body relax and perform the way I’m capable of racing. Instead of taking confidence in my past 6 months of training, I took confidence in nothing. Literally nothing… haha yikes.

I’m frustrated because it feels like a wasted opportunity. I’m upset because I perceive it as failure. And I’m disappointed because I did a poor job of taking confidence in the only one who, time after time, I’ve learned I can put my total faith and trust in: Jesus.

I tried to carry my nerves and anxieties myself this weekend. HUGE mistake.

My coach, Rob Myers, always talks with me about having an unwavering faith. He talks about trusting that I am fit enough, fast enough, and strong enough regardless of outside circumstances. He talks about having faith in the process. He talks about having trust even in situations when I feel a lack of control.

This past weekend, I did a poor job with each of those, and the results reflected it. Because of that, I perceived this weekend as a failure. But Rob also talks about the fact that failure has more to do with our perception than our reality.

After my race, I talked with Rob, and he shared with me a simple message:

“Perceived failure isn’t really failure… it’s really just part of the bigger picture. Its part of the process; Its part of life.”

I have faith in my ability to bounce back. I have hope in the fact that I will lace my spikes up again and yield a different result.  And I have trust in the process– even though the process is sometimes hard and painful.

Most importantly, I have faith, hope, and trust in a God who loves me and cares about me regardless of results on the track—regardless of my “perceived failure.” I know He has a perfect plan, and I know that part of His plan requires some hard parts in the journey… but that still doesn’t make it any easier right now.

That results from that prelim still sting. I think they will for a while. Rob only allowed me 30 minutes to be totally upset about it. But I’ve bottled up some of those emotions and am saving them for motivational fuel for the next time around.

However; I am an optimist. And because of that fact, I keep coming back to a single thought:

How lucky am I?

How lucky am I to chase a dream I care so passionately about that it painfully hurts when I don’t succeed during parts of the journey?

How lucky am I to have a coach that has so much faith in my abilities that he can brush aside messy and poor results and say, “I still believe in you. Let’s get better for outdoor?”

How lucky am I to even have the opportunity to be disappointed, to be let down?

How lucky am I to have a God full of grace, a God that looks past my mistakes, my imperfections, and my insecurities, and loves me one hundred percent?

How lucky am I to have the incredible support team of people that rally behind me through this process? Columbus Running Company, my family, my medical support, my friends. Seriously, every single text, every single good luck call, every single prayer… I will be forever thankful.

Like Rob reminded me, perceived failure is not failure. It’s just life. Whether its with running, a job, school, relationships, or anything else, its part of the journey. It’s part of loving the hard.

Kelsey Bruce, I know what you meant now. Part of me wishes I didn’t. But most of me is glad I do. Loving the hard is what makes the success so sweet. Experiencing the hard is what gives you battle scars to show off when you’re standing on the other side. Like you said, the hard is worth it. I got some battle scars this weekend, but I know I’ll be just fine.

Because, how lucky am I?

It’s time for Outdoor.

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Until the next one…

What Would You Attempt to do If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

My Junior year of high school, inspired by Pinterest, I took an orange piece of chalk and scripted a short message in large letters onto the right wall of my closet.

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

– Robert H. Schuller

Seriously– what would you attempt?

Climb Mount Everest? Learn how to fly airplanes? How about space shuttles? Finally start training for that marathon, triathlon, iron-man? Tackle that home improvement project that’s needed completed for years?

Throughout my junior and senior year, I stared at that orange quote every single time I opened my closet door (which was actually a lot since most of the time my closet was so messy the door wouldn’t shut, so I just left it open). Convicted by the quote I found on Pinterest that was now etched into my closet wall, I decided that if I knew I couldn’t fail, I would attempt to run Track and Cross Country at The Ohio State University. I wanted to be a Buckeye. The only problem was that, at the time, I was a 2:15 800 meter athlete and 19:06 (at my best) Cross Country athlete… not exactly close to the 2:05 800 women and 16:50 5k women that were currently on OSU’s team. I had a pretty lofty goal for someone in my position. I emailed the coach anyways and basically begged him to take a chance on me… and by the grace of God– he did. I worked my tail off my senior year of high school and eventually ran 18:21 in the 5k and 2:11 in the 800. One official visit later and I had my spot on the team.

That experience my senior year of high school with taking chances, setting my sights high, and dreaming of really big extravagant goals was my first experience with chasing dreams at a different level than most are willing to chase. And through that process, I learned that being willing to set really big goals and take some pretty huge risks was a pre-requisite to actually chasing dreams.

Since my senior year of high school, my list of dreams– things that I would attempt to do if I knew I would not fail, has grown tremendously. Some are silly, some are more serious, but they all are dreams– dreams that I am willing to take the time and take the risks to make happen. If I knew I would not fail, I would build my own house from the ground up. Obviously I would want to complete the perfect cartwheel. I would start my own company. Much to my Mom’s delight, I would completely organize all of my personal spaces (car, room, closet, etc.) in a way that actually works for me. I would “Jill Kanney” it (Jill was one of my awesome college teammates– and yes, Jill, your name has been used in the context of a verb) and actually learn how to play the guitar and not just pluck the strings. I would put myself in a position where I would get to race against the best middle distance athletes– not just from the United States– but from all over the world. And in doing so, I would put myself in contention to make the 2020 Olympic Team and represent the USA in Tokyo. Through all of this, my desire would be to live every day as if it were an important part in a very very large adventure.

I’ve been working on those last three on my list this entire summer. Running. Racing. Adventuring. After finishing up my college career at the NCAA championships out in Eugene, I decided to stay in Oregon and race a couple races in Portland. My Portland Adventures, as I have been referring to them, were my first experience of traveling, racing, and competing as a post collegiate. It was different. Scary. Weird. I didn’t have a coach. Or teammates. I didn’t even have a place to sleep the first night that I decided to stay out there. I cried to my Uber driver, Teri (I still remember that kind woman’s name) because I felt completely, utterly, and totally alone– 2,438.9 miles away from the place I called home.

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Racing Some 800 meter races in Portland back in June. PC: @tafphoto & @highperformancewest

I felt as if I had made a huge mistake. I heard the voices in my head whispering, “you’re not good enough. You won’t make it at this level. Everybody else knows what they are doing. If you can’t even pull yourself together in Portland, what happens when you travel outside of the United States?” 

But then I remembered something that I wrote on my goal sheet at team camp about a year ago. Its something that the entire year, I had been working on in the context of racing. But at that particular moment while crying in my Uber in Portland, it really needed to be applied in the context of life.  I wrote on a section of my 2016-2017 goal sheet,

"I have to mentally stay within myself and tell that voice in my head to shut up."
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This was what was written on the bottom of my 2016-2017 goal sheet. Yes, I am a hoarder and still have copies of my goal sheets dating back to 2013.

Jesus gives us the ability to silence those voices and replace them with His truth. His truth that we are loved, cared for, valued, and important. His truth that the adventures that He takes us on are opportunities for us to chase and pursue our dreams if we only allow Him to take us to places out of our comfort zone. This risky place of being out of our comfort zone is the same place where our actions start to intersect what we would attempt to do if we knew we could not fail. I lived in that place that week I spent in Portland. In fact, I lived in that place for most of the summer. Taking risks. Taking chances. Chasing a dream.

For years I had always watched the US Championships from my couch in Columbus. I would secretly pull for Brenda Martinez, an athlete I have looked up to since I started my running career. This year during the US Championships, I was no longer on my couch– I was stepping up to the line with Brenda.

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Racing at the USATF Championships in Sacramento, CA.

This year during my free time, I was no longer looking up results on Flotrack to see what the results of summer races were– I was actually racing them. This year during the summer, I was no longer comforted with the safety and security of being in Columbus, Ohio all of the time– I had the opportunity to travel around the country. So that’s how I spent my summer. Chasing dreams and living an adventure as if I didn’t know what the word failure (Or the word, “No,” S/O to all the awesome elite race and meet directors out there for giving me a spot on the line:) ) meant. And that is what I plan to continue to do. My favorite author, Bob Goff, writes it best.

“What’s your next step? I don’t know for sure, because for everyone it’s different, but I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting and meaningful. Pick something you aren’t just able to do; instead, pick something you feel like you were made to do and then do lots of that. You weren’t just an incredible idea that God never got around to making. The next step happened for the world when God dropped you on the planet. You’re here and I’m here. God decided to have us intersect history, not just at any time, but at this time. He made us to be good at a few things and bad at a couple others. He made us to love some things and not like others. Most of all, He made us to dream. We were meant to dream a lot. We’re not just a cosmic biology experiment that ended up working. We’re part of God’s much bigger plan for the whole world. Just like God’s Son arrived here, so did you. And after Jesus arrived, God whispered to all of humanity…”It’s your move.”” – Bob Goff, Love Does

My move this summer has been to dream it, chase it, and believe it. Just as Bob talks about. And I believe that in doing so, God has shown me that every day truly is an important part in a very very large adventure. He has reminded me that He is the author

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Racing my first road mile at the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile mile in Pittsburgh, PA

of my adventure. He has reminded me that He has already planned out the future. God knows who is going to Tokyo (and Paris and L.A. … and every Olympics here on out until forever). God knows the races set out ahead. And He has reminded me that I am loved and cared for regardless of whether or not I become a sub 2:00 800-er next season or I hang up my spikes tomorrow (although that hanging up the spikes part isn’t gonna happen for a while… but still– he will love me then as well). Regardless of outcomes, I am loved.

The really cool part about resting in that truth is that it gives us the freedom to really and truly live our adventures. To take risks. To throw caution to the wind, step up to the line, and say, “I’m all in. I’m gonna do this.” Because with Jesus, we are never viewed as a failure. We are viewed as strong and important people that bring value to whatever place we are in.

Through God’s eyes, we will never fail.  This gives us the ability to attempt to do things and dream things that require a lot of effort and a lot of laying our pride and insecurities down and taking chances. It’s telling that voice in our heads to “SHUT UP!” because we ARE worth it. We DO matter. And we were created CAPABLE. So here’s to dreaming big taking chances, and enjoying the entire adventure. Because I want to live my life attempting to do the things that I would do if I knew I could not fail, and I intend on chasing the dreams that God has put on my heart…

… My hope is that you will choose the same:)

End Note: I am dedicating this post to my college teammate Jill Kanney who has taught me how to dream it boldly, chase it fiercely, and believe that The Lord will take care of the rest. #dreamChaseBelieve

More than “Just Another.”

“Go get em, Rach. He who promised is faithful.”

This is the text message that I woke up to on Friday morning– the Day I raced the NCAA Regional final. It was sent to me by an old high school teammate (Shout-Out to Robbie Daulton). Two simple sentences. Nine words total. But it was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

He who promised is faithful.

Jesus is faithful.

God comes through on His promises. He came through on His promise that Jesus would die on the cross and be raised to life again. He came through on His promise that we would then be set free from sin, able to live freely because of The One (Jesus) who set us free. He came through on His promise to love us one hundred percent, no matter where we are in our messy lives (and thank goodness for that because otherwise, my car would definitely need some cleaning up!!). Exhibit A:

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Litterally, this was my car last week. I’m imperfect. I’m messy. But Jesus still loves me. 

 

He came through. He has. He does. And He always will. Because He who promised is faithful. And my messy car and messy life will never be too much for Him.

I needed to be reminded of that on the morning of the Regional Final. I needed to know that no matter what happened that day during the 800 meters that I was out there racing, I could trust that Jesus was going to give me the strength to fight, because He promised, and He is faithful. And the words in that text reminded me of that truth exactly.

A lot of you guys know (since I reference it so often), but my current favorite book is Love Does by Bob Goff. I’ve read it twice now cover to cover, and I’m getting ready to read it for a third time because it is fantastically amazing. I think I actually laughed more at Bob’s little anecdotes and side stories about life the second time I read it, which I don’t even know how that’s possible– but it happened!

Anyways, there is a chapter in the book that I thought about this weekend when I received so much encouragement and truth from amazing and wonderful teammates (old, current, and new), friends, and family. In this chapter, Bob talks about how people are able to use their words to launch each other. And he talks about how we just have to be ordinary people to use our words to have an impact on someone else’s life.

“Words can launch us. We don’t need to be a dean to say words that change everything for someone. Instead, God made it so that ordinary people like you and me can launch each other.” -Bob Goff

That’s what the words in that text message did for me– they launched me! God used the text that read, “He who promised is faithful” to launch me in the direction my mind needed to be headed for that day. In fact, there were so many words that people used this weekend to launch and support me. And while you all are far from ordinary (as the way this quote is worded may suggest), you all have used your words to help launch me. And that is something that I am incredibly grateful for.

I think that words coupled with people launching others allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. My coach likes to remind me that at one point in my athletic career, I was just another 5:02 1600-er and 2:11 800 meter runner coming out of high school (I was never a High School State Champion). At one point, I was just another name on the roster. At one point, I was just another time on the TFRRS descending order list. At one point in all of our careers– be it running or otherwise– don’t we all feel like we are “just another”?

I share this with you, because it all sounds quite ordinary. But like I said, I think that God wants us to launch each other so that ordinary people can accomplish the extraordinary. We are more than  Just another. God intended for us to be more than just another. We were fearfully and wonderfully made. And we have the power of The One who faithfully promised walking right alongside us. But sometimes, we need to be reminded of that. Sometimes, we need to be launched.

I’m thankful for the “people launchers” in my life. I’m thankful for those who have used their words to encourage me and launch me– especially the past couple of weeks! Seriously, you all rock and are amazing. Your words have helped me to experience the fact that God is able to take an ordinary person like myself and use me for something that I didn’t really count myself to be used for when I was a senior in high school.

Before my 800-er teammates and I race, I always look at them and say, “This is the good stuff, this is the fun stuff.” Because that’s what racing is! It’s the good stuff and the fun stuff. It’s everything that practice is but just a WHOLE LOT more fun! This past weekend, I wound up racing my PR (2:02.67) which got me an Auto Q and qualified me to the NCAA Championships in Eugene Oregon. That was the good stuff. That was the fun stuff. And now there will be more good stuff and fun stuff to come in 10 days as a result of this past weekend.

I want to be a people launcher, too. I used to think I was just another. But now I know that God does not intend that just another life for any of us. He wants us to live boldly. He wants us to take risks. He wants us to launch people and be launched by people. My hope is that the 2:02.67 along with that automatic Q makes someone else who also thought that they were just another believe that God made them for more than just blending in with the background. Maybe it’s not with the 800. Maybe it’s not even with running at all. But it’s something. It’s definitely something. Because none of us are, just another.  All of us were made for something. And all of us are able to use that something to launch someone else.

Nobody is just another. We are all so much more than just another. Know it. Believe it. Live it.

#goBucksForever<3

Side note: I made my teammates take this picture because literally for my entire running career (so 10 years now), I’ve wanted this picture but everyone is always too embarrassed to take it. They agreed to take it (FINALLY YES), but it should be mentioned that they definitely were coerced into it. Anyways, here is a picture from the weekend with probably the best running pun ever created. Thanks Christine and Em for being part of the shennanigans:) 

Em and Christine, one day you both will thank me because you can use this photo to embarrass your kids:)


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.