A Better Me
When I made the leap of faith to transition into the life of a professional runner I never imagined it looking like this, but I have found myself thankful for the entire process.
For starters, I began my professional career while still in school.
Originally when planning my academic schedule, I wasn’t sure how far I would be able to go with running. I realized that many unforeseen injuries could stop me in my tracks, and that a more intense level of training might not “click” with me. I also wasn’t sure if I’d be able to perform well at a high level.
So with that being said, I structured my academic plan to allow for a more gradual transition from college to professional running — even though my NCAA eligibility at Virginia Tech had expired. I delayed my graduation by a year to get the most out of my engineering education and to continue training with collegiate athletes, but on a different schedule and with supplemental exercises.
When I began talking with professional coaches about an Olympic pursuit and I found they had interest in furthering my career, I was ecstatic. However, I soon became faced with a bit of a dilemma.
Many coaches wanted me to graduate early so that I could start training with them as soon as possible. I wasn’t thrilled with this idea because I had worked hard for my degree, and didn’t want to cut any corners.
However, I was blessed to have spoken with the coach of District Track Club, Tom Brumlik, who was willing to work with me and my situation. Since I was raised in the DC area — where District Track Club is based — he gave me the unique opportunity to travel back home to train with the professional team whenever I could, but continue training with the Virginia Tech team otherwise.
This made for the perfect setup, and I decided to sign with District Track Club, and their sponsor, Under Armour.
At first it was a bit strange and challenging, continuing to train with a college team that I was no longer a part of, but I made it work. I was even able to get all of my classes online for my final semester, which allowed me more opportunities to train with my professional team. This setup allowed me to attend an incredibly informative nutrition, recovery and biomechanics seminar with the Under Armour staff, along with a six-week training trip to IMG Academy in Florida in March of 2020.
With so many new opportunities, teammates and resources, I was beginning to really settle in to this new life as a professional athlete.
However, the last few days of our training trip — which had been packed with challenging workouts, more in-person coaching, and team bonding time — were suddenly faced with new uncertain fears, apprehensions and unanswered questions.
How severe would this new Coronavirus everyone is suddenly talking about become? Will we be able to leave the state and go home before the borders are shut down? Is our flight going to be canceled? When will I be able to fully move out of my college apartment, and relocate in the DC area? Will this affect the new apartment I would be moving into? Is a lockdown even possible?
Thankfully we made it out of Florida just days before a quarantine began.
I was able to go home and stay with my parents, but was told I could not move into my new apartment. I also was no longer able to practice with the team I had just gotten so close with. On top of that, something I hadn’t even considered was now a question.
Would the Olympics still happen?
This was what I had set my sights on years ago, and once I entered the professional world it seemed so much more tangible. I soon found out the Olympics would be postponed until the summer of 2021. This was certainly better than being completely canceled, but resulted in a very unexpected change to my training schedule. My coach decided we would continue training in hopes that a few races would be scheduled and allow us to compete later in the summer.
As days turned into weeks and everyone was still supposed to be quarantining, I found myself running by myself almost every day. Not just easy runs, but hard workouts.
I took whatever help I could get.
My dad would run with me on easy days when possible. My mom would time workouts for me at whatever makeshift track I could find. Strangers I passed on trails or sidewalks cheered me on. These were the kinds of things that kept me going, but it was still very hard.
I struggled with running by myself and staying motivated. I struggled trying to hit workout paces without anyone next to me, pushing me. At first I wasn’t sure how long I could continue on all alone, but gradually my coach was able to let three of us train together at a time, and I was able to practice with one or two of the girls on the team on a weekly basis. Not only did this bring back some normalcy to my routine, but it brought back more human interactions and ways of pushing myself in workouts. Still, I felt like I was in some kind of fog — I could not get out of it.
My workouts were good, but mentally I didn’t feel “in it.”
I think what finally brought me to my turning point was when my coach said, “You have to figure out why you mentally aren’t able to run workouts by yourself.” I had to figure out what it was going to take to get myself amped up and ready. After working out a few times with someone who really pushed me, I was able to see what I should be able to do, and what I need to be able to do in order to be competitive at this level.
Something really clicked in my head for some reason after this, and I started feeling more like myself again. I was able to do workouts alone and push the times and effort. I was able to do workouts with people. I remembered how much I like to be competitive.
When I was finally getting into the groove of things, I also found out that there would be a meet I could compete in. I’m not going to say everything went perfect — it was certainly a very unusual few months of training — but it definitely felt great to be back on a track, competing against other women. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to race — I know many people did not — and I am grateful to have a team, coach and family that supported me through it all.
I think the quarantine journey has looked different for every person, and getting back into the groove and adjusting to new training routines takes everyone a different amount of time. However, one thing I am certain of is that I am stronger physically, and even more so mentally, than I was before the quarantine.
I know now how to push myself when there is no one else around to do so. I know myself better than before, both on and off the track, and I know what makes me tick. I am confident that this “pause” on life has been something I didn’t even realize I needed.
I am hopeful and energized about moving into the year to come, and have my sights set not only on the Olympics, but on a better me.