Embracing Changes

Fits Seyoum's journey from femur fracture to professional running

 

Fits Seyoum holds the unofficial Virginia Tech Cross Country record for fastest lap hiked while wearing a weighted vest. He also holds the VT school record in the 3000 meter Steeplechase with a time of 8:31.23.


A true master of the brisk hike and the steeplechase, Seyoum earned both of these distinctions in 2021. In the steeplechase, though, it was a matter of lowering his own record. If you know anything about Seyoum, you know his range is impressive. But what makes these two times, hiking and steepling, so significant?


Well, hiking in the weighted vest served as a form of cross training for Seyoum as he recovered from a grade-4 femoral stress fracture he was diagnosed with in October of 2020. The diagnosis came just eight months before he finished 10th in the steeplechase at the US Olympic Trials with a time of 8:28.72.


On October 16th, 2020, Seyoum was unable to finish a cross country race because of the pain in his leg, the first DNF of his collegiate cross country career. He spent the next four weeks on crutches and wasn’t allowed to cross-train during this time, but these tight restrictions drove him to seek other forms of exercise.


“After two weeks I was doing one of the arm-cycle bikes for 40 minutes.”


Despite feeling “goofy” using only his arms to bike, Seyoum stuck to the doctor’s orders until he was cleared to swim, bike, use the punching bag, and hike with the weighted vest. Seyoum candidly described the process as “awful,” saying that what made it so hard was battling self-doubting thoughts like, am I going to be the same? Is it even worth it in my 5th year?


By this point, Seyoum was setting up jobs and had pretty much decided he was done running. “I was chasing the person I used to be and the runner I used to be. That pretty much sucked.”


A winter break full of hiking and cross training led Seyoum back to the track in January, where he did his first workout. He finished his first workout back on land by throwing up. After his second workout back, he was convinced he was done running and he told his coach, Eric Johannigmeier, he was close to walking away from the sport.


He stuck with it, though, and the entirety of his indoor track season, only ran on land for workouts. He spent his recovery days on the bike, in the pool, or on the Alter-G.


At this point, Seyoum was three months from the initial diagnosis. Up until mid-February, when he ran a 4:08.36 mile, running remained a painful and difficult task. He ran the final 800 meters in 2 minutes before Johannigmeier told him he would be racing the mile at the ACC Championship meet.


At ACCs, Seyoum ran a 4:04.80 to make the final, almost matching his personal best. The next day, he ran 4:00.74, setting a new personal best and finishing 4th in the ACC. While all of his teammates were tapering for the postseason, Seyoum’s mileage was reaching new heights since his injury.


“I think I ran 32 miles that week and I was like, wow, I’m building up mileage.”


With a new mile personal best and mileage on the upswing, Seyoum was headed into the outdoor season with a new perspective about the runner he was.


“I was always comparing myself to who I was. And at that meet [ACCs], I had a new perspective about how I will never be who I was. I’m different now and I just had to accept that and stop comparing myself to the runner I was. I’m not the runner I was. I just wanted to appreciate the process and restart.”


Seyoum’s outdoor season was framed by one goal: the Olympic Trial standard.


“It was optimistic. I’m a guy who was running 30-something miles indoors and 40-something outdoors saying he wants to hit the Olympic Trial standard for a 3k steeple, which is a distance race.”


In his first steeple race in two years, Seyoum ran only six seconds off of his personal best, giving him the confidence that he could meet his goal. In May of 2021 at the ACC Championship meet, Seyoum did just that, defending his title and running under the Olympic Trial Standard in a time of 8:31.23.



Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics


From there, he breezed through Regionals before landing in Eugene, Oregon, where he spent almost a month total between the NCAA Championship meet and the US Olympic Trials.


At NCAAs, Seyoum didn’t have the race he wanted and says he was too complacent. He took the two weeks between NCAA’s and the Trials to prepare himself for another race and shake off any disappointment.


“I knew at the Trials that I had to be ready for the moves and race like I belonged there. That was a huge difference. I just put myself in a [better] position. I didn’t run passive at the Trials.”


After the Trials, Seyoum began to negotiate professional contracts and signed with Under Armour's Dark Sky Distance. He moved to Flagstaff to train full-time on September 19th, 2021, less than a year after he was sidelined with his stress fracture.


“I just felt like this was the right group for me to take that next step.”


Seyoum says that Dark Sky Distance checked off everything on his list and it seemed like the perfect fit for him to be out there. His time in Flagstaff has introduced him to an incredible running community. The culture he has joined is focused and dedicated, just like Seyoum is.


In less than a year, Seyoum was diagnosed with a femoral stress fracture, ran a 4:00 mile, won his second ACC Steeplechase title, graduated college, ran in the NCAA Championship meet, ran in his first Olympic Trials, signed a professional contract, and left Virginia to move across the country to Flagstaff.


When asked what he would tell younger runners or a younger version of himself, Seyoum says the most underrated piece of advice is to focus on yourself.


“Running is such a numbers thing. People get caught up on seeing a fast time or seeing someone else run a fast time and comparing themselves to that. Everyone has a different path. You’re going to get somewhere differently than someone else will.”


Seyoum has certainly proved his ability to bounce back and succeed. With as much as 2021 has held for him so far, we can’t wait to see what 2022 will bring, but we hope it will be an injury-free endeavor this time around.


Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics


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