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Outdoor Track 2023 Recap & High School Running Reflection

Hi everyone! Welcome to the bi-annual competitive season recap blog post, I'm so happy you're here. :) This is a looong one so buckle in and enjoy the ride.

I recently competed in my last ever high school race... pretty crazy.

I feel that I go into every XC/TF season with one of two mindsets: a "revenge tour mindset" (aka, I had a disappointing last season and want to make up for it with a killer next season) or a "protect the dynasty mindset" (aka, last season was amazing and I want to maintain that status). Both of these are excellent motivators for training, but they yield rather different emotional experiences. Last cross country season was pretty solid, but ending very disappointingly, and I took off the indoor track season from racing in order to go to a plethora of doctor's appointments (more on that here). I knew that this outdoor track season was all I've got. I went into this season with both a revenge tour mindset and what I'll call a "happy to be here mindset". I knew I was going to give it my all, but the previous XC season taught me that no matter how hard you try, things never entirely go to plan. I had done a solid winter of training, often running workout times faster than ever before, so I felt ready to rock & roll. Outdoors here I come!

The season started solid, with me earning 3200m times close to my 11th grade PR, and a new 800m PR. I knew that not immediately PRing in every event would have deeply frustrated past me, and while it was a little frustrating to present me, I knew that the best was yet to come. Progress is not linear, especially in female distance running, so I had to keep the faith for a few weeks. I actually had two different invitationals get cancelled last minute due to weather, so substituting those with solid workouts was truly all part of God's plan. Overall, there were three races of note that will stand out forever in my head:

The WVU Mountaineer Showcase. This is a super exciting event, held at West Virginia University's outdoor track in Morgantown, WV. It's a collegiate track meet, but they invite high schoolers for an extra few races of the 3200m before closing up shop. It's a super cool experience, as you're running under the stadium lights on a super high quality track surrounded by some elite college athletes. I ran this meet last year, but had a rather lack-luster small PR in the 3200m of 11:40. This year I was determined to change the narrative by having confidence in my abilities and going out hard with the fast girls. I struggle pretty intensely with pre-race nerves, but for this race I tried to maintain a calmer-than-usual mentality and go out simply with a clear plan. This is a ballsy move, as I knew that most of the girls were well faster than me, but my bravery paid off when I came away with a new PR of 11:34 and 9th place! It was not only an exciting improvement, but also revolutionary in the way that I view running with girls faster than me. Going out faster than you know you can sustain can be very scary, but it also allows for the most exciting possibilities in the outcome. I went out very hard and rather scary fast with some amazing girls, and was able to run a confident and brave race despite that discomfort. I came away with a new perspective on racing boldly, calmly and competitively, and was extremely happy with the experience!

The Altoona Classic Invitational. This was definitely the most FUN meet of the season. I raced the 1600m (one mile) for the second time this season, and the first time with fresh legs (meaning I wasn't running any other races that day). The day of this meet was actually the day of my last of three AP exams of the year, meaning that nearly everything difficult I had to do in the entire year would be done after the meet. My AP Art History exam went fairly well, and I actually had to really rush from my exam to the meet, as my race was scheduled to be pretty soon after the test. Everything was so franticly rushed that I barely had any time to get nervous about the race since I had used all of my nerves on the exams that week. I walked to the starting line with less of a clear race plan that I typically do, but knew that it was only half of my normal race distance and that I just needed to go out and do my best. I was surprisingly calm, which I think was more being distracted and preoccupied than calmness, lol. The gun fired and I ran my fastest 400m ever in the first lap! Never a great way to start, but if you have decent mental wherewithal and a large amount of guts, a too-fast first 400 can take you pretty far in a mile race. I kept it together and ran my hardest to a 2nd place finish in a 8 second PR of 5:25!! I was elated and thoroughly surprised by my own ability. I have it in my head that I'm not good at middle distance, and while long distance is my specialty, this race taught me that I do have the ability to simply run fast when needed. This race was once again proof that if I have a clear race plan in my head, I really don't need to be overly nervous before the race. I just have to do some mental preparation and be smart!

This race was so fun for so many reasons. I got to the meet in the mid-afternoon, but got to stay all day until past 10pm in order to hang out and watch both my brother and boyfriend race. This extended time after a successful race of my own was ideal, as I love watching track meets, whether or not I'm running in them. The end of an all day meet can sometimes be super fun as well because everyone has been together alllll day and feels some sort of unspoken proximity connection (at least in my romanticized version). It was at Mansion Park, which is the largest and nicest stadium and track in my area, and also the track where I have the earliest memories of the sport of running. I remember being 5 years old and every year my parents would take my brothers and I to that stadium to watch the high school team they were coaching at the time compete, and I was enthralled. I remember trying to predict which event I would be best at and what it would feel like. It was fascinating and endlessly exciting to imagine, and so to run my last of many races there as a high school senior, running a huge 1600 PR, and feeling so fulfilled was truly special.

The Pine Richland WPIAL Last Chance Meet. I always semi-dreaded my last race of high school because I knew that I'd put a crazy amount of pressure on myself to make it super memorable and outstanding. This race was a rather last-minute add on to my season, as my lovely dad found it when searching for a meet to make up for the cancelled ones. I've run at the Pine Richland high school track before for some low-key 5000m races, but nothing larger than about 50 people, so I was so excited to see such a nice stadium (for real... like college-level quality stadium... it's beautiful) packed with track athletes and fans. I arrived as usual with just me and my parents, ready to enjoy the last race as an athlete and her coaches together. I felt fairly calm, but definitely felt a mounting pressure to do well and run a personal best. As with the last cross country meet, I felt that if I didn't PR, I would disappoint both myself and my coaches immensely. However, this past cross country season also taught me that you can run a completely heart-breaking race and come out on the other side fairly in tact, even if it takes a while to physically/emotionally recover. Basically, I knew I'd survive.

I had a plan to go out with the girls around my seed time, running splits as consistently as possible, and basically just go out and do the freakin thing! And that's just what I did! I didn't run this quite as calm as maybe would've been best, but I had just enough nerves to channel adrenaline and just enough mental awareness to recognize the enormity of the event in my life. The high school last race. This was it.

The gun fired and I was off exactly as planned. I ran the first mile completely even, running the exact splits I had wanted in the exact order, over and over. It was nearly perfect, thanks in great part to the incredibly consistent pacing of the girl in front of me. The second mile was slightly slower (to be expected) but I held it together and finished in a 10 second PR of 11:24!!! Breaking 11:30 in the 3200 was a goal that I had been working toward for two years, and I'd finally done it. I can't even describe the immensity of the relief and excitement I felt. Relief at a goal finally achieved after long and painful years of struggle, but also at a high school career completed, and completed well. The cover photo for this post was from a few minutes after I finished, when my mom and I shared an emotional moment reflecting on all the barriers I faced on the journey of getting to that race.

I ran a one mile easy cool down with both of my parents, which was super special and will stick with me forever. Sheetz soft serve on the way home was the perfect way to end the day!!

These are just my top three most exciting and memorable races of the season, and while I'm blessed to have had a "successful" senior season, I know that that's not the case for everyone. I've given enough storytimes on my own painful and heart wrenching races in the past, so for this post I wanted to give the positive highlights. I'm blessed that this season was overall pretty positive, but that's not to say that I didn't face bad races and great deals of pain before this. The fact that it went this well is a testament to personal growth, good coaching, and God's goodness!

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."

- Proverbs 16:3

In conclusion, my 12th grade outdoor track PRs:

-> 800m: 2:33

--> 1600m: 5:25

---> 3200m: 11:24

Biggest take-aways from the season, and my entire high school running career:

  • Racing calm WORKS. I really only discovered this in the last three races of my last high school track season, which is pretty unfortunate lol but the lesson still stands. I struggle immensely with pre-race anxiety, but I found that if I have a clear and exact race plan and fully realize what I'm about to do with pre-meet mental prep (such as visualization, journaling, etc.) I really don't need to be metaphorically (or literally) peeing my pants or throwing up on the starting line. This is more a note for Future Edie than anything else.

  • You can't make up for past disappointments, but you can fulfill past dreams. This was a hard one to get down. My junior outdoor track season and senior cross country season were solid, but fairly unremarkable. I didn't improve drastically or as much as I had wanted to, and I felt that I was in a bit of a plateau for a while there. This was insanely frustrating, especially when I didn't achieve the concrete goals I had made during that time. I later achieved those track goals from the beginning of junior year at the end of senior year. This is proof of not only God's timing trumping ours, but also the value of patience and not giving up. There were many times that I believed that I would never improve again in high school, and that all of my hard work was simply allowing me to maintain a solid reputation without improving. It was love of the action of running and its community that kept me working, and with time, prayer, and patience, I achieved those goals. Definitely not the timing I would've chosen, but looking back on it, the way it all happened was pretty dang beautiful. You can indeed fulfill goals and dreams after the time period you set to achieve them. You can feel both fulfilled in what happened, and disappointed that you didn't get what you wanted. Running itself shows that beauty and pain can coexist - in fact running proves that they have to coexist - and therefore if your dreams are big enough, they will have to hold equal amounts of beauty and pain.

  • Your achievements can rarely be measured along the same scale as your competitors. Our sport is literally entirely focused around comparing ourselves. Our times, our abilities, and strengths and weaknesses. That's the beauty of the sport: you just run with the people around you and whoever is the best runner ends up finishing first. It's amazingly simple, but it also can be devastatingly addicting to compare yourself. As with basically all competitive runners, I struggled greatly with comparing my performances to my competitors and tragically linking that to my own view of my personal self worth. This comparison fight is one that is never truly over in my opinion, and I know that I'll struggle with it again in college athletics, but I came out with more understanding than I went into high school with. It's healthy to compare yourself, without comparison, nobody would ever achieve anything. But it's when that comparison is linked to self-worth value of hard work that it gets toxic and unhealthy. If you're putting your all into what you're doing, your hard work is just as valid as those around you, even if they're better than you or you're better than them. What I mean by achievements not always being measured on the same scale is that every person on the starting line has faced a different set of challenges to get there, whether that be physical with injuries, mental blocks, or emotional challenges. Therefore, whatever you achieve in that race cannot be fully comparable to your competitors if you don't fully consider everyone's challenges before getting there and during the race. With this in mind, there's really no way to ever fully compare two people's performances outside of their race time based on the distance. That's all you've got. I experienced this the most right before and after I was diagnosed with dysautonomia, as that caused many physical set backs for me that my competitors have simply never faced. It made me change the way I view racing and gave me insanely painful experiences I'll never forget. We all struggle differently, but that doesn't mean that anyone's experience is less valid. Whoever crosses the finish line first gets the medal, but there's way more to it than that.

  • You may simply never be given the same opportunities as others around you, whether or not you think you're more deserving. A tough pill to swallow, and one that I rather jokingly consider the bane of my high school existence. My high school was non-PIAA, meaning I was not allowed to compete at the district or state championships in either cross country or track. Twice a year for four years I had to watch my biggest competitors get the biggest athletic opportunity of their lives, one that I would likewise greatly benefit from, while I watched the livestream of their races from my house. I felt not only a lack of fulfillment without this experience of states that to many is the hallmark of high school sports, but also immense frustration at watching people slower than me get an opportunity I'd do anything to get. Those people were obviously just as deserving because of the fact that they had qualified, but I really struggled to understand that. This hurt, and hurt deep, but over time I accepted it. Grudgingly, but I accepted it. Of course, I know that going to Grier and having the endlessly amazing opportunities that that school presented to me was more than a fair trade off for not getting districts or states appearances, but it hurts in the moment when others are getting a medal that I could've earned. You may just never get certain opportunities, and that simply means that you have to make the most of what you do get. Suck it up buttercup.

  • You are NOT invincible, but you are capable of more than you think. Ouch, I need to hear that again. There's something deep within me that believes that if I pray hard enough and push my body hard enough, I can truly achieve any physical goal. This sounds unreasonable when I write it down, but you kinda have to have that type of mentality to achieve anything at all in running. You have to believe that you're capable of something before you do it... in order to do it. As I've said a thousand times now, this past XC season showed me that I have the ability to push my body further than a lot of people, but that doesn't mean that it'll always get me what I want. You can just go so hard you break... walk away with nothing to show for it. This hurts, but this doesn't mean you can't achieve crazy goals! Basically, just believe that you can do scary and crazy things if you work hard and commit to it! But also understand that you do have a limit based on your personal wellbeing. To quote Steve Prefontaine (because a distance runner can't write a whole blog post about running without pulling out at least one cheesy Pre quote): "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift". Give it your absolute all, but know when to stop.

  • Progress is not linear. Say it louder for the people in the back!!! Again!!! This is the lesson that I wish I could tell every 7th grade girl joining her junior high or high school cross country or track team. You can achieve multitudes, but the female body often simply does not progress as consistently as the male body does in distance running. (For more on this, check out the incredible book Good for a Girl by Lauren Fleshman.) This doesn't mean that you can achieve any less, but it does mean that it might not happen in your timeline. Some girls improve most at the beginning of high school and then plateau, some improve the most all at the end of high school, and some girls don't truly hit their competitive running stride until college or beyond. All of these are okay! There are so many factors at play when it comes to progressing in distance running in general, but you can't let a period lacking of improvement keep you from continuing to work. At least in my opinion. Everything happens when it's supposed to happen, so you just gotta work just as hard and stay positive and above all, patient.

In short, my high school running career (much like my high school experience as a whole) was unique and far from normal. I ran as an independent athlete being coached by my parents and achieved exactly what God had planned for me. The whole story of my career has been a lesson is God's timing and faithfulness, as I questioned His plan so many times. I believe that the crazy ride took me exactly where I'm suppose to be, and I truly couldn't be more excited for the future. Central PA running - thank you, it's been real.

Here's to the Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. #BFD

"You don't become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”

- John L. Parker Jr., Once a Runner

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