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RunningLane National Championships: Embracing the Opportunity

📍Huntsville, Alabama

Hi everyone! I hope you’re having a wonderful Wednesday! Today I’m hitting you with my favorite pictures and a recap of the RunningLane National Cross Country Championships that my family participated in at the beginning of December. I recently posted a different blog post with an entire senior XC season novel detailing my thoughts and feelings on a joyful but not-ideal season, so I highly recommend checking that out if you’re interested in any more of my running journey. :) Anyways, onto RunningLane!

A brief history, in case you’ve never heard of RXC: RunningLane National Championships was created in Huntsville, Alabama in the fall of 2020 as a void-filler of sorts during the first cross country season during Covid. Because of Covid, all national championships were either canceled or made virtual, and the elite high school runners of the US were left scrambling for somewhere to showcase themselves on a big stage at the end of the season. Enter a few Huntsville natives/running enthusiasts who knew that an old golf course in their city had potential for cross country. They turned the old golf course into a park dedicated entirely to cross country, now called John Hunt Running Park, and created courses throughout the park for every race distance needed for high school and college XC. Genius, right? Especially genius because the 5k course turns out to be the fastest 5k cross country course in the nation, as proven by the multiple national records broken and rewritten there in the following two years. They then got a few sponsors and created the RunningLane Championships – a national meet without any qualifying time besides an entry fee, and spread the word. Their first year of 2020 was small, but still had some blazingly fast times, and 2021 was when the magic started really happening in Huntsville. Multiple individual and team national records were broken by the stars of US high school running at the 2021 meet, which brought around two thousand competitors.

While I myself am not nearly fast enough to qualify for any national meet, I thoroughly enjoy following high school running online and am always staying up to date on team and individual rankings in college and high school XC and track. Last year I saw all the Instagram buzz about RXC and let myself day dream about going to the 2022 meet and running at the historic course with thousands of amazing runners. Well, by the grace of God and the dedication of my parents to our dreams and aspirations, my brothers and I all toed the line at the 2022 RXC Championships. Regardless of the outcome of our races, this opportunity to be there on that day is the biggest blessing of this whole story.

On Saturday, December 3rd, 2022, I went into the Girls Silver Race with high hopes of a shiny new PR, willing to put my all (as usual) into the race. Unfortunately, my race did not go to plan, as the hyperglycemia I’ve been struggling with this season took over my body and caused me to run far from the time and place I had dreamed of. This was rather heartbreaking, but I’ve decided to focus on the joys of that day. I could talk endlessly (and did in my last blog post on this topic) about the struggles of being willing to push myself to my absolute physical and mental limits, but having an unknown bodily force keep me from my running goals. Instead of detailing that once again, I’m going to focus on the good. There was so much GOOD at that meet, even if I left rather disappointed in my own results, as it was the “mecca” of sorts of high school XC! The big name sponsors of New Balance, Garmin, etc. made the pre-race atmosphere absolutely amazing and so exciting. The gear was sick, the course beautiful (if extremely muddy, lol), and the fellow runners endearing. I truly love the running community so much, and nothing has shown me that more than this meet. Where else can three thousand teenagers from across the country all show up in one park on one day a year to push themselves and run their hearts out? For the Friday and Saturday that we enjoyed at John Hunt Park before my race I was truly overjoyed, if rather stressed, at being in such an atmosphere.

My favorite moment from the entire experience, besides just hanging out with my family on Friday, was a moving experience I had on the starting line of my race. I was the last Manfred to toe the line that day, as both of my brothers had already raced and done amazing, so all family eyes were focused on me. I walked over to the starting line beside my mom feeling more excited than I had for any race this season, even with my traditional nerves. I was about to run on the fastest course in the country!! While it scares the absolute crap out of me, I truly do love running hard and pushing my body’s limits. My running mentality can be summed up in the famous line from runner and WWII survivor Louis Zamperini: “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain”. The knowledge that I had the physical and mental ability to PR that day gave me great joy.

I lined up in Box 39 beside four other girls that I will remember forever. Since RXC is an all-comers championship, anyone can sign up and put in a seed time and there are more individual runners (people who came without a team) than teams. This means that all of the other girls in my box were fellow individuals who came without a team from across the country. At some meets, depending on the personalities of the other people in your box, it’s not uncommon to make small talk and channel everyone’s insane nerves into a minute’s conversation while everyone is waiting for the starter. As such, the four other girls and I were talking a little bit while we jumped and stretched and waited for the defining moment of our lives to commence. While I was far too nerve-infested to remember literally any information we all talked about, in the time since the race I’ve pieced together who these girls were through their bib numbers (I’m not a stalker I swear, lol). Together we all shared where we were from – which between all of us was Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, California, and Indiana – and how nervous and excited we all were, and how cool the meet atmosphere was. Then, within the traditional small talk something happened that I will remember for the rest of my life. The girl on the far right of the group asked, very casually and yet with confidence, if we all wanted to pray together. We all voiced some version of “yeah sure” and we naturally, almost without even thinking about how it would happen, huddled up as a group and prayed. We prayed for safety, peace, health, and to run for God’s glory. It was a simple prayer, spoken by one person and lasting maybe 25 seconds, and goodness even knows how many of the other four girls were religious, but it touched me deeply. I’m always praying in my own head, especially right before races, but the feeling of fellowship that came from creating that little sacred space in the middle of our huddle was breathtaking to me. I held shoulders and joined foreheads with four complete strangers as we united under one God and one task. It was absolutely beautiful.

“Come to Jesus” moments like this are not entirely uncommon on starting lines. There are few places like a starting line of a race where you can feel that close to God and completely dependent on Him, and some of my most defining personal faith moments have happened in such ways on starting lines. Plus, on a starting line like that, the greatest hope you can get is the fact that everyone else on the line is about to do exactly what you are, just perhaps faster or slower. However, never had I had such a moving fellowship moment in which someone else, a stranger even, had the courage to ask if we wanted to pray with them. That girl was going to pray within herself anyways, but she knew that this could move other people towards Jesus if she asked that simple question. She also, like the other four of us, had every right to be entirely focused on herself and the enormous task she was about to perform. Again, she chose to share that moment with us. She will forever be an example to me of courageous and giving fellowship. Within 90 seconds of the prayer, we were separated forever by throngs of runners racing with us, but that moment with those four girls will stick with me forever.

Thankfully, through bib numbers and social media, I’ve been able to get all of their names and I’m trying to contact them to share these photos and how meaningful that small moment was to me. It’s a powerful story to me of faith and simple but endlessly meaningful moments that God provides us with when we need them the most. I keep reflecting on how my race went awry and trying to recon with the frustration I feel with God. That was it. That was the crux of my high school cross country career and something out of my control took over and screwed it up infinitely bad. Honestly, I’ve been angry and frustrated. However, I have come to see the bottom line as this:

At no other point in my life have I wanted a race or any other experience to go well for me more than I did on that day. And yet, at no other point in my life would that shared prayer have meant as much to me as it did in that exact minute of that day.

That is God’s goodness and relationship to me. Not my will, but His be done.

I left feeling thankful. Disappointed and frustrated by an ongoing issue, yes, but thankful for the opportunity to be in that space and share it with those people. It was an incredible atmosphere and one that I will remember for the rest of my life, and that shared prayer in box 39 was truly powerful to me. Glory to God in the highs and lows. Thankful, grateful, blessed. A truly full heart.

Onto the next season.

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