News & Tips•Dec. 7, 2021, 9:30 p.m. • 153
The TCT's Biggest Lessons From This XC Season
It's now been a full semester since our Trackster Collegiate Team athletes started using Trackster for their daily training.
Since August 8th, the TCT has posted 7294.7 total miles of strictly running on Trackster (not including the hundreds more of meters logged cross training via bike, elliptical, pool, etc.) and a gigantic total amount time equalling 978.5 hours. (The equivalent of listening to "Donda" front to back 589.1 times)
Also since then, the Trackster Collegiate Team athletes have achieved some incredible breakthroughs as well as endured the stress and hardships of broken bones, transferring universities, training setbacks and competition failures.
To wrap up their XC seasons, we've asked the TCT to summarize their fall with their top lessons or takeaways to share with our followers via our blog. I want to note that these athletes pour their heart and souls into their daily training and I know that writing these bits for y'all to read was not easy. Being vulnerable and opening up, especially on a (super popular) public site like Trackster's blog, is a really difficult thing to do. It takes maturity on their end and it's part of what makes this group of TCT athletes so incredibly special. I know, in the end, they were glad to share their stories because it will hopefully make similar struggles just a bit easier for runners and other people across the globe. Please enjoy and leave comments on IG or Twitter with your own thoughts!
This fall, my biggest lesson was being appreciative of all the good I've experienced when finding patience can be a struggle. I had my sights set on some huge goals, aiming to compete with the best. Returning from Ethiopia in August I was in the best shape of my life.
After sustaining a season-ending injury at Notre Dame, those goals were out of the picture. Yet I found myself in a position where I chose to appreciate rather than constantly asking “why me?” People even took notice of this mindset, and their respect made finding patience easier. It had been nearly 6 years since my last major injury, my circumstances were much more fortunate than dire. So whenever you find yourself in a similar position, try your best to look back on what went right, and really express your appreciation for it. In the meantime, the finish line will continue to get closer.
A big lesson I learned this fall after this being my first full cross season is to stay patient throughout the months of summer and fall training and into the season because that has helped me out mentally to just stay positive. That can be for both the individual aspect and team aspect.
The biggest lesson I learned this fall was just to enjoy the moment. I know being healthy and fit is amazing and what we all want, but if we didn’t struggle at all to get healthy and fit then it wouldn’t be worth anything. So, while I went through 3 different injuries in 4 months, I had to become mentally stronger and grow as a person. Had to realize how awesome and thankful I should be when I am healthy. So whether I’m healthy or not, I just try to be in the moment more because of how fast days go by!
Running is an equation with many variables. If any season has taught me that, it was this one.
I’d savored a perfect summer buildup with months of consistent training and 12+ weeks higher than my highest week ever. I was incredibly confident that a breakthrough onto the NCAA scene was in store for the fall. After a 5th place finish and 23:25 8k at our opening meet, this belief was more or less confirmed. I could barely contain my excitement to race the biggest names in the country.
At Nuttycombe, the gun went off and by 2k in, I knew something was very off with my body. My legs felt numb, it was like my energy had evaporated. As bodies swarmed past me I quickly realized that just finishing the race seemed like an impossible task. Refusing to drop out, I crawled to the line in 138th place.
In the ensuing days I scrambled to get my iron tested, meet with the nutritionist, and search Dr google for answers.
Going into B1Gs I was worried I wouldn’t make our travel team. For whatever reason, I felt practically normal again. I bounced with fresh legs to the front of the pack and held on to finish 7th, and snagged myself a nice little glass thing with “First Team All Big Ten” on it.
Regionals came along, it was okay. Then nationals were upon us. We exploded off the line and immediately I knew it was going to be a rough day. I simply didn’t have my energy, again. I dropped 22 places in the closing 1k, and spent 10 minutes after the race sprawled over a fence trying not to black out. Until this season, I’d never felt like that after races. I’d massively underperformed, letting my team down again.
Now, a week removed, I still don’t have an explanation. All season I’d taken iron, slept well, and had nothing but excitement and confidence upstairs. I’ll enjoy some down time and a much needed reset. Something was off with my body this season, and maybe I’ll never be able to put my finger on any one thing. What I do know is that the work will show, even if it wasn’t in the form of the golden cross country season I’d envisioned. I believe in my process and will continue to bet on myself.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned this fall season is definitely to trust the process and trust the people around you. In high school and even my first few seasons in college I wasn’t too sure if the training I was doing was going to produce the results I wanted or even make me the runner I wanted to be. I often was hesitant about doing or not doing certain things and I think that my performance was gaga eyed because of it. I raced well but not necessarily the way I knew I could. Coming into this past season, I decided to put all of my faith into my coaching staff and their training. I no longer questioned what I was doing and no longer thought about how I thought it would affect me, instead I trusted the process and believed that they were going to help me achieve my goals.
I believed that what I was doing was going to get me to where I wanted to be and put that trust into my coaches each and every day. I ended up racing better than I ever have before and have felt stronger and more confident than ever before in racing. I owe it all to opening myself up to new possibilities and trusting in the process.
Over the period of this season I learned and grew a lot as an athlete. Between now and October of 2020 I have dealt with 5 back to back femoral stress fractures. This stretch of time has mentally challenged me on a level I never thought I would reach in athletics. Fracture number five happened this October, and there was something different about this one. Although I was devastated, this fracture really made me dig deep and question if I should ever try to compete again. Later that month I spoke with my trainer about possibly medically retiring, this made me hit an all time low with confidence in my ability to come back healthy.
After being in my head for a couple of days I finally got out of that slump and felt like myself again. Mentally being in that state was not enjoyable but it reminded me how important both resilience and self-confidence are. Although coming back will not be easy at all, I am ready to stand in the face of adversity and tackle any challenges that come my way. Despite the low points of this season, I am grateful that life found a way to remind me how important it is to believe in yourself as an athlete.
Recently I learned the importance of never rushing your training...
This fall I was coming off the longest and more frustrating injury of my running career. An IT band problem in January sidelined me for the entire track season and most of the summer. 8 months later, I was in the best stationary biking and swimming shape of my life, but I had run about 10 miles in all of 2021. By late August I was finally healthy, and eager to get rolling for fall XC. I ramped up mileage and intensity at exponential rates. I was desperate to help out my teammates in the upcoming season but didn't really have any base mileage to work with. It sounds foolish now but I figured I would compensate for my lack of mileage by rushing my training, and jumping into workouts that typically require a long steady build-up. As is often the case in realizing your mistakes, I found out the hard way. My overeagerness to achieve "flash-fitness" resulted in a femoral stress fracture. Today, I'm again healthy and slowly beginning to run again. Hopefully, now that I have learned my mistakes, I can practice what I now preach, and be patient in recovering from injury. See you in track!
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned this semester is to trust your gut and fully commit to your decisions. I’ve recently decided to transfer schools which was an extremely hard decision to come to terms with. I had people telling me I was making the right decision and people telling me that I was making the wrong decision. I realized that ultimately I was the only one who knew how I truly felt and I had to block out the outside noise and trust myself. I knew that I was extremely unhappy in the situation that I was in and it was starting to affect my performance not only on the track, but also in the classroom.
I felt lost. When I finally trusted myself and went forward with the transfer process a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I was no longer scared of the uncertainty of where I would end up, instead I was excited about the change that was coming. I knew that I had made the right decision despite what others had been telling me. Going into the recruiting process the second time I had a completely different list of qualities that I wanted from a school and coach. I realized that the material things a school has is not going to make you fast. You need to put yourself in an encouraging, positive, and supportive environment so that you can mentally be happy and thrive when you are on top and when you are injured.
I’ve never coined myself a big “xc” girl ever. In fact I extremely disliked cross country for a long time until around my Junior year of high school. I am one of those middle distance gals that is stretched to the longer distances cross country entails. As the seasons progressed, I began to like cross country a lot!! I appreciated the sport and loved the aerobic edge it began to give me in track. I was so excited for this season of cross country too, until a navicular stress reaction canceled my schedule of races. I was super upset, but I took it as a time to heal my body and mind.
My foot had been hurting on and off since indoor season last year, so it was about time to fix the pain fully. I was in a boot full-time for 6 weeks, then slowly phased out of it. I spent this time staying fit by swimming with a brace on, and eventually biking. Next were the Alter G runs— which are so much fun!! Now I’m running on the ground a bit and feeling healthy, strong, and hungrier than ever to get back for indoor! Injuries are always rough on any athlete, but I am grateful for this check-in I got that interrupted my training and racing plans. This allowed me to spend time to take care of my body and focus on sleep, nutrition, and hydration. It was not only humbling but beneficial and needed in a way!
I have never been a big fan of cross country. Ever. So, it surprised me when I ended my cross-country season thinking to myself “I wish I had one more race.” There always seems to be a mental block that creeps in and progressively gets bigger once the season starts. This mental block starts with invasive negative thoughts during early morning workouts and progresses its way into physically not wanting to show up to practice. In the past, I’ve let this define my position on the team and completely take over any advances I’ve made in training. I never truly figured out how to hurdle over this block and get to the other side until this season. I started this season of cross-country being the 10th girl of 15 on my team in the first two races, running poor times that left me defeated. I knew that I belonged in the top seven from a physical standpoint, but mentally I was weak. Lining up to race was miserable and the excitement was nonexistent. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine told me about the concept of a calloused mind and the empowerment of failure that I completely changed the trajectory of my season.
Here is a summary of the very wise words I was told:
I want you to reread that. And then read it again. And again. I had a month until I was lining up to try to make the travel squad to Regionals. I decided to take control of my mindset during practice, wake up an hour before workouts to ensure I was fully prepared, and not hold myself back. I found myself running next to the number three, the number two, and even the number one runner on my team during select workouts by the end of the season. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, but the accumulation of consistent training with a strong focus on the calloused mind proved itself by the end of the fall. At the NCAA Southeast Regional cross-country race, I came in as the number four runner on my team with a minute and thirteen second personal best.
We tend to forget that our sport is just as mentally challenging if not more than it is physical. It’s one of the beautiful aspects about our sport that makes runners some of the toughest individuals on the planet. I still have a ton of work to do to become as mentally tough as I would like and to truly believe in myself. It starts with making small steps each day and working towards those top goals you set for yourself. Never let anyone or anything solidify your place on a team, especially yourself. Continue to break down those mental barriers and you might just start to love cross country a little more.