My personal essay sent to Runner’s World:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference”
Last summer, my daughters and I went on a 16.6 mile bike ride on the Katy Trail in Rocheport, Missouri. At the half-way mark we stopped for a much-needed, ice-cold Jones soda. I didn’t know why, but my girls told me to read the cap. Read the cap? I was expecting something like, “Try again, you did not win $10,000” but instead read: “To get what you want, you must commit yourself for some time.”
This got me to thinking about how I have approached running my entire life. I didn’t commit to being a runner until late (compared to today’s youth); the summer before my senior year of high school I decided to run 5 miles a day, every day, because I believed that would make “all the difference.” I opted not to play basketball on the school team … running away from the gym, alone, each afternoon to keep to my 5-miles-a-day-every-day commitment. I wasn’t a running freak or anything, but sometimes I would run on Saturday evenings rather than go out to the high school parties. Once, a “cool” boy drove by in his Camaro and threw a beer can at me, shouting, “Loser!” I kept on running. That spring I won the mile State Championship, earned a full scholarship to college, and didn’t see Cool Boy again … until, two years later, when I pulled in to a parking deck where he was the ticket-taker. (I didn’t throw a beer can at him).
In college, I also made a commitment for “some time.” After a devastatingly sub-par freshman year, I vowed to put in an animal summer (an expression I still use) and make the jump to be competitive in the NCAA. I ran the same 8-mile loop every day (12 on Sundays) without fail. One day I put the run off until late at night (because of the blistering Southern heat), so my worried mom drove her car behind me for 55 minutes; she announced upon arriving home, “I’m never doing that again. It was so boring.” I guess it was boring for her, in a car, creeping carefully along … but for me it was thrilling to run in dead-silence down a still-steamy road at midnight, knowing I had not missed a day of running.
I did make the jump in college, becoming an All-American my senior year … but to take the next step up to become an Olympian required the most rigorous commitment of all. This time it wasn’t the number of miles per day (quantity) that would make all the difference. It was the quality. The great Hungarian coach, Mihaly Igloi, had a saying, “Every day hard training must make.” I believed this. I lived this . . . for years. “Every day hard training must make” became my mantra.
I tried with all my might to make the Olympic team in 1984, 1988, 1992, and finally succeeded in 1996. To get what you want you must commit yourself for some time. 16 years of my life were spent in pursuit of this singular goal … and sometimes it was ugly. I remember one work-out when a young, talented 800m runner witnessed me grunting and spitting and 4-lettering at the end of each track interval. He declared, “If that’s what it takes to be the best, it’s not worth it.” My effort embarrassed him. I suppose it should have embarrassed me, but I learned long ago not to care what other people think
Now, as an age-group master’s athlete, I must once-again ignore the comments from the peanut gallery. How unseemly for a jiggly-kneed, 45 year-old, mother-of-three to be running hard and cursing at the end of intervals!! I may be older and slower and way past my prime, but I still love to run with all my might. I will not let the world’s opinion of what older women should (or should not) do affect my joy. Today, my running goals have more to do with duration than competition. I want to explore every inch of trail in my town; I want to foster lifelong friendships with my training partners; and I want to run five miles a day until I die. I continue to strive even though my best is no where near the best.
So, what does the future hold? At the Freihofer’s Master’s 5k National Road Championships in Albany, NY, I met a 75 year-old runner named Toshiko d’Elia. What an inspiration! Toshi ran a sub 3-hour marathon at age 50, a sub 7:00 mile at age 65, and is still going strong at age 75 … breaking the National 5k 75+ record with a 27:02. I told her a little bit of my story, mentioning how I once participated in an “elite distance runner’s” test study, only to discover the one category where I was near the top was foot plant. Not very glamorous, I laughed, foot plant. Toshi’s eyes glistened like Yoda’s when she prophesied, “You will have perfect foot plant in eternity.”
I left that meeting knowing the full impact of her words. Yes! Yes, Toshi, I know who I am and where I’m going. I will always be the “loser” who tries too hard and who risks having beer cans thrown at her, but I will keep on running – with perfect foot plant – into eternity.
I currently reside in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I spend my days taking care of my 3 children as well as coaching seejanerun (a running club for moms only), and the Sweet Baby Janes (a youth running group for girls). Aside from running, my hobbies include music, film, poetry, and art. For the running geeks out there, here are my racing career highlights:
1996 US Olympian in the 10,000m
1996 Bronze medalist in the World Indoor Championships, 3k
1995 6th Place at the World Cross-country championships
1995 US Cross-country National Champion
1996 US Indoor National Champion, 3k
Cherry Blossom, Falmouth, and Peachtree Road Race champion
3-time NCAA All-America at UNC
Former national record holder in the Steeplechase
Former world master’s record holder in the indoor mile
National Master’s 5k Road Race Champion, 2002
Current US master’s record holder in the 1,500m and indoor mile
Currnet world record holder for 45-49 age group in the indoor mile
Current US record holder for the 45-49 age group in the 1,500m
Ran in 5 Olympic trials (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000)
4:12 – 1,500
8:51 – 3,000m
15:24 – 5,000m
32:04 – 10,000m
marathon (run only once!) – 2:54
Greatest lifetime achievements:
3 daughters … Sarah Jane (16), Rosie (12), and Lizzie (8)
Notable Past Coaching Employment:
NCAA Division 1 distance coach for men and women at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; 1993-1998
Read what Running Times wrote about me in 2002