On Moving to Boulder, Colorado

I moved to Boulder, Colorado, almost two weeks ago. I packed up my old beige car (actually, less-stressed people packed it for me), strapped a waterproof duffle bag full of books to the roof and narrowly escaped the polar vortex that hit Michigan and the rest of the midwest.

I slept over in Omaha, Nebraska, and just missed gross weather there, too (freezing rain; dangerous roads) by hitting the road early. Or, well, except for the whiteout conditions on a mind-numbingly insufferable stretch of I-80, but I assume that part of Nebraska is always like that—ice trees and all—even in July, so I didn’t count it.

From there it was a beautiful sunny drive into Boulder.

Moving, living and running

So far I’ve lived and trained in three different states and, consequently, three different regions of the US. Now I’ll get to experience a fourth.

I was born and grown in Michigan. It’s where I’ve spent the majority of my years; first in a suburb of Grand Rapids and then going to college in East Lansing.

“And all of that slowly eroded my confidence in the sport. I missed my first steeplechase final ever at a championship meet the season before I went back to Michigan, in 2012, an Olympic year.”

San Luis Obispo, California

A year or two after college, I moved to San Luis Obispo, California to train. After a few unsuccessful seasons there, I moved back to Michigan to heal and rehab a couple nagging soft tissue injuries. The injuries had kept me from reaching the level of training necessary to perform at my best and create opportunities for myself to make US teams.

And all of that slowly eroded my confidence in the sport. I missed my first steeplechase final ever at a championship meet the season before I went back to Michigan, in 2012, an Olympic year.

It was like the real life version of most of my running dreams: I’m running, but I keep slipping, and the harder I try, the worse I slip. But this time it’s an Olympic year, and the last time it was an Olympic year, I got fourth.

Greenville, South Carolina

Four or five months after being back in Michigan, I moved down to Greenville, South Carolina to train with a new, elite group called Furman Elite.

There, I went from running my first 50-ish mile week in December of 2012, to running an Olympic ‘A’ standard sometime in May, to making the 2013 US World Team and signing a new New Balance contract in June.

During the 2014 season I ran a huge PR in the steeple after not running a PR for about five years. I ran 9:24 in a rabbited race in Europe, running the last 1,000-meters alone, a month after bombing at the US Championships. At the time, if I did my research right, my 9:24 was the fifth best performance, all-time, by an American (not counting Emma Coburn’s multiple sub-9:24s).

Somewhere else in the 2014 season I also ran 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter personal bests. But by the end of that season—a stressful season—I finally admitted that I wasn’t happy where I was training and moved back to Michigan.

Everything looked good, but it was like I was alone, running on a different planet, screaming my face off.

“Exhausted, anxious, and coughing on the starting line, I went on to DNF my first race ever, in my 16-year running career. “

East Lansing, Michigan

It was nice to be back in Michigan, training under my college coach again, running in a city I knew well and was comfortable with. But, I struggled with depression, anxiety, anemia and eventually burnout throughout the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

At the 2015 US Championships I fell in the water pit during rounds, only making it into the final on a protest.

At the 2016 Olympic Trials I finished close to last in the final, feeling haggard from anemia, relentless anxiety and depression.

I continued to race that 2016 season—because I felt like I had to—going to Europe and bombing at a Diamond League meet in London before getting my period, a cold, a bunch of jet lag, and traveling back to the states to race at a Track Town meet in Eugene, Oregon.

Exhausted, anxious, and coughing on the starting line, I went on to DNF my first race ever, in my 16-year running career.

A few months later I decided to go back to school for journalism and, at a Zen Buddhist temple during a five-day silent meditation retreat, I decided I needed to take some time off from running.

After peaking every spring for 16 years, I needed a damn break.

So I somewhat unconfidently, but deliberately, took one.

My contract with New Balance was up December 31, 2016. I graduated from Michigan State’s School of Journalism May of 2018.

It was a weird, very floaty time, stepping away from running and finally letting growth happen. It was like a trust fall, but with a trust fall with myself while I was also naked.

“It was a weird, very floaty time, stepping away from running and finally letting growth happen. It was like a trust fall, but with a trust fall with myself while I was also naked.”

Space, time and running

Since some arbitrary time somewhere between 2017 and 2018 I’ve been very slowly getting back into running and training. Internally taking my time, letting the good feelings of the sport come back to me. Slowly shifting my focus away from the need and expectation to perform, and back on enjoying the sport and the process.

It was not easy taking time off. I still had worry and anxiety about the sport—how I left it, how getting back into it might go. Wondering if I had made a mistake by taking time off and blaming myself for the opportunities I was missing. If only I had been tougher and just kept training through.

But that’s what had gotten me into the bad relationship with running in the first place; insisting that if I were tougher, then I would have succeeded. But that just made me anxious and kept me in my head.

I’d have to keep circling back around, finding ways to remind myself that I couldn’t have kept going on the way I had been going. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t keep training and racing as this tired, anxious, scared person trying to prove that I could do it, whatever ‘it’ was. I kept racing because I thought it was weak not to; it would be giving up. I just had to be tough and run through it.

I kind of felt like I had been running through ‘it’ for the last 2-6 years. I had hardly felt ready for base training each fall; hardly ready to get on the track indoor; the spring always seemed to come on so fast; the summer—the break—to end so soon.

Mentally and emotionally, and often physically too, I felt like I was playing catch-up. It felt like I never got to take a full breath, exhale, and then deliberately refocus before moving forward.

It was like starting a group run with strangers and realizing you forgot to tie your shoes, but everyone had already started running and it feels too late to speak up.

This led to some of the worst races and times in my career. Eventually, the thought of getting on the track would lead to a visceral reaction in my body. Somewhere between my jaw and the base of my skull would clench, an image of a track would flash across my mind and I’d feel heavy, unmistakable dread.

But I couldn’t talk about it. How could I? I kept it to myself because I didn’t want to be told that I just needed to be tougher.

“I’m getting back to the runner who confidently believes in the big picture, who revels in opportunities to adapt and who thinks running is funny and not all that serious.”

It all made me feel stupid and alone.

Who was I, a track runner, to not want to be on the track?

Sacrilege.

I felt like I was betraying the sport and all it had brought me.

I felt like I wasn’t a runner, like I was doing a different sport than everyone else. Because whatever sport they were doing was a lot more fun and much more rewarding.

And so I find myself here, at the beginning of 2019, slowly making progress back to fitness and continuing to let go of the anxiety and the unconscious rule-making the sport so easily lends itself to.

I’m getting back to the runner who confidently believes in the big picture, who revels in opportunities to adapt and who thinks running is funny and not all that serious.

Boulder, Colorado

And I also find myself here, in Boulder, an altitudy running mecca. Still interested in running after all the bullshit years. Lacking any financial backing, but looking forward to what may come. Because apparently, somehow, I still feel like training.

And here’s the only real update in this whole post, I’m sorry it ended up at the end of some 1,400 words because it really has no specifics:

I’m training with no formal plans yet, other than to build my fitness into something, and to feel strong again. I’ll eventually make my way back to racing—to the track, or the roads, or the trails—but right now I’m not really concerned about it.

It’s fun to not be concerned about it; it’ll come.

Comments

  1. Beautiful Nicole. Your struggles are part of the journey, although very difficult. Yours were on a grander stage. I’m sorry you felt alone, your analogies make so much sense.
    I’m so glad you decided to do what makes you happy, a big move! Thanks for sharing, take care of yourself. -Val

  2. This is absolutely beautiful and it resonates so deeply. Thank you so much for sharing ❤️ Wishing you all the best and hope our running paths cross at some point again (go Big Ten!). YOU ROCK 🙌

    • Awh, thank you so much Ladia! Thanks for reading 🙂
      Wishing you all the best too and hopefully a run sometime in our future! (Haha, go Big Ten, yes!)

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