• Michelle Howell

My last Collegiate Race & first trip to Suisse

I can't remember the last time I've slept in my own bed. The last month has consisted of me lugging around one roller suitcase on its last leg (literally it's lost one out of it's 2 little knobs that help keep it upright when it's not rolling), two huge backpacks, and an oversized hot pink zebra print duffel bag that had somehow made it into my collection of "stuff I had no idea I owned".  

           After my race at the NCAA championship, I was happy with my effort but, not with the time. I felt like I still had another race in me and being on the cusp of qualifying for the USATF Championships I knew I needed to do something. That something ended up being me, with two espressos in me, at 11:00 pm (as an embracer of the grandma lifestyle my typical bedtime is 9:00 pm) taking full advantage of free Starbucks wifi to book a one-way flight to New York City to compete in the Hoka Last Chance meet at Colombia University. The next day I flew back to Jacksonville and within two days I moved from my apartment to a dorm for summer housing, packed my bags and left with no certain idea of when I would be back. 

        My first day in NYC was spent mostly asleep. I landed in JFK at 8:00am and took the most expensive uber ride of my life to Inwood, a small neighborhood in Manhattan, where I snagged the perfect last-minute Airbnb just a 2 minute walk away from the track.

           In my first race on a track not a JU on my chest, I thought I would miss my familiar uniform and having my coach there. I thought I would miss having a teammate to warm up with or at least a familiar face nearby to chat with to calm some of the pre-race nerves. In reality, I found out I loved: wearing my own chosen kit, feeling anonymous amongst the field of competitors, and being able to race for myself for the first time since I can remember. I also realized how relaxed meets are outside of the college circuit- the infield was available to warm up on and the track, even while races were going.

         In a field attempting to hit the auto time qualifier USA's, I decided to tuck into the pack and ride the train as the rabbit took us thru the first 400. It always amazes me how fast some races feel while others feel like you're running in a fog with no end in sight. This race was the former and with 200 to go I realized how close to the front I was, third, and how good I felt. In the last 50, I surged and secured my first win as post-collegiate with a nice little PR.

         What I thought was my first race post-collegiate ended up gaining me a chance to wear my college uniform one last time at the USATF Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Seeing as I was already in the North East, the day after my PR race I boarded my first and hopefully last Peter Pan bus nonstop to Boston to figure out how I was going to afford and get to Des Moines. Having already paid my own way to NYC, I was beyond thankful for the continued support from my alma mater in exchange for wearing a JU on my chest one last time on the national stage.

           To be clear I love traveling and everything that comes with it. Flying has never been something that's bothered me and I don't mind traveling alone so I never thought how physically and mentally tired I would be on my flight to Des Moines. I was tired of being on airplanes and making travel plans at the last minute and I was sick of hotels and Airbnb's. On top of it all the while I had been finishing up a final project for what seems like a never-ending MBA program. By the time I arrived in Des Moines I felt like I needed five cups of coffee and a week's worth of sleep just to function.

           I'm not sure if it was from my travel fatigue or genuine awe, but being at Drake Stadium felt like a lucid dream; I just kept waiting to wake up. Being surrounded by people you've looked up to, some for most of your life is surreal in itself, it's another thing altogether when you realize you are there to compete against them. Adding to it was the fact I showed up at credentialing straight from the airport, all my bags in tow looking like a hot mess after a 6-hour flight with a layover in Chicago.

         I had a similar feeling the first time I qualified for an NCAA championship, but that feeling soon turned into one of uncertainty. I felt like I didn't necessarily belong there, that there must have been some kind of fluke in the universe and somehow I ended up toeing that starting line.

            This time I definitely felt out of place rolling my luggage, zebra duffel, and adidas oversized backpack around the stadium trying to find a place to stash it in order to do a shake out but I knew I belonged there just as much as anyone else.

           I don't know if the feeling of awe and disbelief will ever go away. However, I've come to realize practically everyone else is feeling the same emotions and frankly even Olympians and Professionals are still just runners the same as you and me. Everyone at the USATF Championships got there the same way regardless of their past accolades or the big shoe company they represent, all that matters is the time or height they hit, there's no fluke in the universe.

           My race in Des Moines wasn't what I thought it would be, but then again I never even imagined that I would be there this year. After experiencing this meet, I'm excited to make it one of my goals to qualify again next year- this time representing The District track club as I continue my running career in our nation's capital.

           I may not have qualified for the Diamond League meets in Lausanne this year but I ended up in Switzerland nonetheless exactly one day after racing my heart out at USATF's.

           Geneva and Zermatt have been the perfect break after a hectic couple weeks. I couldn't be more thankful to have had the opportunity to spend my off week surrounded by the alps and travel this amazing world of ours with some of my favorite people. Hopefully, my next trip to Switzerland involves a bit more running, but for now, I'm happy to be back in Jacksonville for one last month before moving to DC in the fall.

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