BY: LINNABAH SNYDER
On the Navajo reservation, there is an awareness that running is part of our culture. We run early in the morning while saying our traditional prayers because it’s the part of the day we are blessed by the holy people. This is how running was introduced to me. I didn’t know I was a good runner until one day we were rounding up our cattle. My grandpa kept asking me to go after the calves which were going into the small washes, the bushes, and creeks. The horses couldn’t get to them, but my 10-year-old self easily could. At the end of the day, 10 miles later, my grandpa told me I was a good runner. That put a small idea in my head that I would try out for the school’s cross-country team the next season. I ran cross country in elementary, middle school, and high school. At the end of my senior year I was done with running, completely burned out, and it was not until 13 years later I decided to take up running competitively again.
My first marathon was more of a last-minute decision to support a friend who was also running the race. I had dedicated little training to it, and my longest long run for that race was 16 miles. I wasn’t prepared, and I did not have any expectations other than I would finish. It was a complete disaster; I fell apart early on and had to run/walk to complete the race. I walked away from that race thinking “never again”… BUT then at the age of 30, 3 years later, I decided I wanted to run a “fast” marathon. After enlisting a running coach, a year later I ran a marathon in 3:06, which far surpassed my goals, and got me from 150lbs to 130lbs. Then I became hungry for a faster marathon. I went from a 3:06 to a 2:52 in the span of three years under a new coach. A small tiny idea/hope/dream/wish to qualify for the Olympic Trials started to enter my head.
I thought qualifying for the Olympic Trials was something reserved for professional runners. In my mind, they were this unicorn group, unattainable for someone like me. Why did I think that? 1.) My age. I was older, most of the OTQ runners were in their 20s. 2.) My lack of collegiate running. From what I knew most OTQ runners ran in college and had some post collegiate training. I did not. Heck, I took 10 whole years off after high school. 3.) I had a job in corporate finance working for a Fortune 500 company, and my job hours were not fit for the type of training I needed.
In January 2015, I was going to make my first real attempt to qualify, then I slipped on the sidewalk and had a concussion 10 days before my race. I switched coaches to Mike Aish, whose coaching style was dramatically different. The coaching was meant for someone like me, someone with a day job. I ran based on time, rather than mileage, and when he wrote my workouts he wrote them knowing I couldn’t start my workouts any earlier than 5:30pm on weekdays – THIS WAS HUGE. Running 80+ mile weeks with a full-time job is HARD. There were days I only saw my husband for 15 minutes, before I had to get to bed because some of my workouts could go up to 3 hours. I was in a constant state of tiredness.
My goal race was CIM, only 10 weeks before the Trials; I was going to make my final attempt. I felt I was ready, I did the training, was at my goal race weight, and I had the confidence that was lacking in my previous races. When the race started, I felt prepared, and when I ran through the halfway mark I hit my goal time. I was on track until mile 23, when I fell off. My legs felt sluggish, and I my body fatigued. I wanted to walk but then I saw my coach at mile 25, and he said to just finish strong, so that is what I did. My official time was 2:44:59. Almost two minutes off the qualifying time. I was devastated. I went home with a great PR but not an Olympic Trials Qualifier. Then 10 days later the USATF amended the OTQ times by two minutes. TWO MINUTES, which had me qualifying by a ONE second. ONE FREAKING SECOND. Had my coach not been there at the end to tell me to finish strong… who knows what would have happened.
The Trials was an experience I will never forget. I was told to bring tissues to the race because you’ll cry at the starting line, and I did – boy, did I cry because of how emotional that journey was to get to that point. 5 years of training paid off. There was this moment in my training for CIM when I didn’t want to do the workout. I was in a 97-mile week, I was tired, and I wanted to quit and go home so I texted my coach, “This is hard”, and his response, “All the good things are”. That is how I would sum up the Trials, the entire experience and the five years of tiredness, through that text message exchange I had with my coach.
That part of my running chapter is over, and I have realized I want to run with a community. The 5 years of training alone mentally drained me, and so I joined a group of badass women, aka Oiselle Volée. At the Trials, I remember seeing the Oiselle community behind their women in such a strong way, and that impacted me. I realized, I no longer want to run alone, but I also want to be a part of running community that has strong women doing other things, women with jobs, with mortgage payments, or with kids. I have been able to find that here, in the Oiselle Volée community.
I am ready for that next step in my running journey, and I won’t be doing it alone.