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March 08, 2019

Making Running Work: From College to Steeple

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BY: ALEXINA WILSON

Running is something that I never saw an end game for. I have loved racing since I first started track in middle school and have never thought about a life without running. I wasn’t a superstar coming out of high school, but I was pretty decent for small town Iowa. In college, I didn’t start to excel until my last two and a half years. I went from being a 4:48 1500 runner to a 4:18 1500 runner. This rapid improvement is what made me consider running after college. Even then, I felt I wasn’t good enough to focus only on running, and that I would need a “real” career to support my running.   

After graduating from the University of Northern Iowa, I considered what to do next. I was primarily an 800/1500 runner coming out of college with my best finish placing 9th at the regional meet in 1500. I wasn’t someone who was going to get a sponsor deal right out of college.

My goal the first year after college was to start running the steeplechase and qualify for the Olympic Trials. However, you can’t just tell people you’re going to be good at an event you have never done and not have any results to back it up. 

I looked into training groups across the country, but nothing really stuck out. I felt that I had a great thing going with my college coach and that we still had a lot to accomplish. I decided to stay in Cedar Falls, I would work part-time at a correctional facility (my coach wasn’t too thrilled about this) and help out with the team as a volunteer assistant. 

My first year training and running post-collegiately was hard on its own, but to add to that I was trying a new event which added a level of difficulty. There were definitely times I would be doing hurdle drills or a workout with barriers and water jumps when I questioned if I would be able to do these in a race. But I knew this was my best chance at making it to the next level. 

I was also trying to reach out to potential sponsors, which is when I came across Oiselle. Oiselle stood out to me because of what they stood for and the athletes they represented. I saw similarities between the company, the athletes, and myself.

I reached out before my outdoor season starting in 2016. At the time, the Haute Volee roster was full, but they told me to keep them updated with how my races were going. The team manager mentioned the Volée team, and I thought it would be an opportunity to be a part of something and represent more than just myself. In April 2016 in joined the Volée and starting sending race updates to Kristin, Haute Volée team manager.

By mid-May in 2016, I had already run two steeples, the first being my season opener in early April and the second being at the Drake Relays a couple weeks later. The plan had been to get a steeple under my belt and then go for an OTQ or at least a sub 10 time a Drake. However, the field at Drake ended up being lackluster, and the weather was low 40’s and raining... Not the greatest conditions to run fast. I ran 10:06, which for my 3rd steeple, wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t close to the OTQ, 9:52. 

That was when my coach got serious with me about quitting my job and giving myself the opportunity to focus on just running for a few months. My job was requiring me to change between day shifts and night shifts, which is not conducive to training. By this time I had realized  my passion for coaching and had been hired as a part-time assistant, so I had hopes of being hired on full-time the following year. But without any guarantees, quitting my job was still pretty scary. I decided to go for it anyway. 

So I quit my job and bought a plane ticket to LA to race one last steeple, in hopes of hitting the OTQ. 

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I still remember the shock and almost disbelief when I crossed the finish line. My coach had talked to me before the race and said this was my chance and I needed to go hit the standard (9:52) at this meet. I knew going into the race that was the plan, but when I saw 9:50 on the board it was unreal. I was in disbelief. I had actually run that fast. As an athlete, we set goals every season, but to achieve what at the time was the biggest goal I had ever set was terrific. I remember finally getting back to my phone after the race, and I had a message from the Kristin, saying she was at the meet with the rest of the Oiselle crew and wanted to chat. 

I can honestly say that was one of the best days of my life. That day brings me so much happiness, and it ended up being such a pivotal moment in my running career. When you see your hard work pay off it is such an indescribable feeling. Since then I’ve taken 10 more seconds off my steeple time and 5 seconds off my 1500. Times that used to seem so far away are now looking attainable.

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That year of taking a leap of faith and just going for it showed me I could run at the next level and I was good enough to compete with the best in the country. Having the offer to represent Oiselle for the coming year showed me others believed in my ability as well. 

At the end of the day, I want to see how good I can get. Of course, I have goals I want to hit along the way, podium finishes, making USA teams, etc. Aside from all that the main reason I continue to run is my love for the process and I want to see where running can take me.