If you had told me in the fall of 2005 that 10 years later I would have voluntarily run four half marathons and a marathon, my 13-year old self would have said “As if” and gone back to texting on her pink RAZR phone, not so silently judging you for suggesting such a ridiculous idea.
At the time, I hated running. I hated how it made me sweaty, hated the hills, and hated the fact that my parents would drag me through the streets of our neighborhood to run “for fun.” Running wasn’t fun.
It was a self-induced death march that I was unfortunate enough to have to endure in the name of family bonding. Well, that’s how I saw it as a moody teenage girl anyways. Which, was when my mom and brother suggested I run cross-country my freshman year of high school, I was skeptical. Why would I purposely want to run long distances multiple days a week? How is running a sport?
But, because I had decided not to cheer and lacrosse try-outs weren’t until the spring, I didn’t have many options for fall sports. So on August 1, 2006, I laced up my running shoes and reported for practice.
First off, running is hard. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect there to be such an exact, and often painful, science to running hills or timing splits. Second off, and most importantly, I had coaches who believed in me.
Over the next four years, Coaches Cathi Monk and Christine Dahlhauser would teach me to not only have a love for running, but to have a love for myself. These two incredible women pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed.
They didn’t expect greatness, but they did expect that I would put in my greatest effort to be better than I was the day before. Most days I would do my best, but there were definitely practices and races that I just wasn’t feeling it. Each had an incredibly distinct voice and more than once I heard “Madi Lake, what the heck are you doing? I know you can do better than that!” from across the course. At that moment, the very moment I thought I would rather keel over than run harder, I would close my eyes and dig deeper, somehow finding strength that I didn’t even know I had.
While most runners hate hills, hills Coach D reminded me, give you the opportunity to prove to yourself (and others) how strong you really are. There is nothing more satisfying than basking in the descent after conquering a particularly steep hill. They taught me that the last .1 is just as important as the first 100 meters. In cross -country, it is the scores of the top seven runners that makes up the team’s final score, with the lowest team score winning the entire meet.
Therefore, even though you were running your own race, you were really running for six other people. You need to finish your race just as strong as it started, no matter how tired, or downtrodden you might feel.
You must always finish the race. You must always fight the good fight.
Finally, they showed me what it was like to be something larger than myself. At the end of my freshman season, Coach Monk handed me a single chain link. “This link represents our team,” she said. “As the newest members, you are our newest links. Right now they are shiny, but with age, they will dull. This is like a team – it’s easy to be excited when things are “shiny” but much harder when they’re dull. We are only as strong as all of us together and although it might be hard, there isn’t anything that can break us.” Being a link can sometimes be hard, but it’s always worth it in the end.
Because of these women, I am a life long runner, and appreciate what running can do for the soul. It is because of Cathi Monk that I know I can push myself without breaking, and that I’m stronger than I think I am.
It is because of Coach D that I have learned the importance of never giving up and to always have faith, no matter the circumstances. It is because of these two women and their wisdom, grace, and strength that I am who I am today, and for that, I could not be more thankful.