At the end of last year, I ran my first cross country in 35 years, the USA Track and Field Cross Country Club National Championships held in Bethlehem, PA.
I covered the race for Runners World and got to meet an incredible variety of inspiring runners, from the elite to the everyday, that came to the Lehigh University campus to participate in the event.
Over the next few weeks, in anticipation of the article being published in the September 2015 issue, I want to introduce you to my own little “cross country club,” some of the runners whose story didn’t make it into the Runners’ World article.
They are probably not unlike the nameless, numbered people that line up next to you in any race you will run this summer or fall. Keep this in mind as you wait in the crowd behind your next starting line with awkward anticipation, just wanting everyone to get out of your way: every runner has a story.
I have to start with Heather Hawthorne, a fellow member of the Lehigh Valley Road Runners, our local running group that both helped host the event and sponsored men’s and women’s teams in the races.
Heather ran the race, not for glory or ego but to simply recapture a little piece of herself that got put on the shelf during adolescence.
As an eighth grader, she was recruited to join the high school team.
“I was really excited to sign up, but my mom had other ideas,” shares Hawthorne. “She was a single mom and wanted her only daughter to be a ‘girly girl’, and running cross country wasn’t very girly.”
So though she’s run 3 marathons and the women’s open race is only a 6K, she’s a nervous bundle of energy when I talk to her the night before. Long held dreams that are about to come true have a way of doing that. “This is my chance to finally do it. I’ve waited so long to run this race,” she says. “To be that girl again.”
And she was. Heather survived the women’s open race. She did not come in last, which was one of her outcome goals, but let’s just stay Heather never threatened Laura Thweatt, who won the race for the second year in a row, in 19:14.41.
But competing at the front of the pack was hardly the point. Heather won plenty that day.
“Running Club Nats helped me let go of something I wish I had been able to let go of when I was younger, but couldn’t,” she said. “And it showed me how important it is to be patient, have faith, and pay attention. Sometimes missed opportunities have a way of manifesting again later on in life, as this did for me,” she said.
And Heather just keeps going.
On August 2, two days before my article about the Club Nats race will be published in the September issue of Runners World, Heather will be putting her toes in the water of her next “personal project” as she has come to call her athletic challenges.
She will be competing in her first triathalon, the Jersey Girl on August 2, in Long Branch, NJ. Heather’s race may be even more daunting, for a number of emotional and physical reasons. But I’ll let Heather tell that story herself another day.
What’s exciting to know is that a running race like Club Nats can not only provide a unique racing experience and invigorating physical achievement, but can also be part of a healthy psychological approach to personal growth and fulfillment.
What kind of emotional challenges has running helped you face?