Meet of Champions Circa 2006

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Hello!!!

It’s been a hot minute. My 57 mile run (actually 59.8 – but who’s counting?) for Lyme disease awareness is over and it was spectacular! I can’t believe it’s over and I do plan on writing a recap of the day, but it’ll have to wait. Today, I want to post an old piece of mine about Meet of Champions back in 2006. The recent autumn weather has been giving me all the feels about past cross country seasons, and because NJ Meet of Champions is tomorrow, I decided to post an old writing piece on when my team and I won it in 2006.

Tomorrow, the girls Colts Neck XC team lines up in Holmdel Park to go for the win again. I wish I could be there, so this is me being all nostalgic and what not for the days when I was an xc machine.

Enjoy!

November 17, 2006

November always meant the end of cross country season. The days were shorter, the air was colder, and by then the trees stood half naked, barely holding on to their brown and dying leaves. November was my favorite month. It meant I was at the peak of my training and I was ready to run fast.

In November of 2006, my team had more than a state championship title on the line. We had Nike Team Nationals. We needed more than just a win the next day. We needed speed. We needed heart and courage, and the ability to put everything on the line without fear.

Silence. None of the eight of us spoke during our shakeout run the day before state championships. The sun was already setting and we moved steadily through the somber air. We ran close, together as one. I could hear the crunch of gravel beneath our feet and when I exhaled my breath frosted up in front of me like a wispy cloud in the sky. It was a beautiful evening and the wind blew the dead leaves across the path in a swirling pattern, dancing together. As we looped the soccer field, the sun was low enough to peek through the thin trees on the other side of the park, causing great rays of light to escape, creating a striped pattern on the field.

Our captains stopped toward the end of the run and the rest of us huddled around them knowingly. Words were not important at this point. Or at least they were not as important as the electric feeling in the air. We were ready. From the moment we lost the bid to Nike Team Nationals the previous year we began our preparations for success in 2006. Practice six times a week. High mileage weeks. Speed work. Hill work. Long runs. Tears. Blood. Courage. Friendship. I looked at my captains and realized this was it. There would not be another Colts Neck high school cross country season for them when they graduated at the end of the year. We knew the only way for us to get to Nationals was for each and every one of us to give our all.

We huddled together only for a few moments, but it seemed like hours. I felt serene, despite the nervous energy pulsing through every vein in my body. I knew I would never forget this moment.

After practice, Erin and I walked from the locker room to my mom’s waiting car. We did not say anything to one another. I looked down and closed my eyes as the car drove away, sputtering exhaust into the dark sky.

I visualized the race the next morning. I saw the park littered with people, teeming with its own heartbeat as spectators gathered by the starting line. I saw myself racing through the woods, going up and down and up and down with the rhythm of the progressing hills. I followed the girls ahead of me like the rolling swells of the ocean. I felt my lungs screaming, my legs growing heavy, and I felt the pain and embraced it. I could smell the crisp, autumn air and hear the undying roar of the crowd urging me onwards to the finish line. I could test the fear of my competitors and sense their aches and pains, so much worse than my own.

I could see the finish. Feel my feet giving out from under me. Feel my entire body screaming as the last of my energy escaped my gasping breaths. I could feel the scratchy, yellow ropes at the finish chute, and could feel my breath come back to me as the ground slowly stopped spinning beneath me and I finally felt anchored in place.

I was ready.

November 18, 2006

I can hear the screams of the crowd through the woods. I am close, within a mile. I have run Holmdel so many times before it now feels like I am greeting an old friend. I know every inch of the course, every tree root, bend in the path, and certainly every hill. I know when I am supposed to feel fresh, dig deep, hurt, and hold on. Now was the holding on part.

Despite my nerves and the extra electricity laced through the air the race started like any other. When the starting gun rang clear I jolted off the line like a coiled spring let loose. I felt lost within the hundreds of girls sprinting across the field as we jostled for position before the course bottle-necked up our first real hill. I settled in. This was my sit and wait time.

No longer did I feel the pressure of our team placing first. I had one goal: focus on the moment. Catch the girl in front of me. Lean into the hill. Don’t. Let. Go.

And now the finish line was close. My father had been standing at the entrance of the path right before we plummeted back into the woods at the 2.5 mile mark, yelling his support. Con Te Partiro, Time to Say Goodbye, he shouts in his always steady voice. We both know I am running the fastest I ever have at Holmdel. If only I can hold on. Earlier, when I emerged out of the Bowl and hit the two mile mark my coach yelled out one of my fastest miles at the park, even with the monstrous uphill.

My father and the rest of the crowd disappear as the path curves into the woods. I have no idea where my other teammates are but based off the crowd excitement, I know we are doing well. A few other girls surround me as we race down hill after hill, making our much deserved descent to the finish line. I can hear the booming cheers from the finish, beckoning me forward. My body is screaming and I swear my lungs are going to burst, but I push it more anyways.

Without a win this will be our last cross country race of the season and then it would be onward to the endless loops of the indoor track. I wanted more xc and I wanted to win and go to nationals more than ever. I push up the final hill, short but steep, and pass two girls as we hit the crest. I open up my stride at the top just like my coach taught me and I am confident I can beat them out on the homestretch as they fall quickly behind me.

When I burst out of the woods the atmosphere is like none I have ever experienced. The homestretch is completely lined with spectators and they jump up and down as they cheer in a wild sea of colors. The roar is deafening and their screams fill me with adrenaline once more. Some individuals are standing on their cars and RVs parked on the far side of the field and they frantically wave signs in the air as they try and balance. I begin to sprint and the crowd catches on, screaming so loud I am afraid the girls I passed on the final hill are catching me again. But I dare not look back. I push harder and I can hear my coach screaming, GO GO GO, and I reach for more inside but there is nothing left to give. My legs are numb and my breathing is almost hyperventilating, but I am upon the finish line. I can see my two teammates already finished and I hear them screaming my name, giving me the final push to lean forward across the line.

An official steadies me by the arms and pulls me gently, almost nicely, from the finish line where girls are continuously coming in. With a pat on the back she pushes me forward into the finish chute and I grab the yellow ropes to steady myself as I stumble forward with the other girls. I have finished 35th out of 181 girls. As I gasp for breath I catch eyes with my finished teammates and before I know it I am in their arms as we hug and wait. Within minutes the rest of our team is finished and my coach has already calculated the score on his clipboard. We have won the Meet of Champions by 66 points. My parents hug me and then hug Erin. I look around, at my teammates, my coaches, and I see nothing but smiles and laughter.

A little while later we are standing atop a podium accepting our first place medals and trophy. My smile has not left my face since finishing and I happily look down at my parents and friends as they cheer and clap ecstatically for us. Cameras flash. And in that moment we are not only standing atop the podium but it feels as if we are atop the world. Invincible. Completely untouchable.

Good luck to CNXC tomorrow! It was fun for me to look back on this memory. If you’re feeling even more nostalgic, you can re-read my post about NTN HERE.

Stay tuned for my Penn State to Bucknell Run Recap in the next week or so!

 

© Allison Donaghy 2017 All Rights Reserved

 

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Visiting the Past.

Slowly, the small room comes into focus. I rub my eyes and roll over on the small cot of a bed, which I’ve been tossing and turning on all night.  My husband lays next to me, crammed up against the wall and I shake my head wondering how we used to share a twin bed comfortably like this back in college. In my rush to book housing for Bucknell Reunion, I forgot to book a double room for myself and Dave, and now we were paying the price. My phone vibrates loudly against the wooden desk and the room is so small I’m able to reach my arm across the floor and grab my phone while staying sprawled in bed. There’s a slight ache in my head and my throat feels incredibly dry.  It’s an odd familiarity, this situation – the feeling as if I have done this same act plenty of times before. That’s when I realize it – I’m hungover.

The text messages are from Erin.  Are we riding or what? I’ve been on the trainer since 6 AM. 

The last thing I trust myself doing is navigating my little road bike on the rainy roads outside but I enthusiastically reply yes! anyways. After all, we’re at Bucknell. And riding the old country roads we used to race down five years ago is so enticing I can’t pass the opportunity up. It takes about 25 minutes for me to pull myself together. Before I know it, Erin and I are standing in the narrow hallway outside my dorm room with our bikes, getting ready to head out for our ride. The hall even smells like my time at college.

“How’d you sleep?” I ask.

“Like shit,” Erin replies, “If we ever come back for Reunion weekend again, we are NOT staying in the dorms.”

I nod my head in agreement and try to get myself to focus on anything other than my headache. Because of lyme treatment, it’s been close to eight months since I’ve come anywhere near to being tipsy, let alone drunk.

“I’m not feeling the greatest so I don’t know how this ride is going to go,” I admit to Erin, “I’m definitely hungover. Or still drunk. I don’t know.”

“Ah. Bucknell,” is all Erin says in response, a smile on her face as she begins wheeling her bike toward the door.  It’s a simple reply, but it’s perfect. There are no other words and it is the perfect explanation.

It’s a chilly, wet morning but the rain has stopped. I shiver for the first ten minutes of the ride until we cross the Susquehanna river and begin hauling hard down the road. Everything clicks. I feel like I have been thrown back into time as we pass farm after farm on our left and catch glimpses of the susquehanna through the heavy tree-line on the right. Water from Erin’s back wheel sprays up into my face and I try not to panic about riding on wet roads when I can’t even remember the last time I took my bike out at home on a dry road, NOT hungover. But as we turn off the main road and disappear along the small country roads, I find myself unable to stop smiling. I feel at home. Free and happy.

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We begin climbing. Erin easily leaves me behind on the hill as I huff and puff, switching through my gears and hopping out of the saddle – trying anything to get myself to the top.   I’m reminded how badly out of cycling shape I am, especially compared to my days at Bucknell when I used to be the one to leave Erin behind. But when I get to the top, Erin and I both stop and look out quietly at the valley before us. Fog sweeps through the farmland and the rolling hills of the Appalachian range surround us. My heart swells. This is where I fell in love with cycling as a student. And I find it happening all over again.

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Going back to Bucknell was a lot like going back in time. While there are definitely changes to campus, most of it looks the same to when I was a student, and upon arrival, Erin and I fell into a similar routine as one we would have had as seniors. After checking in, we threw our belongings into our dorm rooms and immediately headed out for a run. We ran down the quiet roads we used to run every day at school, whether for xc practice or for our own solace. I had forgotten about how peaceful the roads are, how hilly they are, and how satisfying it felt to leave the busy city-life behind. Ten miles later, when Erin and I were sated from re-exploring our old stomping grounds, we showered, got dressed up and headed out for a drink. Just like we would have five years ago.

I have so many amazing memories from my time at Bucknell. My life changed there and what I learned helped shape the person I am today. I met my husband. I met some of the best friends I have in my life today, and I learned how to have a voice for myself. But most importantly, I learned how to love myself. When I first got to Bucknell in August 2008, I was not a healthy person and I wasn’t living life. But after being at school for a few months, I wanted to make a change. Bucknell and some of the people I met helped me see how beautiful life is, and helped me want to be a part of it again. And for that, I am forever grateful.

And while I have these great memories from Bucknell and had a wonderful transformation, not everything was perfect. So, as Erin and I stood on the Sojka Lawn at our welcome back reception, we were acutely aware of how alone we were. Many familiar faces floated past as we huddled next together sipping our drinks, but no one from all our small network was present. Most of Erin’s friends were in the geology department and couldn’t make it back. Most of my friends were on the cross country team or Dave’s year, and also couldn’t make it back. Fraternity and sorority life at Bucknell is enormous, and we watched as these brothers and sisters congregated together in the same exact groups I used to see mill around campus. Erin and I never joined a sorority. For a moment, I realized what it felt like to be on the outside again.

It wasn’t until the next day after Erin and I finished our fateful bike ride did we catch up with some friends. Erin and I walked around campus to see the new buildings and I revisited the track I plan to finish my 57 mile run on in November. There was a lot of, “remember this…” and “remember that…” as familiar sights evoked vibrant and often funny memories at school. There were also a lot of, “I miss this.”

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Toward the end of my senior year, I couldn’t wait to graduate and get into the “real world.” I wanted to leave because after Dave graduated, I felt isolated from the cross country and track team, and struggled to make any other friends. Standing on campus during reunion weekend, I realized I had no idea how good we had it, and how I should have cherished every second there.

Dave, Erin and I watched the sunset on the quad that evening, sipping wine as the blue sky melted into hues of yellow and pink along the mountain range. I didn’t want to leave the next day. I felt safe. Happy. How had it been five years already? We spent the rest of the night dancing and drinking like we were students again.

The next day Erin and I woke up early, loaded the bikes onto the back of my car, and headed back to DC. As we drove through campus one final time, I felt sad to be leaving. There were so many times as a student I hopped into my car and blew through campus, leaving it behind like it was nothing. But only now that I’ve graduated and been in this real world for five years, do I realize how naive I was during these times. Waiting to turn onto Route 15, I took a final glance at Rooke Chapel in the rearview mirror. It’d be months before I heard those bells ring again. But it was okay, because I at least knew I’d be back.

All in all, I’m happy I went back for reunion weekend. I’ve been in a funk lately, but being back at Bucknell helped me work through a lot of questions floating around my mind lately. I’m gaining motivation for my run again and inspiration for my writing. It’s baby steps. Sometimes, it’s nice to revisit the past so you can remember what made you the way you are today, and help you realize the only way to stay strong is to keep fighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emptiness

Change is confusing.

There’s a sense of loss throbbing deep within me.  It’s an indescribable darkness pulsing, growing.  The problem is not I feel sadness.  The problem is I don’t feel anything at all.  I am empty.

Lately, I’ve been losing myself in music.  Music is powerful.  It has the power to transform my mind and the power to transport me to past moments good and bad.  One song takes me back to hot summer nights in high school, speeding home as I race curfew, windows down to blow my hair up into a wild dance around me.  Another reminds me of a slow, cold winter day at work, chatting idly with a friend as we watch the sun sparkling off the melting snow on the sidewalk.  And another takes me to sitting in my car alone in the driveway, watching the windows fog up around me as condensation runs down the glass like falling tears.  The memories tug me this way and that, but the music fills me.  It fills the empty voids and I am sated.

Maybe the emptiness is because I don’t believe in myself.  It’s hard to believe I can be a strong runner again when I literally had to pull myself out of bed yesterday because my entire body ached like never before.  I feel old.  It’s days like this I wish most for some sort of answer as to why my body has turned on me.

I’ve always wanted to inspire.  To catch people before they fall down the same paths I have found myself stumbling along.  Lifting people up makes me happier than running, biking, hiking, or writing combined.  Helping someone feel whole again and seeing a smile on their face makes me feel not so broken.

Sometimes I forget it’s okay to feel.

We are all storytellers, and I often overlook this.  It’s astonishing to me when people have opened up so willingly with me, telling me their fascinating stories and I wish I could be just like them.  But I am ashamed of my story.  I am not yet brave enough.  Growing up I did not learn how to be vulnerable or deal with emotions.  I used running to deal with every problem I encountered.

So, I’ll keep on carrying on.  The emptiness will pass whether I find my answers or not, I’m sure of it.  I’m writing again and cautiously running, trying to [frantically] prepare for my August Ragnar Relay.

The emptiness may be there and I acknowledge it.  But if it thinks it’s going to win it’s sadly mistaken.

 

© Allison Donaghy 2016 All Rights Reserved