2016 3A XC Champion Alyson Churchill: What I Wish I Had Seen

Lincoln sophomore Alyson Churchill won the 3A Cross Country Finals in 2016 as a freshman. She followed that success up with a pair of runner-up finishes at the state meet in both the 1,600m and 3,200m outdoors. Churchill has been sidelined since then with injury and opens up about her journey and the signs she wish she had seen earlier.

"A fractured fifth metatarsal, low bone density, six months to two years of no running." I was stunned by the doctor's words last summer. I couldn't speak. I was angry, with myself for not realizing that this was coming. Frustrated with the unfairness of it all, because I had worked so hard - too hard - to be as good as I possibly could be.

Looking back I think I have learned a lot of hard lessons about training, specifically how not to go about training, over the last three years. While I am sure I am not and never will be done making mistakes, I wanted to share some of the things that I have learned over the last three years with the hope that anyone who is on the same path that I was will stop to listen. To be honest I had a hard time deciding whether or not to share all of this, but I wrote this with the sincere hope that it will be helpful for athletes who are struggling with any of the same things that I struggled with.

To twelve year old me who worked as hard as she possibly could at every practice, every workout, every long run, and every "easy day." Who took great pride in beating the boys, (I still do); who didn't stop to think about rest, recovery, nutrition, or balance. Who only saw that she was getting faster, and placing higher at meets.

You should have stopped to listen. Stopped to think. On the days when you knew your body was tired and you thought that was just part of the sport, you should have gone easier, goofed off with everybody else on the easy days. Neither the middle school cross country or track seasons were more than three months long, so you didn't injure yourself that first year, but you were already headed down the path that would lead to weight loss, injury, and disappointment.

To thirteen year old me, who started 8th grade cross country season with the same mindset as the year before, but this time was not eating enough, began losing weight, and was diagnosed with Female Athletic Triad Syndrome, now known as Red S (Relative energy deficiency in sport). To the girl who was ashamed and afraid of what had happened, but still had a passion and a love for running.

You shouldn't have felt the need to prove yourself. You were a strong girl, but you doubted yourself after that fall. At the same time you wanted to prove that you were strong, that nothing would get you down, and you went into track season full force.

To almost fourteen year old me who was on crutches after finding out she had a stress fracture soon after the end of 8th grade track season. To the girl who was excited about switching to running in high school and concerned about being "behind" everyone else, because everyone else was training over the summer. To the girl who started swimming and biking like crazy to keep herself from getting "behind " everyone else, and never fully gave her body a break.

You should have taken a break. You shouldn't have worried about being behind, because the truth is that you will do yourself much more harm than good by continuing to train hard while your body is recovering from injury.

To fourteen year old me who was now competing in high school, ready to show that she could do well competing at the high school level. To the girl who started training extra outside of practice, because in a sport where " the more you put in the more you get out"  you thought that could only make you better, faster, stronger.

And the hard thing is that it did for a little while. You started winning, you won the state cross country meet,  you crushed your season goal of breaking 11:00 in the 3200 right at the beginning of track season, and yet in the ways that mattered most, your body was not getting stronger. Towards the end of track season you knew your body was tired, but now you felt the pressure not only from yourself, but from the expectations you felt like there now were for you.

To the girl who thought that training more was always better.

More is not always better. There is a fine balance in the sport of running with working and training day in and day out to grow faster, stronger, better, and with recovery.

Finally, to the girl who had worked so hard - too hard - to get to where she was, and was met with bitter disappointment. To the girl who finally realized what she had been doing wrong all along.

Be patient. This, as so many people have told you, is not forever. You will be back, this time with lessons learned... the hard way.