How Does One Make Friends Without a Running Team? Asking for a Friend.

About a month ago, I finished my last ever cross-country race. This sport has been very near and dear to my heart for as long as I can remember, and has been a large part of my identity. Though I will still have one year of indoor and outdoor track eligibility left, cross-country is the time of year that was my favorite. The cold, muddy, and hilly courses show true grit, and running in circles in not my favorite.

Eric Ghelfi, a former SOU runner who has taught me so much in my four years wrote a blog post where he recapped his 4 seasons at SOU. I read it freshman year, swearing my next 3 seasons were going to drag on and remain pretty repetitive. Boy, was I wrong.

Inspired (and slightly copying) Ghelfi, here’s a little summary of my 4 years on the SOU cross-country team.

Freshman Year Fears

Baby Kayle at her first college race!

This was the year of nerves. Moving from Alaska, I knew no one on the team and was constantly nervous at practice. I couldn’t eat for a handful of hours before practice because I was always so scared of finishing workouts, making friends, and performing well. I loved the team and environment driving to races, in the weight room after workouts, and seeing my teammates on campus. I was stoked to make it on the top 10 for conference and the top 8 to go to nationals in North Carolina. I finished in the top 100 and I was ecstatic. Our men’s team was expected to get a national championship but ended up getting the dreaded Noro virus, which resulted in only 5 guys competing, 2 of which were sick but still raced. The women’s team barely made it to nationals, so we were stoked about our 12th place finish. I remember seeing my teammate, Jessa Perkinson (if you don’t know that name, you either aren’t a runner or you live under a rock) get her All-American medal and plaque and I told myself that day one day I would get one. That summer, I went back home and trained my butt off. I became really close friends to Natalie (she is the sweetest human you will ever meet. 10 out of 10 an excellent friend/running buddy/mentor) and we became a pretty rad running duo.

Sophomore Year Surprises

Legendary team. I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.

This year, I trained my butt off with Natalie and we killed it. We would run everyday together, vent about our lives, talk about what we’re eating after, and get coffee together. We both wanted to have a really solid team, knowing it was her last year. After a rough conference race, I was determined in Illinois for solid nationals race. I ended up in the top 30, getting All-American honors. I was so shocked and happy, it was just an all around awesome day where I felt so confident and sure of myself. The boys won nationals, and our women’s team got 7th, tied with the highest place SOU has ever gotten. The men and women got second in the combined team title. We were all in great spirits, and I was ready for more All-Americans.

Junior Year Jealousy

Twinning with Ryan, my injured buddy!

I know, the picture on the left isn’t a running picture. During my sophomore track season, I started to have some groin/hip issues, but doctors could never find what was wrong. I kept running, wanting to stay in shape. This was probably the worst thing I could have done, as I ran two races and was unable to compete for the rest of the season. Reflecting on the year prior, I was mad with how fast I was, and how I wasn’t competing this year. I was also going through anorexia recovery, which was extremely difficult since I couldn’t work out and I was increasing my caloric intake. Through this injury, though, I bonded with a freshman, Lauren. We are now very very good friends and she’s a very wonderful running buddy. I was also lucky, as the women’s team was quite small, so I was able to travel to La Grande, Oregon for conference and Vancouver, Washington for nationals with the team. Though I was very emotional during nationals, I told myself to be happy for my teammates. I tried my best to be a supportive friend to those who were racing. My boyfriend, Kevin got his 4th All-American so I was extremely happy for him and the rest of my speedy teammates. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. This was the year of physical therapy, eating disorder therapy, and school.

Senior Season

This summer, I had a very strange swollen left ankle up to my knee. I was able to do my normal routine of running and working, but it got so swollen that my coach told me to go to the ER. Long story short, I went to over 5 doctors in Ashland, Medford, and Anchorage and none of them had a clue as to what was wrong. To try reduce the swelling, I was put in a boot for about a month before our report date for the cross-country season. I was unable to run, and mostly used the elliptical and stationary bike to stay in shape. Once I started running, I felt extremely out of shape. I didn’t think I would even be in the top 10 for our women’s team. I tried my best to remain positive and healthy, and I found myself getting a little bit more fit and strong everyday. I leaned on my teammates, boyfriend, parents, and friends a lot. (Lauren, Natalie, Kevin, Gabe, Mom, Dad, Olin and Denali, thank you for letting me talk your ear off!)

Fast forward 5 races, and I am officially done with my college running career. I was fortunate enough to place in the top 30, securing All-American status, which was a complete shock to me. 3 months ago I didn’t think I would even be running, I am so lucky and grateful. The best part is our women’s team got 4th place, which is the highest place SOU women have ever gotten, and our men’s team got 4th, which secured a national title in the combined team scores. It is such an awesome feeling to have finished something you care about so deeply in such a fun and exciting way. There were so many teammates, friends, family members who helped me throughout these four years, especially these last two, to stick with running and finish on a high note.

For a long time, running has been the one thing for me that has always been there. It has helped me make so many memories and travel to so many places I would have never gone otherwise. North Carolina, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Iowa, and exploring places closer to home in Washington, California, and Oregon were the places I was lucky enough to travel to and compete in. People that have gone through this program are considered some of my best friends who I will cherish for the rest of my life. There is something so special about doing something, practically everyday, at your best and worst with someone. You see a person’s true colors, and appreciate them for who they are at their core. Through my eating disorder, homesickness, a rough breakup, my hip injury, tough classes, my weird swollen ankle, and bad days, running has been my best friend and my worst enemy. I have overcome a lot in these past 4 years, and everyone on this team has been so supportive whenever someone is going through a hard time. I still feel like a freshman and I am not quite sure how I got here, but I think my teammates have a big role in making my time on this team so freaking fun. Though I complain about running and showing up to practice at times, I am so grateful to have been a part of something so much bigger than myself. I will always remember the pre-race jitters on the bus, heading to a course in the morning, jam sessions with the women’s team on the way to a meet, and late night talks with friends the night before races. Cross-country and the SOU cross-country team will always hold a special place in my heart. Thanks for the memories, friends. I appreciate every single one of you.

Runner, recent college graduate, Alaska loving, Oregon living.

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