December 17, 2012

Where the Running Trail Leads Us….From Massachusetts to Russia and Points Between

Senior Kristina Kronauer became just the second Bryn Mawr cross country runner to compete at the NCAA Division III National race this past fall. Here is the journey through her eyes.

My senior cross country season will be possibly the most memorable time of my collegiate career. After a very lackluster season in 2011 I had finally started to achieve my goals in the Indoor and Outdoor track seasons, but finished up in May with lingering injury that put me out for half the summer. Were the miles I logged in July on the hilly wooded trails of New Hampshire going to pay off in the fall despite low overall mileage that summer? Gliding through some workouts during pre-season in August and early September laid away those concerns, and after finishing first among DIII competitors in Haverford's Main Line Invitational, Coach Hewitt and I sat down to discuss goals. Goals that had been previously unimaginable. Four years ago this month I had just completed my first full season of high school cross country, barely making it to varsity at the Bromfield School, where, following in the heels of Olympian Lynn Jennings and DI runners Ari Lambie and Emily Jones, who had led their teams to countless state and district championships, I was a nobody. Four years ago in December 2008 I failed to qualify for the indoor 2 mile because I ran an extra lap on the 150m track. Now we were looking at winning Seven Sisters and qualifying for NCAA Nationals? It was scary but also thrilling to think about, and when Coach Hewitt says I am capable of something I trust him. He has taught me that there is no glass ceiling. There is no limit to how far we can go if that's what we believe.

Flash forward to Centennial Conferences in October of this year. I had not lost a DIII meet to date, but would face stiffer competition from John Hopkin's top pack and a few others. I was still confident that I would come in third. I came in a "disappointing" sixth, behind a number of girls I thought I could beat. This humbling experience made me nervous for Regionals. I rarely get nerves when it comes to races, but the Friday evening before the big meet I was getting myself worked up. No race had ever mattered so much. In order to continue to Indiana for Nationals I needed to place in the top seven individuals, excluding runners from the top two teams, who also have automatic bids for Nationals. Could I do it? I texted a few friends who were familiar with my training and progress this season. "You race best when you're relaxed. Just stay relaxed and do what you've been doing all season," said one fellow runner. "You've put the work in already. Nothing else matters." I re-read these texts in the hours before my race, listened to my new favorite inspirational song, and calmed down considerably. We were racing on my favorite 6k course in Carlisle, PA – in the woods and full of hills – and nothing was going to stop me. As my brother (the top mid distance and cross country runner at Bromfield for many years) texted me once before a race, "Run fast and don't slow down." All right, little brother. This one's for you. I AM going to Indiana – for my team, for my family, for Bryn Mawr, and yes, Coach Sandler, for me.

Traveling to Terra Haute, Indiana, to represent Bryn Mawr College in NCAA DIII Nationals was a huge honor. I remember last year when Claudia qualified, despite the efforts of a few people on the team, we didn't get our act together and there was no road trip to support her. The day of the race I met Emily Bell, now my 2012 senior xc co-captain, in her room to watch the race live-stream. There was a feeling of how epic the whole thing was, of tension and excitement and anticipation. Emily and I were screaming at Claudia through the computer screen, clapping, cheering, crying, and hugging each other. We were so proud of her, and now I was going to be there too. This time, Emily re-doubled her efforts to send a Bryn Mawr coalition to cheer, and finally drove with three of our other teammates the whole fifteen hours to Terra Haute. My mother, the most amazing and supportive XC team-mom of all time flew out to meet us, with a BMC XC flag she had sewn for the occasion. No matter how the race went, I was happy to be there, surrounded by people I love – my teammates, Coach Hewitt, Haverford, Swarthmore, Muhlenberg's coach and senior Samantha Mayden, and my mother.

Before the race, Coach Hewitt and I had decided that the placing top 35 – receiving the honor of All American – was a realistic possibility. I can do this, I said. I'd come so far, and was so close to this ultimate award. It would be a crime not set this goal for myself. During the race I was well-placed coming through the mile, around 50th place. I gradually worked my way up, feeding off from the cheers of other teams. Top 45, 40, 38… finally, somewhere after the 5k two Swarthmore runners yelled at me that I was in the 29-34th place pack. I had secured an All American spot, I just had to hold it. Just had to get around these next few girls and not let the ones behind me creep up… We were moving fast and I was a little tired but felt pretty strong. There is no glass ceiling. Coming around the corner into the last straight-away of about 400m I suddenly hit the wall. My legs deadened and refused to lift. No, no, this can't happen now, I thought. Keep on going. I was slowing down, my body moving like a rag doll. All the hard work was slipping past me as runners came flying by. Three, five – there went All American. Fifty, a hundred. Nearing collapse and head spinning, I dragged myself to the finish line. I lost All American, but I had at least completed the race.

This isn't the story that's described on the Bryn Mawr Athletics page, but it's one I need to tell for myself. A 145th place finish with time of 23:03 does not tell the whole story. I raced with an end in mind, and could not have run any differently and still accomplished that goal. If I had run a little more conservatively, perhaps I would have a solid race. But I'd only be cheating myself, and I'd be left wondering how much I had left to give. On November 17th I put it all on the line, and don't regret that one bit. More than anything, I am so thankful that I made it as far as I did – both at Nationals and looking at my whole running career. I owe it to our athletic directors and my coaches, Dan Talbot, Jason Hewitt, and Rachel Sandler, for pushing me farther and believing in me, often more than I believed in myself. I owe it to my team, for the hard work we have all put in together to turn this program around into something to be proud of. Thank you, all.

Looking forward, I am very excited for the next two seasons of track and, once I graduate, to watch the future of Bryn Mawr cross country and track as the team grows stronger as a family and more competitive with respect to other DIII collegiate athletes. Next year I won't be able to cheer Bryn Mawr on from the sidelines – I will be in a remote agricultural region in Russia working as an assistant herdsman, nutritionist, and veterinarian for a large dairy farm, before enrolling in veterinary school Fall 2014 to study large animal veterinary medicine with a focus on dairy/food animal. But no matter where my career and studies take me, I will always be proud of being a Mawrter and an Owl and promise that running doesn't stop here.