Welcome to the first Throwback Thursday! Each week, I will share one running-related photo from my past and explain why looking back on that moment brings me joy.
My dad snapped this photo in May 2016, during my final track season at Lincoln East High School. Although I don’t recall exactly which meet we were at in this picture, I remember that the four of us — Jadyn Agee ’16, Rachel Dweikat ’16, Rachel Weber ’18 and myself — had just finished racing the 4x400m relay at either the conference or district championships that year.
In high school, I was primarily a 1600m and 3200m runner — sometimes with a 4×800 thrown in the mix. Yet occasionally, my coaches put me in a 4×400, hoping that the one-lap lactic acid fest would wake up my fast-twitch muscle fibers just in time for the state meet.
Senior year was no exception. Less than an hour after racing the mile at the Heartland Athletic Conference Championships, I spiked back up for leg No. 3 of the 4×4.
Many runners dread the 4×4, especially if they don’t have much time to recover from their previous race. This happens quite a bit in Nebraska high school track, because the last three events are the 1600, 4×100 and 4×400. So, you’ll occasionally see distance runners race both the 1600 and the 4×400, while short sprinters may have to help their team by competing in back-to-back relays.
I, however, was excited. Though I knew my final race that evening would hurt, I reminded myself that it was only one-fourth the length of my previous event. Ultimately, the pain would be temporary. Also, the 4×4 was not my main race — and conference was not a state-qualifying meet — so I had nothing to lose.
I had a blast racing my guts out from start to finish, freed from the strategic thinking required for long distance races. As long as I was running as fast as physically possible, I was doing my job. Unencumbered by expectations, I cleared my mind and just let my legs go.
Turns out, all four of us raced pretty well. After our anchor leg crossed the finish line, the coaches told us that we had run the sixth fastest time in school history (!), and that we’d be putting the same team together for districts — giving us a chance to possibly qualify for the state meet.
Using the momentum we gathered from conference, we conserved no energy at districts and ended up racing in the fast heat at state. We finished 12th overall — slower than our seed time — but were ecstatic at the opportunity to compete against Nebraska’s fastest high school girls.
In the moment, I treated the 4×4 as a fun way to push my physical limits while unshackled from the heavy chains of expectations. Looking back, I see how crucial this experience was for my collegiate running journey. Racing the 4×4 was my first clue that I had approached all of my other events completely wrong. For the first time, I was motivated by the joy of competing rather than the fear of losing — and it felt so good!