Updated: Oct 12, 2022
This is me as a freshman, and it's not working
The night before this picture was taken I’d eaten a grocery-store box of sugar cookies. I ate a 1/4 to a half-gallon of ice cream at least twice a week. Through rising anxiety and bouts of depression, I easily justified it: someone running 60+ miles a week can eat what she wants and still keep up.
Shortly after this photo was taken, I was cut from the team.
DISCLAIMER: Please don't take any nutrition or body-composition advice from this story. Just know that I had a massive goal and virtually no way to accomplish it.
I was living a false reality. I had the goal of one day making it to the Olympic Trials, but not only was I unable to even make the travel team, now I had no team at all. It was all, of course, due to my actions, which I wasn’t ready to admit. Or change.
The Next 50,000 Miles
Getting cut was a slap in the face just strong enough to recommit, pass up the vending machine at 2:00am, grit my teeth for the summer and... lean on my track friend, Kathryn, to talk to coach for me.
He allowed me to try out. I eked by because the team's depth was a bit more shallow than in years past or since. But I made it back to camp the next fall.
Like so many with food issues, I knew this year would be different. I'd run harder. I'd be more disciplined. I'd only have two desserts in the campus cafeteria instead of four. Only ice cream on the weekends... and Wednesdays.
Between 2011 and 2020, I ran a lot of miles, battled with food, binged a lot, made a national cross-country team (pictured above), took dead last in that race, and experienced many other highs and lows.
Most of all, I battled reality.
2020: Reality Calls
My husband and I lived in Melbourne, Australia where I was training with Olympians, world champions, and other professional athletes - really enjoying the taste of their sweat as they ran in front of me.
I was 51 seconds off the 2020 5k Olympic Trials qualifying time with only a few months to the cutoff. If you aren't sure what that means, dropping 51 seconds is like saying, 'I just need to build a house.' It would take at least six, very difficult months of die-hard work.
World-famous coach, Nick Bedeau, headed the Melbourne Track Club. I told him about my plans to qualify for the Olympic Trials by June of that year. He took a deep breath, apologized for being blunt, and said, “That’s going to be really hard for you to do.”
So I said, “Hypothetically… what could I do to have a chance?”
He picked up a napkin and folded it in half, then folded it again, and again and again. He handed it to me and told me to rip it.
When I couldn’t, he said, “that’s how you train: one micro, unsexy layer on top of the others until it cannot be ripped.”
He then wrote down a simple, unsexy, one-week training plan which I used the rest of the year, and not in the way I expected to.
Australian National Championships - 5k
The gun went off one week later at the 5k Australian National Championships. I had no aspirations to win, but I was planning on a big personal record to give me confidence I could qualify for Olympic Trials.
The first 8 laps of the race, my pacing was spot on, and I was still in range to get bonus hydration from the sweat of the professionals in front of me.
With a mile to go, my whole system quit. I dropped from a 5-minute mile down to 6 minutes, and was even lapped on the last lap.
I’d been training with Nick’s group for two months now, and felt certain I was about to beat all my best times. Everything indicated it. How could this all fail?
Two days later, I peed on a stick, and got the answer.
Reality called. And she gave me no choice but to meet with her.
I kept running. Nobody, including my own body, told me not to, so I kept running. Plus I followed some wicked women on IG who ran while pregnant, which gave me even more confidence.
I tracked with Nick's napkin plan during those months, but at much slower speeds. 3x90-min runs, and 3x 45-minute runs each week. 50-60 miles weekly - the same mileage I was running before being cut from BYU, and about half the mileage I was now used to.
Mike (husband) watched me move from 6:30 mile pace to 8:30 in the first trimester, so when I said I could probably run an 8-min mile by the 9th month, he bet me $100 I couldn't. I was all in jest, but he said he'd be taking me from the track to the hospital in premature labor if that happened. We were pregnancy amateurs.
I used specific exercises to ward off any impending bodily injury related to pregnancy, and everything went fine, minus the few, tear-filled runs when I called Mike to come fetch me 4 miles away.
I knew the Olympic Trials would pass me by, but I still felt there was something for me after this journey.
As I came home from runs, Mike started talking about this Covid thing. We began to hear whispers of a postponement of everything, including the Olympics.
Somewhere around late March of 2020 (mid-1st trimester) we got the sad, but personally beneficial news: we had accidentally timed this pregnancy with perfection.
I don't mean to downplay the sadness and torture of that year with a light mind. I would wish nothing more than to avoid the whole pandemic if I could have chosen.
But the facts remained the same: not only would I not miss a single race in 2020, but my pregnancy was a month ahead of total lockdown, and I'd now have an extra year to still try to qualify.
When the city of Melbourne declared nobody was allowed outside their home with another person, or outside a 5km radius (even for groceries), Mike and I bought our tickets home (no intention of suffering labor with two masks on).
It was October 10th, 2020 when I woke up ready to do a workout. I felt pretty energetic during the third trimester, and kept my mileage up - even ran some faster-paced stuff.
Mike saw me putting my flats on for a workout, and asked, "You remember that bet we had? Wanna earn your $100 today?"
By this point it was a foregone conclusion I'd break 8 minutes - I'd been doing regular runs faster than that, and workouts at 6:30 pace.
The Pregnant Mile
I lined up with a pacer before Mike was even at the track - he was finishing his own workout down the street, but coach Jorge Jabaz was timing me.
Mike showed up just as I took off and started filming.
In video above, both the OB and the narrator claim this was a "risk" I was willing to take. Let me put that "risk" into perspective. According to the doctors I was working with, the "risk" was about as high as walking down a flight of stairs because of my physical health and relatively high fitness level. Just want to put another nail in that coffin.
Another thing of note which I dive into more deeply in my post, The Grammar of Reality: I didn't run this mile to get likes (never even knew Mike was going to post it anywhere). I did it to test whether my assumption that what the larger world understood to be true about pregnancy could be challenged. Glad I did it, and my healthy baby daughter will some day know she's capable of more than the world presumes about her.
I've never felt such a strong biological reaction to another person in my life. On October 20th, 2020 at 1:00 am, I gave birth to Kenny Lou, and knew instinctually that I would never be just a runner again. I was mama.
For two weeks I just stared at her, and let all the love hormones pulse through my body. I was on cloud 9.
First runs back
I was blessed with a smooth recovery. I began running in 30-min intervals two weeks after delivery and with the doctor's blessing.
My first runs were light and only 3 days a week. I started slow, but felt perky now that I could hand my extra 30 lbs. to someone else while I ran.
As a new mother I sometimes took off on my runs with the urgency that if my baby didn’t eat the minute she was supposed to, she or I might explode. She was down for a nap, and I was out the door. No time for small talk with anyone.
It seemed she knew when I got home, too. She'd wake up within minutes of me walking in the door, I’d sit down in my sweaty sports bra, and lean against the couch to breastfeed her. I sacrificed as much running, lifting, and stretching as I could to spend more time with Lou.
I'll try to talk more about that in other posts.
A New Plan
I took Nick’s napkin plan, and used its compounding principle to develop it into a full, three-month training cycle which I’d use in my pursuit of the belated Olympic Trials. I had one more shot, and I’d be taking it.
Most of my workouts seemed good, but never really indicated whether I was at the level I needed to be. Other times a light would burst through and I couldn’t believe what my watch was saying.
For months I rode a fine line between total faith & confidence in my abilities and having no idea where I was competitively.
There were a lot of tears between January and my first race in April. Many conversations where I was in need of reassurance that this plan I’d come up with wasn’t a crock.
Azuza pacific: the first race back
Normally very anxious and high strung before a race, I felt truly calm in the hours prior to this one. No expectations, no pressure, just anticipation of what in the world the results of my efforts could be.
I was pretty amazed with what I’d just done. Nick would’ve been astounded, and might not have winced so badly at lunch. I was within 25 seconds of the qualifying time of 15:20 - I’d been almost a full minute away from the qualification time just before getting pregnant.
Still, 25 seconds separated me from qualifying in the 5k which was another 3-4 months of solid work. I didn’t have that kind of time. The Trials deadline was a little over a month away.
My final shot at the 5k was shy of a month later. I ran another personal best on May 15th and cut another 11 seconds off my time for a 15:34. No qualification. Qualifying to the Olympic Trials in the 5k was not in the cards.
But I had one more trick up my sleeve. Somewhere deep down, I know I'm more suited to longer distances. The night I missed my shot at the 5k, I registered for the "last chance 10k" in Portland, Oregon.
I pulled up to the meet a little fidgety. My workout times suggested I'd have a good shot of making the cutoff time of 32:25, but everything had to go right.
I made Mike promise he'd call out my every lap split to make sure I was hitting the pace I needed.
I toed the line very shaky, but excited.
In any race, I can usually tell how it's all gonna go within 3 laps. My legs are sharp and light, or heavy and my breathing labored.
Today was a sharp day. I was filled with purpose. Every step was light and swift. Mike's voice told me I was hitting my first laps at exactly 75 seconds. I was on.
In every race, there is a moment of decision. What you decide to do when the pain begins to really set in determines the result at the finish line.
Do I ease the pain by sticking on this side of the threshold? Or do I lean into it until I get the chills?
You should all know that Molly Seidel is now the darling of the running world, and I had the first crush on her. She pulled up next to me when she saw me slipping for a second at the 'decision point,' said “come on Makenna, we’re going.”
I felt a huge ball of fire in my chest, and I knew it then: there was no way I was finishing the race without a qualifying time.
It was only later that I learned Molly had "warmed up" with a 5-mile tempo workout before the race, but at that moment, she was my guardian angel. I crossed the line just behind her with a time of 32:02.
I heard Mike screaming his head off for me, and I started dry sobbing. Mike handed Kenny Lou to me, and I was whole. Everything I ever wanted, on this track in this moment.
That night I stayed up past my usual bedtime of 9:30, and not only because we were on the west coast. Mike and I were over the moon. I was going to the Olympic Trials.
The Olympic Trials and Beyond
Oregon was hot. A massive heatwave covered the city, and our Airbnb didn't have A/C.
I showed up to the start a little underprepared - all the top athletes were wearing ice vests. I had a wet towel around my neck.
I loved every boiling-hot second of the race. I had no expectations of making the team, but soaked in the magnificence of it all.
My family, my husband, my daughter were there, I'd be going to start the paperwork later on to sign a pro deal with ASICS... Everything I'd dreamed of was coming true.
I finished in 14th place in the biggest 10k field the Trials has ever seen.
It was a scene this person could only close her eyes and dream about.
If only I could go back to give her the smallest hint of what waited on the other side of those mountains of shame and disappointment. If only I could hug her in the middle of another half gallon of ice cream to tell her who she’d become.
But that’s not how Story works. That’s not how reality works. That’s not how faith and hope work.
There she is, in a parallel universe, just cut from the team, and feeling like everything is gone. In reality - the reality she’d learn to bend - everything is ahead.
My Story, Continued
My story is not finished. I'm still in the very middle. The slightest tilt could take me back to the person I’m constantly trying to improve upon.
In the last few months, the plot’s antagonism has come at me with unprecedented force, and I’m now faced with the question posed to me:
Who are you now, and who will you be?
I’m having to decide, right now, whether I’ll revert back to the person I was in college, or whether my character has solidified enough to fully adopt this new theory of control, this new reality.
Now, I’ll ask you the same thing. Who are you? What is the stuff your character’s made of? And are you willing to look reality hard in the face, and bend it to reflect who you want to become?
You’re the women this world needs. Please. Acknowledge your coldest, hardest reality, and then change it.