“Your Iron is too low.”
These are among the worst words a runner can hear.
In the past few years running has become a passion of mine. Racing, and knowing I’ve given my team everything I have, is one of the most beautiful feelings that one can feel.
But at the beginning of this cross country season, it all was taken away from me.
I still remember the first race of the season. I wasn’t running to win, I was just trying to finish. In my first few races girls that I could normally beat were easily passing me and I could do nothing to stop it. My body ignored any of my commands to pick up the pace. My goal to make it to state again, disappeared. Dreams of running in college evaporated.
Not being able to be free in running began to affect who I was as a person. I could think of nothing else but about the dreadful feeling of concrete legs.
Schoolmates would ask me, “Do you think you’ll make it to state again?”
Before the answer would’ve been an immediate, “Yes,” but my answer had been reduced to a dejected, “I don’t think so.”
Despite this, my schoolmates still told me, “I know you can do it.”
However, their eternal optimism only served to exasperate me. Running had become a pain instead of a salvation. I asked my coach, Ivan Huff, what he thought was wrong. He blamed it on the lack of summer milage due to my shin splint injury, which wasn’t entirely wrong.
But after my race at Clovis, when I was a grand total of two minutes and 42 seconds behind my personal record, I knew something was really wrong.
“Your iron is too low.”
The words still ring in my ears. To the doctor, it didn’t mean much. He’d just have to tell me to put more iron in my diet with “red meat and leafy greens,” but for me, it was a death sentence. It can take months to recover from an iron problem. I would never recover in time to make it to state.
Despite these setbacks, there were still benevolent forces in my life. A day after the Clovis race, alumnus Maddi Moore called me to let me know that she’d help me get through this. Before every race, my teammate, freshman Tori Pugh, would look at me and tell me “you can do this” and there was complete confidence in her eyes. Confidence in me: the girl with shin splint problems and low iron.
It took me a while to get through my skull that I am strong. Part of me didn’t want to believe this because I didn’t want to let myself, or anyone else, down. Eventually my races became a series of massive improvements. Each time the brick wall was held at bay for longer. With every step I grew in strength.
I asked Coach Hallanan if he thought I could make it to state, he said “If the old Annie comes back, you may have a chance.”
Determination immediately grew roots within me. I was going to do this.
The team and I made it to CIF Prelims, and from there CIF Finals, where we qualify for state.
The night before, Coach Ewing read the team a race simulation that causes us to relax and imagine racing. It ended with “you have completed your goal.” My blood rushed with determination at these words, I had to complete my goal.
Our race was the first that morning at the infamous Mount SAC. Pressure was heavy on my shoulders, but I shook it off. Coach Ewing’s words from the race simulation ran through my mind repeatedly. In order to qualify, I had to be in the top 20, but out of the top 20 I had to be in the top five individuals. I was ranked 29th before the race, and 9th among individuals.
The gun went off and 119 girls surged their way forward, all with the same goal: to qualify for state.
As I ran words became a mosaic in my head. Our team prayer, our team cheer, my teammates’ words of encouragement, Ewing’s simulation, everything, swirled in my head. Their words became much more than words; they were a mantra chanted in my head that pushed me on through the pain I felt going up those notorious hills.
I told myself that I was strong, that I deserved this, that nothing could hold me down. I felt free. My legs were my own, fueled by encouragement of others.
When I heard I took 18th I knew my chances were slim, but deep down something told me that I had qualified. I had worked for this.
After an excruciating 20 minutes of waiting for results, I found out that the team had taken 10th, three places shy of state, but my name was highlighted in a neon yellow with a ‘q’ next to it.
I qualified. I placed 18th and was fifth out of individuals.
It was freezing the morning of the state meet on the chalk starting line. To the left of me were 190 other girls, the best in the state. The gun went off, and I felt it in my bones, I was me again. I can’t say it wasn’t painful, but it was a race that freed me from all chains.
I beat my personal record from last year at the state meet by 20 seconds, and when compared to the last race at Clovis, I ran three minutes and two seconds faster.
Coach Huff looked at me afterwards and said, “You’re one tough cookie.”
And those four words meant everything. Though simple, they summed up my rollercoaster of a season.