Last year, winning an NCAA Championship and qualifying for my first USA team going to World Championships was simply amazing. What many people didn't know was that from April of that year through Worlds in August, I had been struggling with a hamstring injury and taking anti-inflammatories in order to get through the pain and compete on the world stage. It wasn’t until September, after taking time off and stopping the medication, that I realized how much damage I had really done to my body. While I have no regrets about the decisions I made with my coaches to continuing training and competing, I did have to pay the price all fall and winter. It took me a long time and a lot of doctors to get back to running. With the help of USATF, I went to Indianapolis a few times to see the professionals at St. Vincent Sports Performance. Dr. Todd Arnold, Darrell Barnes, and Dr. Joel Kary lovingly gave me the TLC my body was needing. By Christmas I was logging a few miles. My coach, Jerry Schumacher, got excited with my progress and we decided to go to altitude camp in Flagstaff, AZ with the rest of my team from Jan-Feb.
Meanwhile, my boyfriend Kevin and I bought an adorable condo in the heart of NW Portland and moved in on New years eve! He was still living and working in San Francisco, but coming to Portland as much as he could. We have been dating since high school and have plenty of practice with the long-distance relationship!
The January altitude stint was my second one with the team (we went before World Champs as well) and it was a tough way to get into shape! With a TON of love and support from my teammates who relentlessly worked to keep my spirits up, I started to feel like I was getting into shape a month later. Another plus of this camp was that we were a 2 hour drive from Phoenix, where Dr. John Ball practices. John helped my body stay tuned up while I was adjusting to training again. I know I wouldn’t have made it through that trip without him.
When we got back to Portland I did my longest long run to date! 14 miles! My right hip had been feeling tight and sore for a couple days, but I pushed through and logged the miles. Two days later I could barely walk and had to cross train for the rest of the week. Luckily, my little sister Erin was visiting me for her spring break and was there to cheer me up when I needed to take my mind off being sidelined again. After Erin left, it really set in that I was seriously injured and the Olympic Trials were looming. After 2 weeks of no running, we got an MRI to get more information. The results showed bone damage in the head of my femur... no bueno. I didn’t run for 6 weeks, then went back to Phoenix with my teammate Emily to see Dr. Ball. I vividly remember sitting in John Ball’s office looking at the calendar and counting 10 weeks until my race at the Olympic Trials. 10 weeks! It simply was not enough time. Devastated, I kept crushing the cross training as I had been all spring, including 2-3 hours a day of swimming, aqua jogging, spinning, and elliptical. Those were some dark days for sure. Wish I could say I never gave up on my Olympic dream, but at that point it seemed pretty impossible to get back into the shape I needed to be in to compete against the most stacked women’s steeple field ever.
As soon as I could run again, it was back to altitude for 7 weeks. First in Flagstaff again, then Park City, UT. Workouts were going okay, not great. My body was trying to adjust and I was pushing it as far as it would go. I got one steeple workout in over barriers my last week there.
Two weeks before the Trials I came back to Portland and things started clicking. All of a sudden running felt good again, my breathing was easy and I felt bouncy and poppy. Still battling some hip pain, but I had learned how to manage it with John’s help. My coaches, Jerry and Pascal, started saying things like “you can actually do this Colleen” and I started to believe it again. I raced a rust-buster 1500 at Stumptown Twilight just to get the wheels turning again. On a rainy evening in Portland, I went out straight to the back of a decently competitive field. After 2 laps I had passed one person to be second to last. In the last 300m of the race I started passing people and ended up barreling down the last 100m for the win! Rust=busted.
Once I got through the prelims at Hayward I started getting a really good feeling. The day of my final I ate lunch with my parents, brother Dan, and Kevin, and I remember feeling so relaxed, happy and upbeat the whole day. I had a sense of calm about what I was going to do. I had talked to my coaches about my race plan and I knew it backwards and forwards. I had done it before. I knew how it would feel and what I would tell myself when it got really hard. I had my mantra from my teammate and Olympian Amy Cragg: “I breathe in strength and breathe out weakness.” Doing my final stride outs before lining up, I heard multiple shouts of “Go Noles!” from the crowd. I looked up and just chopped and smiled. So many people had my back for this; no way was I gonna let them down.
With a lap to go I found myself in 3rd place, with no idea how close my competitors were to chasing me down. It was without a doubt the most physically and mentally challenging moment of my career so far. I was proud of myself for the way that I stuck with the race plan, went with the leaders when a strong push was made at 2k, and kept pushing even when doubt and fear crept in. According to the USATF website, I closed my last three laps in 71 seconds each, much faster than I have ever closed a steeple, and ended up with a shiny new PR of 9:21.
This story still brings tears to my eyes. The lows this year were so low, but the highs have been so high and that is simply the nature of our sport. I can't count the number of tearful, sad, and angry conversations I had with my parents and boyfriend, taking out my frustration with my injuries out on the people I love most. For these people I am extremely grateful. Along with all the doctors, chiropractors, and massage therapists in Portland, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, and Park City who worked so hard to help my body do what I ask of it, I wouldn't be here without all of them. This has been an amazing journey that I am so grateful to be on! Thank you for following and supporting me on my Road to Rio!