Back in 2016 was my last year ever running cross country and Track & Field. It was a bittersweet last season because I knew all of my hard work and dedication had come to an end in a competitive environment. All of the blisters, sweat, speed workouts, hill repeats, pre-race strategies, limited foods, constant hydrating, and the blazing sun felt like it now only existed in another planet and only my memories could access it. I ran at Vista Murrieta High School- a competitive D1 school with incredibly high standards and opportunities.
It all started back in 2012-2013 during my freshman year. I had ran competitively before in middle school for sixth and seventh grade and I was very good at it but unfortunately the program got canceled my eighth grade year. The summer of my freshmen year I did a running camp and I had very high expectations for myself because of the results I had gotten in the past. Unfortunately making varsity was not meant to be. I was not in a good athletic condition and the girls seemed incredibly fast for me to stay with. Our races were exactly 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) long. My times were around 21 minutes and 30 seconds which was considered average.
Sophomore year was a complete surprise. I spent all of summer camp changing everything I possibly could for the best results. My fascination for becoming varsity had me become obsessed with taking care of my body. I started going to chiropractors and physical therapists to help me prevent getting injured and I improved my diet. My workout routine changed as well all for the best. I was pushing myself to a limit where it felt like my legs would fall off but I knew I could not stop during the workouts. Our workouts consisted of mile repeats (my group had to run five sets of a mile in six minutes and ten seconds with a two minute rest between each mile), 13 mile long runs on dirt trails at the Santa Rosa Plateau, and a lot of casual seven mile distance runs in either hills or normal housing trails. My coach, Karen Candaele, was starting to notice I was standing out more from the rest of the group. The last day of summer camp before the season officially started- we were getting into our regular groups for running. Our groups were based on people who shared the same paste and times put together by our coach. As soon as varsity was about to start their watches and take off, Candaele stopped them. Everyone was watching and confused on why she did not let them start. In front of everyone, Candaele said “Wait. Valerie I want you to join them”. I could not contain my wide smile on my face when she moved me up a group. I was feeling full of adrenalin and happiness. I was on varsity and it felt nearly impossible to contain my joy.
My 5k times had dropped to nineteen minutes and my mile PR (Personal record) time for track & field had been five minutes and twenty one seconds. I thought it could not get any better. During my junior year- I was still on varsity for both sports and I had been nominated for one of the two team captains by the rest of the girls. I was putting in even more effort to the sport I loved which also required me to have a school 3.0 gpa average to be considered for captain. Then came the biggest surprise for me. I began receiving college letters and there were recruiters talking to a few girls on the varsity team including me. Everything felt like it was falling into place. My 5k times had dropped to eighteen minutes and five seconds. Then came a new transferred girl. To be polite, I will not mention her name. Lets call her Ash. Ash was an amazing runner and she had become our new number one- making me number two. But surprisingly I was okay with it. I really was. She was the sweetest girl ever and we accepted her with open arms. Or at least we thought she was. Turns out Ash had been expelled from another high school for constant bullying and threats via social media. Later, she brought the inappropriate behavior over to our highschool causing a lot of tension through the team. But she was our number one and we needed her to be ranked higher as a team for CIF and State Finals. Her and I had some altrications and our coach noticed. We were sat out from State and suspended from the team for not getting along. I was completely devastated and very angry.
My senior year I had trained harder than I had ever before. I put aside all of my anger and took it out on running. I learned through meditation how to be at peace with the past and be better in the future. The girls had nominated me again for one of the two team captains and I still had college letters and packets coming in the mail. But throughout all of my senior year, I had one true goal. I wanted to be faster than Ash. I wanted to be the first one on my team again and I wanted my revenge through running. My parents told me about a crossfit class at the other end of the Murrieta town near Winchester. Within the first day of testing it out, I knew this class would help me with strength. And it did. There was a race coming up called Woodbridge Invitational and I felt nervous. I knew Ash wes very prepared on the day of the race, and even though I was too, I felt weak around her. We started lining up on the line and and everyone got quiet. The announcer as usual was telling us the rules about false starts and what to do if someone takes off before the gun. The nerves felt as if I were about to jump off a bridge. The gun went off. I kept my eye on Ash throughout the entire race and I could not believe how close I was to her. I could hear my parents cheering for me on the sideline and I remember Ash’s parents telling her “she is right on you”. Our first mile was crazy fast. It was five minutes and twenty seven seconds. Our second mile was a little over six minutes. It was all up to that last mile. I could feel my body getting tired and I was starting to make inner peace with not passing her. But I reminded myself what I truly wanted- to come in before Ash. The last 400 meters I knew I had her. I could feel her body energy start slowing down. I knew I could outkick and pass. And I did. I crossed the finish line before and I knew my parents were very proud of me whether I got first or last place. My 5k time had been seventeen minutes and eighteen seconds, a new PR.
After Woodbridge Invitational, the rest of the season flew by fast. Ash and I had amended. But I wish I had more time to enjoy this bittersweet journey. After highschool I went to Loma Linda University for a year to begin my career as a physical therapist assistant and now (June 2018) I am at Crafton Hills College, but I constantly think back at the memories. I ran at Vista Murrieta High School- a competitive D1 school with incredibly high standards and opportunities.