Salute To Seniors: Caroline Daniel (Harpeth Hall School)

In her own words, Harpeth Hall School's Caroline Daniel recaps her high school running career and journey below.

They say that runners are a special type of crazy. And I agree.  When I first stepped into Harpeth Hall as a new freshman, I was stone-cold mentally stable.

But now I'm that special type of insane.

I was first bit by the running bug in the fall of my freshman year.  I was the classic case of a girl who loved soccer, but continued to run just because her parents wanted her to.  But as the days grew shorter, I began to recognize the undeniable joy that could come from painting dry grass with spike-marks.  I began to love the objectivity that running offered-no longer would I be overlooked because of my size or strength.  I could just run and let the numbers do the talking.  

So on one fateful January day, I slammed my muddy soccer cleats into my mom's Honda accord and said with burning teen angst that I was done playing the beautiful game.  

For the next year, I entered the honeymoon phase of my running career.  I enjoyed every workout, every long run, every race-it was all so electrifying and new.  I watched with bright eyes as my times dropped by seconds, even minutes.  As any newlywed does, I assumed this bliss would continue forever.  

But during the state cross country meet of my sophomore year, I was forced to snap back to reality.  

After a season filled with endless endorphins and PRs, I entered the state meet confident that I would finish in the top 5.  And, with barely more than a quarter mile to go, that vision was becoming a reality: I was holding on to fifth place strongly, with a decent gap behind me.  But as I entered the "valley of death" before the final hill of the infamous Steeplechase course, I could tell something was wrong.  My legs were quickly losing their spike-induced spring, my arms were being injected with an electric numbness, and my lungs were refusing to fill themselves with oxygen.  I felt as if I was trying to scream underwater-no one could hear or see the pain that I was going through, but I was still slowly and dutifully drowning.  

For the next few minutes, I ran as more of a spectator than an athlete.  I watched hopelessly as competitors filed neatly past me, taunting me with light legs and loving lungs.  After a record-breaking season, I finished the state meet barely even making the podium and found out a couple of weeks later that I had exercise-induced asthma.

Now equipped with a trusty inhaler, I entered my winter training phase ready to set records in the track season.  But once again, it was not to be.  My workouts felt impossible, my long runs lost their fun, and my times stagnated.  I found out I had come down with the flu but, even more damaging, I had come down with the running blues-that painful disease that comes from your efforts not being rewarded.  And to top it all off, I finished in a dreadful last in the state 1600, a solid ten seconds behind the rest of the field.  Although I wasn't quite far enough behind to get that condescending applause, I was far enough behind to feel my goals slipping away as I struggled to hold on to my love of the sport.  

But even though I once again took the proverbial L, I was determined to bounce back.  I built my mileage up to the highest it had ever been over the next summer.  I read magazines and articles like they were the Bible and wrote in my journal religiously. Although I was often feeling drained and lacking in motivation, I continued to push myself through it, assuming I would eventually regain my classic bounce.  But soon enough I began suffering from debilitating migraines.  After each headache, I would attempt to resume my training the next day, only to feel like a thief had robbed me of my energy and my passion.  

As my junior cross country season progressed, I failed to come within even 45 seconds of my personal record.  I was watching as others continued to improve, all the while desperately wondering why my efforts were not being rewarded.  And once again in the state meet of that year, my lungs closed along with my opportunity to regain my rightful place on that podium as I ran a time that many of my easy runs had surpassed.  

I left the fall of 2015 feeling as if I would never set another personal record.  The sport I had lovingly adopted began to feel cold and foreign.  My prior bliss was being replaced with hurt, grief, and rejection.  I began to wonder if I had made the right decision, dropping my Nike cleats for Saucony spikes, trading field sprints for long runs, adopting that searing burn of lactic acid.  

But soon after that I realized my problem.  I was letting running own me.  I had let the sport I loved become a domineering partner that was causing me more harm than good.  Over the two weeks of rest that followed my junior cross country season, I set out to put my priorities in line.  Instead of fervently reading Runner's World, I turned to the Bible.  I still wrote in my training journal, but I also pursued my love of creative writing, turning my trials as a runner into award-winning stories.  I still got my sleep and ate my veggies, but I spent necessary time with friends and healed relationships that had suffered.  Upon my first run back from that break, I could tell the old Caroline was back.

That following spring, I was blessed with a comeback that only faith and balance could have produced.  As I began to search for colleges to attend, to debate whether or not running was in my future, I was quickly given an answer.  My times finally returned to and surpassed what they had formerly been.  I was once again feeling bouncy and quick.  I could run long and steady or short and fast.  Most importantly, I once again felt happy to step on the starting line and confident that I could accomplish my goals.  

That's when I knew that running would walk with me into the next chapter of my life.  

Now, a year later, I am a high school graduate, soon to be running for Belmont University and more excited than ever to take on the future trials of miles.  But this year has been far from easy.  I have experienced horrible setbacks-from fracturing my heel in the middle of my final cross country season to contracting an illness that led me to miss most of my final track season.  I have found myself in tears multiple times after having running yanked from me like a rotten tooth.  I have faced heartbreak, anger, grief, and disbelief-but because of these setbacks, I have had plenty of time to discover what running really means to me.  

As I look back on the past four years of my life, I wonder at how and why I have continued to run despite the countless hurdles that have been thrown my way.  I can truthfully say that nothing other than an unconditional love for the sport has kept me lacing up my shoes and heading out the door.  

High school running has brought me my greatest trials and my greatest victories.  It has brought me everlasting friendships with both teammates and competitors.  It has brought me sleepless nights spent in old hotels and Olive Garden pasta nights.  It has brought me elation, frustration, and every emotion in between.

Over the past four years, running has genuinely made me a better person.  Because of running, I have grown much stronger in my faith.  I have gained a quiet confidence that has prepared me for every challenge in my life.  I have developed resilience, respect, and finely chiseled calves.  I have spread smiles, made memories, and felt so much love from those surrounding me.   

Running, I will have you in the hottest days of summer and I will hold you in the coldest days of winter.  I will strap on my Mizuno Wave Riders for intervals or tempo, for better or for worse, for successes and for failures.  You have been with me from stress fractures to endorphin rushes, in sickness and in health.  

And for all of that, I say I do.  

I started high school as an angsty soccer player.  And now I just publicly wrote wedding vows to running.

I'd say you could call me that special type of crazy.