My name is Ellie Abrahamson and I am a professional long-distance runner for Atlanta Track Club Elite.
Up until my senior year of college, I never thought about running professionally. I loved how running provided me with a “relaxed mind” and “feel-good emotions,” but we didn’t always get along, especially in high school. I constantly compared myself to my teammates, put excessive pressure on myself to perform well in races and let my nerves get the best of me.
I often compared myself to my younger sister, Emma. Emma had raw talent. She worked hard, but she also knew how to race. She always raced well. I, on the other hand, did not.
I wasn’t the racer. I was the workout warrior. I rocked the workouts. I hung with Emma and my other teammates. I led repeats. I felt strong.
But for some reason, I couldn’t rock races like I rocked workouts. I couldn’t hang with Emma and my other teammates. I fell behind. I felt weak.
Although I struggled significantly with my race mentality in high school, I managed to pull off fast enough times in the 1600m and 3200m to run at the D1 level. I went on a few recruiting trips, ultimately choosing to run for Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
At the beginning, running for Wake Forest felt exciting. It felt like a fresh start, a do-over, a second chance. I finally felt free from comparison. I couldn’t wait to prove that I could run fast.
My short-term plan to prove that I could run fast quickly became long-term after my first competitive cross-country race, the 2013 Paul Short Invitational. I placed 169th…just a few dozen places shy of where I expected to finish.
Many more humbling cross-country and track seasons followed that first cross-country season. I gradually improved throughout the years—but not without ups and downs. I made a lot of mistakes. I ran too fast on my easy days. I went out too much. I battled injury. I neglected sleep. Once, I even ran 12 miles without insoles in my shoes (it’s a long story).
In addition to making mistakes, I put myself through a lot of stress, which hurt my running performances. When I wasn’t running, I was working, trying to keep up with my endless to-do list of required reading, papers, and group meetings. I’d go home for break and my family would make comments about how pale, ill, and/or malnourished I looked. Stress didn’t suit me well.
Through the mistakes I made and stress I carried, I ran 9:45 for 3K, 10:38 for 3K steeple, and 17:43 for 5K by the the end of my junior year—all of which were improved times from my high school years, but I still wished to lower them all before I graduated from college.
In between my junior and senior years, my team got a new coach. To be honest, I wasn’t stoked about it at first. I had already built a trusting relationship with my previous coach of three years, and getting a new coach as a senior felt unfair. I had no idea if I would like her. I had no idea how my training would change. I had no idea if the training would even work for me. I felt like a freshman again.
Despite my wariness, I bought into the new program. I gave my new coach a chance. I kept my expectations low during cross-country because I had just come off Accutane, a powerful acne medication known for its adverse side effects, which can include dizziness, muscle aches and soreness, mood swings, and decreased endurance and recovery.
I went through a lot of physical pain during cross-country as my body simultaneously tried to recover from nine months of Accutane and adjust to the new training regimen. The workouts hurt—a lot. My new coach increased my mileage slowly, but I started running longer tempos, fartleks, and hill repeats than I had ever run before.
I didn’t accomplish anything super impressive by the end of cross-country. At this point, I began to question my new coach and her training. My body hurt, and I had only managed to match my 6K PR of 21:13 from my junior year.
Nonetheless, I stuck with the program. I kept running the longer workouts. My coach assured me that I would eventually start to feel better as long as I continued to put the work in.
I believed her. I didn’t have to; I was on my way out. I only had a few months of college left, and my scholarship wasn’t going to increase. But I did anyway.
Right when I began to accept the constant fatigue, my body switched on me. Over winter break, I began to feel more effortless on tempo runs, speedier in track workouts and stronger running hills.
I didn’t know what was going on. I had felt bad for so long that feeling good felt strange, almost foreign. I started to think that maybe the new training had finally kicked in, that maybe my body had finally adjusted to the longer workouts…but I still wasn’t sure.
I wasn’t sure until February 25, 2017, the day I ran the 3000m at the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference Indoor Championships. I had just managed to sneak into the ‘fast’ heat, so I felt extremely nervous going into the race. I didn’t know if I’d be able to hang with the leaders, but I was going to try my best.
The gun went off and I found myself in the middle of the pack. The race went out conservatively for the first mile, so I felt comfortable. We hit 2K, and I waited for the pain to come. It didn’t, so I moved up to the leaders. At just 800m to go, I was in the top five. I couldn’t believe it. I was running alongside NCAA D1 All-Americans…and I felt good. At 600m to go, I distinctly remember thinking, I could win this. I saw my coach, trainer and teammates all yelling at me, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I was in the zone. At 150m remaining, we started kicking. I kicked as hard as I could and finished in fourth place in 9:22, a 23-second PR from my junior year. I didn’t win the race, but I won something else that day: confidence.
After that breakthrough performance, more breakthrough races followed. I lowered my 1500m PR from 4:34 to 4:25 and my 5K PR from 17:43 to 16:01. I qualified for the NCAA D1 Outdoor Track & Field Championships for the first time, finishing seventh in a school record time of 9:56 for the 3K steeple. I left Wake Forest as a First-Team All- American, an accolade I had never thought possible just months before. In August of 2018, I signed my first professional running contract with Atlanta Track Club Elite.
I share this story to convince you that if you just keep running, you will improve. Your breakthrough will come.
I’ve seen too many athletes with potential give up on themselves and/or take shortcuts to try and run faster. The key to running faster is patience. Running takes so much patience, more than I or anyone else would like, but it’s that patience that makes that breakthrough even more special when it happens. Your breakthrough will come. Just keep running.
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