The next morning we woke up around 8, ate a very cool breakfast of "Nike Waffles" and made our way to our first preview of Glendoveer. We entered the athlete village, got our lockers, stretched, hydrated and ate as we waited for everyone to arrive. Once everyone was there, we sat down for a course overview before heading out on the course for a preview. The course was beautiful and in pristine conditions and I knew times were going to be very fast. However, the rain on Friday night had other plans for the next morning. I ran with one of my coaches Jason Scott for my first 3.1 as we broke down the course and figured out what I needed to do the next day. My last couple miles I ran with my new friend Judson Greer from Texas. We did a couple strides and I put in some good turnover on the final 2 hills.
I went back to the athlete village, got my stuff, grabbed lunch and headed back to the hotel. Once at the hotel, we showered, cleaned up our rooms and headed back to HQ for some more fun. When we returned to HQ, our Nike friends from the day before asked us if we would like to try on some prototypes. Obviously, we said yes and headed upstairs, past the Leche Lounge (don't ask), and into a little area where we were able to see the new shoes. Sadly, we didn't get to see the new AlphaFly's but we did get to try on and run in 2 unreleased prototypes that will release in the next 2 years. After trying on the shoes and giving our feedback, we headed back to the NYC parking garage to attempt our trick shot some more. FINALLY, I made the shot… but no one was recording. I blame Graham for this. After hanging in the athlete lounge some more, we headed to the professional athlete seminar. Thank god they decided to run as their job because they COULD NOT make it as comedians. This was probably the most boring and overhyped part of the trip. We then made our way to dinner where we ate with Bowerman Track Club Athlete Ryan Hill, a US Champion and world championship medalist. We then went back to the hotel to get ready for our big morning of racing.
Race day was here! I woke up, ate my routine 2 blueberry bagels and got on the bus to ride to Glendoveer. As I stretched and warmed up, I was very nervous, something that hasn't happened in my last year of racing. I knew it was going to be very muddy since the course was now in terrible conditions. I knew I had a shot and all I had to do was execute my game plan. We went through athlete introductions, made our way to the line, and got ready to go. I was excited to race and I knew it was going to be a lot of fun, despite the 35 degree weather, pouring rain and excessive amounts of mud. The gun went off and there we went! Some poor racing on my part took place and soon enough, I was across the finish line.
Despite my slow time, it was the fastest race of my life. Everything went by so fast and I was definitely not expecting that. I was disappointed in my finish but I told myself I would be happy with the result regardless. I TRIED to clean the mud off, changed clothes, and headed back out to talk to some coaches and watch the girl's race. Once I had my own race off my mind, I had an amazing time! I cheered for all my new friends and almost witnessed one of the coolest upsets of all time. After the race, we went back to the athlete village, stretched and packed up, and watched as Graham pursued a "lady friend." We sadly watched him be unsuccessful on attempt 1, but later that day, he got a follow back on Instagram. So, the question we ask now for Graham is, when are you going to shoot your shot? Harvard and Michigan are not that far apart. *Hint Hint*. We left Glendoveer to head back to Embassy Suites to eat a massive lunch. I had chicken tenders, mac and cheese, grilled chicken, a salad, 2 Voo Doo Donuts (aka the greatest donut shop on Earth), lemonade and a huge thing of ice cream with M&M's, fudge, Oreo's and chocolate syrup on it. Finally, I got to take a shower and get ready to go back to Nike Headquarters. When we returned back to HQ, we hung out in the Athlete lounge and watched as runners miserably failed at singing karaoke.
Everyone was much more energetic now that the race was out of the way and everyone was ready to have a good time. We played ping pong and ate snacks before going in for a motivational speech. I wish I could tell you what the speech was about but sadly I took an hour nap during it. I assume the speech was very good. We then headed to dinner for one last time where we had Chinese. Then, we went to closing ceremonies where they recognized all the top athletes and regions from the race. It was super cool to see everyone's hard work paying off and despite being disappointed I didn't reach my goal of top 10, I was very glad to see a lot of my new friends make it instead. As closing ceremonies ended, we headed back to the hotel for the big dance. The dance was very boring at first but then things took a twist when kids started wrestling and dancing. There was a giant mosh pit, crowd surfing and surprisingly, pretty good music. The night ended up being very fun and I'm pretty sure I have never seen Graham sweat more. He was in the mosh pit the whole night going crazy and we all had a blast. Finally, it was time to head up and pack for our early morning the next day. In the morning, we said our goodbyes, jumped on our flight, and came home.
NXN was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I am so thankful for the opportunity to race on the national scale. I have already set my goal to come back and win it next year and improve on my disappointing finish from this year. The gear, the trip, the food and the sights were truly amazing but nothing has saddened me more than leaving all of my new best friends. I think all of us runners know that no one in our school, city, or state, besides our fellow runners, care about what we go out and do every day. They don't understand the countless hours we train, the endless miles we run, and the sacrifices we give up so that we can dedicate everything to this sport. However, at NXN we were all 1 family. We all respected each other's craft and we all bonded because everyone there is just like you. They love this sport, they love the fight, and they love to race. It did not matter that we were competing against one another or that we live thousands of miles apart. What mattered was the sportsmanship and camaraderie towards one another. Everything about NXN was amazing, but nothing will compare to the friends and memories I made with my fellow runners. Thank you to everyone who has supported me to make this trip possible and I hope that next year I will be able to head back up to Portland and represent GA once more. Thanks Nike, for the trip of a life time!
P.S. Never give up! I have sat at home the past 5 years in a row and read the NXN experience of other athletes, dreaming and hoping that one day I would be able to make it just like them. I watched Hayden Tullos, Sam Bowers, Nick Yanek, and Ellie Hall all describe their amazing trip to Portland year after year. I said that one day, I would make it too. This year was my year, but next year could be yours! Always keep fighting because one day, you could experience something just as crazy as this! Keep working, keep grinding, and never stop running.