Running for Northern Arizona University

Runner’s Tribe Journal by Mel Townsend

Photo by Holly Mandarich, courtesy of The Lumberjack.

Running for Northern Arizona University has been an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I get asked very often how I ended up at NAU, a relatively small university located in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Outside of the world of distance running, it’s really not that well known. When I was looking to go to school in the US, I was really after a big change. I wanted to go somewhere that was going to put me out of my comfort zone while teaching me how to be the best athlete and student I can be. I got in contact with Coach Heins as I was finishing up high school at Haileybury College in 2011. I had been told that a few Australian athletes (Dave McNeill, Ben Ashkettle, and Matt Coloe) had been to NAU and had really positive experiences, so I reached out to the Athletic department and after a bit of negotiating was very lucky to be able to grab the offer I was after.

Aside from being away from friends and family for months at a time, the biggest challenge I have had to face studying overseas is learning how to balance training, schoolwork, a social life, and a part-time job. Which if I am being completely honest, I’m still not sure I have mastered! Juggling so many things is exceptionally difficult, but I’m the type of person that works well when I have a schedule or routine, so as long as I’m organized and plan my days in advance it works out okay! I think for me, being so busy and constantly on the go helps me to avoid getting homesick, which is obviously something that can be pretty difficult for any international student. Most teachers are also very accommodating to athletes because they understand how busy we are, so if you have to miss a test or whatever because of travel, they are always willing to work with you to make it up, which makes life a lot easier!

2016 T&F Big Sky conference Champions: NAU

An average day in my life at NAU is pretty simple. I usually will wake up around 6-6.30am and have a quick breakfast before heading out on a short morning jog or team gym session. When I return I have a big breakfast and head out to class or work (or both), until afternoon practice. At afternoon practice we would either have an easy run along one of the hundred beautiful trails Flagstaff has to offer, or if we have a threshold, long interval type workout, or hills we would usually head to Buffalo Park. After practice we all have our own little things we do, maybe some core, roll out, an ice bath, or see the athletic trainers to deal with whatever niggles we have. After practice, I’ll head home and cook dinner, get any homework I have done, and try to get to bed around 9pm.

Mel Townsend: NCAA D-1 Women’s Cross Country Championships

My favourite type of workout at NAU is anything that is endurance based, which is probably why I bought into Coach Heins training so quickly. Being at 7000ft I definitely struggled when I first started training in Flagstaff, and also because the training was so different to what I was used to at home. However, once I got going I learnt to love the sport so much more than I did before. Although my first progression run my freshman year was a little traumatizing and I’m pretty sure a part of my soul is still left out at Bellemont from that day, I would have to say that progression runs are my favourite workout. A normal progression run for me while I have been at NAU would be 10-13 miles where the first half is a normal easy run, and the second half we try to drop 10-15 seconds per mile until the finish.

Big Sky Conference champions, NAU.

As I am coming to the end of my career at NAU I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the highs and the lows, and working out how every experience has shaped me as an athlete and a person. In a sport that can seem so lonely a lot of the time, I feel very fortunate to be able to look back and recognize that nearly every single one of my ‘highs’ has been a team experience in some way. I think one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had at NAU is putting myself on the start line when I’m not ready or things aren’t perfect and just having to call on mental strength to convince myself that I am ready because my team needs me to be. Having a sense of responsibility while running, for me, always made it a lot harder to give up, and I am so grateful for the memories I have of the last 5 years competing for something more than myself.