By Will Geiken

It was quite the fall. Building off the spring that I had, I was hoping to drop some serious time in cross country, and I ended up surprising myself with some of the results. But it didn’t feel like it was going to go that way in August.

After starting back up with running in late July, I was a little too aggressive on getting into the hills and not aggressive enough on taking care of myself. As a result I developed plantar fasciitis and had to do some running with all the fun taken out of it, which is how I think of aqua jogging. Fortunately, my delayed proactivity worked, and I was free of pain after only a few weeks. But that wasn’t the hardest part of August.

During August, my aunt, Linda Gill, passed after battling with cancer for almost two years. Without getting too far into it, she is a remarkable person who I admire and love. In addition to being my caring aunt, she has also been one of my mentors in running, and I’ve learned a lot about competing through talking with her and observing the example that she set. After being diagnosed, she created wrist bands imprinted with the motto “Toughen the f*** up,” and proceeded to do everything from getting in daily runs to hiking Half Dome all while undergoing treatment. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to match her spirit, but I’m grateful to her, in addition to many other reasons, for showing me how hard a person can fight to live the life they want to.

So that was the start of my season: coming off injury and processing one of the hardest facts of life. Naturally I ran headfirst into everything with reckless intent. I’ll admit that part of what was driving me was finding escape in particularly draining efforts. But, on a more positive note, I was also enjoying running fast with my teammates and spending time doing what I love. I’ve been told that racing is a celebration of fitness, and those workouts are all little pre-games beforehand. 

I didn’t do a whole lot of pre-gaming though, and after just one workout I decided to run my first race at the Golden Gate meet. The result of this plan was that I ended up leading the first 800m and proceeded to be thoroughly clobbered by the field for the remainder of the race. The Aggies got the win though, so all was well. From there I had five days, which included one additional workout, before the next race in Sacramento. For that race I waited until after the first mile to lead. Shortly thereafter, three younger, and on that day, smarter runners proceeded to light me up and left me finishing a close, but not close enough, fourth.

Having done some learning, I made a point of sitting behind the leaders at the start of the next weekend’s meet at Garin Park. Unfortunately, the leaders slowed down going into the hills, which is a big no-no for me, and I was back to leading within the first mile. Fortunately, I had gained enough fitness at this point that hammering away at the hills left me alone at the front of the race all the way through to the finish.

I followed a similar plan for the Aggie Open several weeks later, and because there were no hills, it wasn’t until the halfway point that I lead. From there, Will Reyes and I went back and forth before I pulled away during the final mile. I was starting a bit of a streak, and all I was doing was putting my head down and running hard. And it was working out well for our team results too. Sweeping the meet that honors Matt Yeo is a nice, if small, celebration of a valued member of the Aggie family. 

A few weeks later my streak continued in Marin, where tight turns and aggressive front running helped me hold off Scott and provided us with a fifth and final regular season team win that helped clinch the season for the Aggies. However, all streaks must end, and PA’s was an entirely different race.

I’d like to think that had I not gotten sick on the Wednesday prior to the PA's, I would have been racing with the trio of Strava runners who finished just ahead of me. I do not think, though, that I would have been able to race with Scott on that day, under any circumstances. His win was a Tour de Force, and seeing a race like that lit a little fire that kept me focused for Nationals.

So, when the joyous occasion that is Club Nationals came, I was ready. On the pre-race jog Phil and I talked about what race strategies we were considering before Phil let me know what his final verdict was. Get out hard but behind the leaders, roll the stragglers up during the second lap, do your thing on the final lap. This wasn’t my exact strategy before our talk, but when Hank Aaron is telling you how to hit a baseball, you change your swing. Cheers to Phil for setting me up well, and although my pace was a good bit slower, the race plan worked for both of us. I was also aided by the fact that I was repeatedly reminding myself that running in snow is a lot easier that running with cancer.

On that mixed note, it was a highly successful season, both for myself and the HOKA ONE ONE Aggies, and it was a joy to take part in. I’d also like to think that each of the races, in addition to being celebrations of fitness, were small celebrations of the impactful life that my aunt lead. I wouldn’t have had any of the races that I did without my supportive family, my excellent teammates, and the helpful advice and guidance of Joe and the many knowledgable people I’ve been lucky enough to know. I’m grateful to you all.

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