“Pursuing Greatness” by Shelby Houlihan

I knew since I was 5 years old, when my mom started putting me in one mile cross country races that I wanted to run. My dream ever since then has been to compete in the Olympics and to be one of the best female runners in the world. No one ever told me that this is what I should do, it has just always been inside of me and I’ve always had this feeling that I’m supposed to do something and be somebody. Whether this is God’s will or my own, this dream has always been one I hope to achieve. I first started training seriously for track when I was in 8th grade and competed in national competitions in the 800m. My freshman year of high school was a lot of fun but it was kind of scary to be racing these girls that were older than me such as Katie Flood, Ashley Decker, the Dinsdale twins, or Collete Gnade. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I really fell in love with this sport. Winning both the 1500m and the 800m at Drake was a real breakthrough point for me and made me realize that I can compete with any of these girls. That summer, I competed at Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, NC and ran what is so far the fastest race of my life. Coming in 3rd at 2:07.35, I set the Iowa All-time high school record in the 800m. Even as I am writing this right now, I am still trying to break that PR and have come very close several times. My freshman through my junior year of high school, I had the privilege of racing some of the best girls in the country and I am very thankful for those opportunities. It has helped me experience high-level competition at a young age and not even having to go to a national meet to do it. Those High School State meets in both cross-country and track and the Drake Relays were pretty much national meets in themselves. Even though it was an awesome opportunity, it still sucks to lose, even if it is to some of the top girls in the country. I broke out again during my senior year in high school, when all of these girls had graduated. Since I didn’t have the same type of competition I had throughout the years, I decided to make a new strategy, to race the clock and break as many records as I could. After coming in 3rd at the State meet in cross country to Katie Flood and Ashley Decker for the past 3 years, I was finally able to win that State title and I did it running one of the fastest times I’ve ever run. Although I wasn’t able to beat Katie’s record at the State meet, I was pretty happy with that first place finish. During track season, I changed my training a little bit and decided to put in some mileage. Before that year, I had been doing little to no mileage and so I started doing 9-mile long runs on the weekend and a couple 30 min runs during the week. This helped tremendously even though I was only doing maybe 20 miles a week. During my senior track season, I was able to win the 3000m, 1500m, and 800m at the Drake relays and the 1500m, 400m, 800m, and the 4×4 at State. Even without the competition of my past opponents, that year was probably the most successful. Throughout that year, I was trying to get Katie’s Iowa All-Time 1500m record of 4:29 and came very close a couple times at Drake and State. It wasn’t until that summer at USA’s that I was finally able to break it in the 1500m prelims with a 4:26. Now, I am running for Arizona State University and have completed my first cross-country and indoor track season. It’s been kind of a hard adjustment because every race is high-level competition but I think I’ve been handling it pretty well so far. Cross country in college is very different because you have to run a 6k instead of a 4k and because there are so many girls around you almost all of the time. My goal throughout cross-country season was to race my best and to be the top freshman in the country. During cross-country season, I finished 8th at the PAC 12 meet and 12th at the Regional meet and was the top freshman in both races. My team and I made it to Nationals, which was in Terre Haute, Indiana. Nationals wasn’t as successful as I had hoped it would be for me but in the big picture, I still did a pretty good job. In a race where I had hoped to finish in the top 40, I finished 93rd and was the 8th freshman. Despite the bad race, I was awarded the PAC 12 Newcomer of the Year award. I’ve also just finished my first college indoor track season and it was pretty successful for the most part. It’s been hard because I kind of feel like that scared high school freshman girl again. Even though I am lacking some confidence, I’ve been running the fastest I’ve ever run before. I’ve only run the 800m twice so far and was very close to my PR, coming in 3rd at Texas A&M running a 2:07.58. The remainder of this season, I’ve been focusing on the mile and trying to make it to Indoor Nationals. The automatic qualifying time was roughly 6 seconds faster than I’ve ever run before, a 4:37 and up to that point I had only run a 4:43 once my senior year. I had three chances to run 6 seconds faster and my first and second attempts were in Seattle where I ran a 4:41.26 and a 4:41.58. My last chance was at Notre Dame and I came in 3rd running a 4:39.56. This was a very bittersweet race because I ran a 2 second PR but had I run it a little smarter and kicked earlier, I believe I would’ve won because that 4:39 felt way too easy. Had I ran a little smarter, I would be in Nampa, Idaho running Indoor Nationals right now instead of the second place finisher in that Notre Dame race (she got the last spot). Despite the ups and downs of this indoor season, I am ready for outdoor season! My goal is to make it to Nationals and to run a 4:12 for the 1500m. The 1500m ‘A’ standard for the Olympic Trials is 4:12.93 and the Olympic Trials is what I’m shooting for. This is kind of a high expectation considering my PR is a 4:26 but I believe I’m capable of it. Who knows, maybe my Olympic dream is closer than I thought!