Transition

It’s been quite a transition for me and my three girls the past few months. The day after Thanksgiving, we loaded all of our things in a U-Haul and moved from Flagstaff, Arizona. I’ll always think of Flagstaff as my first “home” as a grown man. It’s where Annika and I moved after college to pursue my dream of becoming a professional runner. It’s where I proposed and we started our family when Makenzie was born. It’s where we made friends that we’ll keep the rest of our lives. They welcomed us back in August of 2016 like nothing had happened since we moved to Colorado in July of 2013. It was very hard saying goodbye to all those people in November, but I had just been offered the opportunity of a lifetime; to become the Head Cross Country/Distance Coach at Sacramento State. The role gave me the chance to start my coaching career as a head distance coach at the Division I level. We get to live in beautiful Sacramento, California where we have family nearby. And I get to work alongside an amazing coaching staff, great administrative support, and a great group of college kids excited to work hard. It was a role Annika and I didn’t have to think too long about, but we knew it would bring about some challenges.

I had spent the last eight years as a professional distance runner. Over the course of those eight years, I had been blessed by wonderful financial support from my sponsors; adidas and HOKA ONE ONE. I worked with phenomenal coaches: Greg McMillan, Damon Martin, and Ben Rosario. I had run countless miles with teammates/friends/training partners who helped me keep my sanity and my love of the sport. I received endless love and support from my extended family, siblings, parents, and most of all from my amazing wife, Annika, and daughters, Makenzie and Myla. It had been such a great run (no pun intended), that when offered the Sac State coaching gig, I was greedy and wanted the best of both worlds; to coach and continue to run. I had just been offered the opportunity to run in the Boston Marathon, the most prestigious race in the world, and it’d be my first chance to run it! My new Director at Sac State, Coach Kenny McDaniel, supported me continuing to train and run professionally. When I told Coach Ben Rosario that I was taking the job, but that I still wanted to run, I was not surprised that, like always, he believed in and supported my lofty goal. We discussed how we might be able to balance this new life; juggling coaching, running, and a priority that will never waver for me: family life. I was inspired to try it based on how well my former teammate and friend, Martin Hehir, was doing at juggling medical school, running, and spending time with his family – including baby McKenna who was born this past June.

Ben and I discussed how it would be very challenging to manage my time in order to do all those things. But with Boston coming up in April, just 15 months until the Marathon Olympic Trials on February 29, 2020, and coming off of a solid marathon in Chicago in October (not to mention those eight years of professional running fitness) we thought we might be able to pull it off. The first few weeks in Sacramento were definitely hard. It was a whirlwind trying to get to know the ~20 athletes I’d be coaching, learning the ins and outs of all the behind-the-scenes protocols that I knew would be tough for me as I’d never done anything other than run and volunteer coach since I had finished college. I felt like my brain was going 100mph constantly, but it was actually nice to cram in runs in the wee hours of the morning on my treadmill, or sneak in a quick workout on Sac State’s world class track just outside my office. After those first few weeks came winter break; three weeks of life slowing back down to the pace I was accustomed to during my years as a pro. Waking up feeling rested and recovered, excited for that day’s run. Training hard, then recovering even harder by taking naps, and lounging around the house watching Netflix with my girls.

Those weeks went by fast, and in mid-January it was back to my brain working overtime, and racing the Houston Half Marathon. That race didn’t go as I had hoped. I was discouraged to not have the training I had done translate into the race, a trend I had been struggling with in other races over the past ~9 months. In the weeks following Houston I was struggling to be honest with myself over a question that I ask my athletes at Sac State, “Do you really want to do this?” Being a successful college or pro runner requires A LOT of commitment. It is NOT an undertaking for the average person. In trying to answer that question honestly, I realized that I was enjoying my own running less and less each day. I loved working with my athletes and recruiting more and more, and the “final straw” was that I realized I was dreading the thought of going to race the Boston Marathon. With all those thoughts in mind, I realized the answer to my question was, “No, I didn’t want to run professionally anymore.” In reflecting on that answer, I realized that I had set a very high standard for my running over the course of my career. I couldn’t handle the thought of knowing that I was no longer as good as I was the day before: mentally more-so than physically.

Coming to that realization I have talked about it with Annika, my parents, and last week with Coach Ben Rosario and Josh Cox, my agent. They all supported me as they’ve always done. As we’ve talked, we’ve acknowledged that these thoughts very well may pass after some time away from training at a high level. So that is why the title of this post is “transition,” not “retirement.” In the near future, I could see myself finding the fire to once again push my mind and body to its limits in running; while finding balance between coaching and family life. Or this could be it, I really don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve been able to live my life with no major regrets, blessed by continuing love and support from friends and family. This past weekend I was in Bozeman, Montana for the Big Sky Indoor Championships with the Sac State Track & Field team. Our women won the meet, with the runners I coach contributing to the team’s success both in terms of points scored, and energy and enthusiasm toward the positive team culture we have. I had a blast the entire weekend, while not running a step! It was confirmation that I’m making the right decision. I’m able to fully enjoy my life coaching, being a husband to Annika and daddy to Makenzie and Myla; and will still get in some occasional runs on my own terms.

I’m excited for the unknown journey ahead!

– Aaron

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