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Pieces of the Puzzle

**The original publication date of this piece was July 2019**

Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite is known as one of the best distance running groups in the nation. With multiple US Championship titles on both the men’s and women’s sides across several distances and disciplines as well as elite PR’s in events from the 1500 up to the marathon, the results speak for themselves. This group is elite and they know what they are doing (much thanks due to mastermind

and coach, Ben Rosario). Based out of Flagstaff, Arizona (regarded internationally by many as one of the best training locations for elite athletes across many sports) NAZ Elite has the set-up for the ages.

When Coach Ben Rosario first reached out to me during my senior year of college, I was ecstatic. This was THE dream team and to be offered a spot and with a full sponsorship on this team was an opportunity I knew I couldn’t pass up. In July 2019 it was official; I had signed my first professional contract with an amazing team with all of the resources I believed I needed to be the fastest runner that I knew/still know I can be. The training partners, endless pine tree lined dirt roads, 7000’ of altitude, strength coaches who doubled as physical trainers, and more were all the things that I thought would lead to my success as a professional runner. From the outside this appears to be the perfect training situation and an ideal setting for those pursing running at the most elite level.

While the training structure, volume, intensity and schedule differed in many ways during my time on NAZ Elite as compared to my collegiate training, it was nothing that I couldn’t handle or that I ever backed down from (I am sure Coach Ben can attest to this, long runs are my absolute favorite!). After all, I did just spend the previous five years of my life working to graduate with a B.S. in Civil Engineering at the top 10% of my class all while competing at a high level in the NCAA Division 1 Cross Country & Track. One of the most demanding Division 1 sports you can choose coupled with one of the most demanding majors you can choose meant stress and heavy workloads were no stranger to me.

After some good races in the fall of last year, a nearly 50 second PB in the 10k on the track this spring, and my first international appearance as a member of Team USA for the NACAC XC Championships in Trinidad and Tobago, things seemed to be going well. However, two semi-major injuries during my time in Flagstaff (after making it through all of college uninjured) gave me a lot of time to think and reconsider what I wanted out of running and what role it played in my life.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that while running plays a major role in my life it will never be my whole life. For better or worse, I am a person that needs more than running in my life to be fulfilled and feel happy. I am not the person that can be content to live like a sort of modern-day monk only running, napping, and eating for the entire day (I very sincerely admire the focus and dedication of those that can!). I need to feel like I am contributing to the world beyond fast times and race results; I want to work to be a good citizen in all of the communities that I’m invested in, not just the running community (which tends to be a pretty closed off bubble). I have realized that in the end, it is the people and communities that you are involved with that make the place you live in your “home” and sets you up best for success.

A while back I posted about having severe race anxiety before my 10k at the Stanford Invitational in 2019. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is something I have always dealt with and will continue to deal with for the rest of my life. This puts me in a rather fragile and elevated mental state all of the time in dealing with additional life stressors and anxious situations. With this in mind, I knew that it was integral that I get my pre-race anxiety under control because that was the only way I would be able to continue to pursue running at an elite level successfully.

What I kept coming back to was: why was that 10k back in March such a sore spot even though I came away with a huge PB? Eventually it occurred to me that it was because I was in a place, both physical and mental, that just wasn’t right for me. It wasn’t exactly “wrong” but it just wasn’t right either. The only way I could describe it is like what happens when you’re doing a jig-saw puzzle and you think you have finally found the right piece you were looking for; you believe it’s the right shape and its all of the right colors but when you try to put it in the space it just doesn’t fit. There are so many pieces, and many of them look much the same but not one of those pieces actually is the same. I spent a year trying to jam myself into that space only to realize I just wasn’t the right piece for that part of the puzzle. Someone is the right piece for that part of the puzzle, but it is not me. Fortunately, I have faith that in due time I will find my place somewhere else on that professional running puzzle, the place where I fit perfectly, the space that was meant for me to fill.

So, what does my puzzle piece look like you might ask? Well it has a lot of funky edges and tons of colors. It encompasses an athlete of many sports, an entrepreneur, an engineer, a wild child, and an outdoor adventurer with wanderlust and a spirit that can’t be tamed. My solution? Move back home to beautiful Utah (#BeUTAHful) and surround myself with the people that make me the happiest: my family, my twin sister, my boyfriend, and the rest of my Utah community. This gives me the space to explore and expand my passions outside of running such as mental health advocacy, sustainability and climate advocacy, cooking, cross-training, my business, and more. I also get the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Utah mountains and trails serving as both a comfort and a resource for future my endeavors. All of this with the intention of setting me up to be the most fulfilled and happy human I can be with the freedom to explore new parts of the running world to my heart’s content (woohoo, many more trail races to come!!!).

Finding a coach and group of others who hold many of the same life and running values as me is important to me and makes me realize that I’m not so different after all, I just have to do a little extra searching to find my people.

It is my hope that with this post you can see that I am not weak for leaving what most would consider the “perfect situation” nor am I ungrateful for the opportunities afforded to me. I want you to see that I am strong for being vulnerable and honest with myself and others, that I have humility, and that I know that its okay to say it’s just not “it” and it never will be. I hope you can find the strength within yourself to search for your community and the situation that will set you up best for success on your own terms, and remember that you have the right to define that for yourself.

May we all find the part of life’s great puzzle where our piece is the perfect fit.

Xoxo, Grayson

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Nov 11, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful piece of literature. I could relate so closely to the puzzle analogy that I reread the blog. Thank you Grayson for the wonderful Training Logs. Thanks to them I this winter season finally looks like the beginning of a long career of Cross-Country Skiing that will hopefully lead me though College.

Thank you again!


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