Strong gusts of wind blew across the six-kilometer-long course, making the Kentucky morning feel brisker than usual. A mixture of red, orange and yellow foliage decorated the sidelines from tall, watchful trees. Underneath them, the crazed fans were jam-packed against one another to keep warm. Their screams of encouragement created a wall of sound for the runners to throw themselves into. It was on this crisp Saturday morning in Louisville that Molly McCullough ran the best race of her life.
The sophomore cross country runner placed 65th at the Division III National Championship race two weeks ago, making her the most successful sophomore runner in Trinity history. She was also the only Trinity cross country runner to qualify for nationals this year. This impressive feat took McCullough years of preparation and training, fueled by her passion. While most of this motivation comes from within the athlete herself, it also comes from her mother, Liz McCollough — a lifelong runner herself.
“It was always her dream that I would run cross country,” McCullough said.
With the encouragement of her mom, McCullough joined the cross country team right before starting high school — one of the best decisions of her life, she said. Throughout her extensive training, McCullough’s mother has been her constant support system and inspiration. She recalls fond memories of the two of them going to professional track meets together, “nerding out” about running things and even screaming at the TV together during the Olympics.
“It’s really cool that I get to follow in her footsteps, but since my mom never ran in college, I’m sort of blazing my own trail too,” McCullough said.
In addition to having social support, being a successful runner also requires relentless dedication to the sport. McCullough has not gone a single day without training for the championship race since this past May, which was the end of last year’s track season.
These past six months have been nothing but hard work for McCullough. Summer training meant waking up at 4 a.m. to run before going to work, and putting in countless hours every week during the semester to get the proper strength training, sleep and nutrition. Because Division III schools emphasize the “student” part of “student athlete,” it’s no surprise that McCullough keeps busy when off the track — she’s an engineering student, member of the Society of Women Engineers, involved in research in the department of physics and is a TU tour guide. Despite the fact that her schedule only gets busier each year, McCullough is looking ahead to next fall.
“I’m looking forward to next cross country season. I have some goals already,” she said.
While she enjoys the other shorter events that she’s able to run during the spring track season, McCullough considers cross country her first love.
Part of what makes her so excited for next cross country season is the unique, tight-knit team that she gets to run with.
“These are the people who I want to hang with. These are the people who I think are my people,” she said.
McCullough recalls that the closeness of the team was one of the main reasons she decided to join cross country in the first place. Now that she’s running at the Division III level, she gets to continue having a small team at Trinity.
Running and training with teammates is a very integral part of cross country, though running is considered an individual sport.
McCullough discussed some of the difficulties that occur when teammates get injured and training becomes more individual. Because her training partner got injured towards the end of the season, McCullough had to do a lot of the training leading up to the championship by herself.
“It was kind of tough to be a little bit on my own for a while,” she admitted.
Nevertheless, the team bonds are stronger than ever — all of Molly’s teammates congratulated her on her achievement and many came out to welcome when she returned back to campus.
Molly certainly needs and deserves these next two weeks off before starting up training for track season, but it’s apparent she’s already aching to get back on the trail. With her passion, surely the goals she has for next season will be crushed -— and maybe even some records too.
“For a long time, I thought I would never be able to reach [a record-breaking] level, but after this season, I’m thinking, ‘Maybe I can.’ I’m one step closer; it’s actually within grasp,” she said.