What’s next? Athlete in Transition, Finding Fun

By: Cassie Henkiel

After the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in April 2008, I was planning on taking a little time off and was truly unsure if my ‘racing’ days were over?  As any athlete who has been racing for many, many years….the question is always being asked, “what’s your next race?  For that time off, post trials, I was not sure how to answer, what was next?  I have been racing at the elite level now for almost 20 years and uncertain where my ‘active life’ would lead me? Keeping up my very active lifestyle was never a doubt, though it was to what extend, intensity and area I would end up?  Then I turned 40, on April 30, 2010….and racing found me again.  A race director in Syracuse, NY (who was a coach of mine on a US National Team, when I was 25) contacted me to come run his race.  He realized I was now a master. His race has been the US Master’s 5k Road Race Championships for several years now.  Uncertain about accepting his invite, I ended up visiting a friend in Minnesota that fall and ran in a low key 10k, wondering….. Did I still really have that ‘fire’ to compete?  The US Master’s 5k Road Race Championships in early Oct 2010 would be my first race as a master and I was back racing on the roads.

If I was going to start racing again, I made a deal with myself ….  It was time to incorporate more fun and living into my life and not focus so much on training and racing.  Back in 1995,  discovering there was a future in post collegiate running, I took the leap and committed to a higher level of training and racing and sacrificed a lot to meet several athletic/running goals. I have no regrets, all the energy, time, discipline, and commitment I have devoted to my running career.  Not to mention all the amazing athletes I met over the years, I call friends from all over the U.S. and the world.  Nothing can take the place of the many, many years of outstanding experiences both athletically and personally through my years of running.  It has been such a life’s gift!!  Though I realize it is time for a change.

Since that 5k race last year, I seem to have found this really wonderful balance.  In the last 2 years I have raced a handful of great road races.  Some new, being a newbie in the master’s scene and old favorites; distances including: 5k ,10k & the ½ Marathon.  I have continued to feed my love of travel, racing and also keeping up with the ever dwindling sorority of running friends (my age) on the roads.  With every racing trip I have taken these past 2 years, I have extended my stay to explore what ever city I am in, see friends or family and just enjoy.  The race is an addition, not the complete focus of the trip as it has been for so many years. Ahhh, quite freshening and new!

After 2 years of focusing on the ½ and 3 on the marathon, dropping down to shorter distance races again, has been a welcomed physical challenge. Crazy as it seems, you kinda miss the pain!?!  It is a different kind of pain. Keeping up the intensity and high level of training on a 41 year body needs some adjustments. For those master’s out there…. That was then and this is now! You need to adjust accordingly. Thus far, I look at my training and racing with different eyes, a different approach and enjoying it in a new realm.

To continue finding fun in several more races this season, I will be looking to the trails, my road bike and  maybe do my first snow shoeing race, visiting friends in Colorado?!? Who knows?  With a scaled back racing schedule from what I knew from years past, has opened up my life to focus on more fun and ‘living’.  I am so grateful to have more time with friends both here in Austin and out of town, exploring what ‘traveling for pleasure’ really means and being in attendance of some of life’s events I have missed in years past.  I truly feel blessed to continue to push my fitness, training and racing at a fairly high level and yet maintain a healthy body.  Of course, I enjoy all the extra curricular activities, for example, strength training, stretching, cross training to keep me healthy.   It would be hard to imagine life without running, though life must go on!  Discovering how to live life in both worlds has been a very beautiful thing.


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