By HANNAH OSSMAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — You never know what you have until it’s gone.
University of Iowa sophomore Jordan Winke is a testament to this after taking a year off from competitive running following her senior season at Albia (Iowa) High School.
After becoming a three-time cross country state qualifier, Winke decided that she was done running.
“It was a buildup,” Winke said. “I was trying to envision myself competing for more years and I couldn’t see it. I had reached a point where I had such an unhealthy relationship with running. As successful as I was, it wasn’t fun anymore. It was more of something that I forced myself to do.”
Winke’s journey into running cross country was one of little faith as a high school freshman. She had always considered herself more of a sprinter and was not prepared for the many miles that were required for training.
“The mismatched team of high school boys and girls took off, falling into groups of friends and running partners,” Winke said. “I was alone and immediately fell toward the back. Within seconds, I was wheezing, my arms and legs hurt, and I had a cramp in my side. It was horrible. I sat down on the curb and put my head in my hands. I had made it less than half a mile.
“The coach came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder. I looked at him with tears in my eyes and said, ‘Coach, I can’t do this.’ He replied, ‘You can’t do it yet. I’ll see you back tomorrow.'”
Soon, running became second nature to the novice competitor. She quickly grew excited as she sat in class waiting for after-school practices.
But after three and a half years, the excitement for the sport that she once loved had dimmed and she was ready to be done. The countless honors, awards, and records did not matter anymore. She was done running.
Once summer started, Winke continued to work out, but it wasn’t the same.
“As soon as I didn’t have to run anymore, I wanted to,” Winke said. “I realized how much I missed having goals to work toward and something to drive me every day. I tried to casually go out for a jog, but after six years trying to improve every day, it was hard for me to be satisfied with a jog.”
She changed her mind after taking a few months off from the sport that she had once been so eager to participate in.
In August of 2017, Winke signed up to compete in her first 5,000-meter race since her competitive hiatus. Her time was undesirable in her eyes, which only fueled her into training harder.
Winke needed a new goal, so she signed up for a half marathon; it wasn’t just any half marathon. It was the Drake Relays race that finished on the “Blue Oval” at Drake Stadium, a track where she competed twice in high school.
“I averaged 6:55 per mile, well exceeding my expectations,” Winke said. “An overwhelming sense of satisfaction and happiness came over me. I had done it, for no other reason than to see if I could.”
Her one race was satisfying for the time being, but that feeling came and went.
“A couple days went by and I realized I was back to where I had been the last spring, with no goals and nothing to train for.” Winke said. “I needed something, I now knew that about myself, something to make me get up and go.”
Winke’s freshman year at Iowa concluded, and she decided to run a 5,000-meter race on the day she returned from studying abroad in Italy. She was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
“My time of 18:44 was a road race [personal record] for me,” Winke said. “I had never, even in my high school prime, run that fast out of season, let alone in June. I was ecstatic. Taking a deep breath, I composed an email to the Iowa coach asking for walk-on consideration, or if he would be willing to meet with me. He called me back and I headed to Iowa City the next day.”
That day, Winke became an Iowa cross country and track and field runner. Head coach Randy Hasenbank agreed to accept Winke as a walk-on for the 2018 season.
“I am excited to be on the team and surrounded by people who have the same goals and are all running miles out here together,” Winke said. “In high school, I trained by myself all the time. I never had people to run with. Here, I have people to run with every day and I can’t stress how much easier that makes it. When you’re on mile seven of an 11-mile long run, it’s humid and you want to quit, you’ve got people around you who aren’t quitting. It’s easier to keep going than when you’re by yourself. This season, I’m happy to be here and be part of a team again.”
Winke and the Hawkeye cross country teams kick off the 2018 season Friday as Iowa hosts the Hawkeye Invitational at Ashton Cross Country Course. The women run at 6 p.m. (CT), and the men run at 6:45 p.m.