Morgan Casey Big 12
Morgan Casey at the Big 12 Cross Country Championships Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010. Copyright 2010 Brody Schmidt/www.Ostatephoto.com.

Editor's note: Northeast alumna Morgan Casey is a distance runner at Iowa State. She's a redshirt freshman during the track season and will periodically blog throughout her season.

It’s been a long time since my last blog post on QCVarsity.com, and a long time since my last post period, but today is a new day. I recently caught wind of a new site called THE NEXT LEVEL, which is about former Iowa high school athletes now in college, faith, and a few other things running related. Its creators are Mike Jay, also known as “the voice of track and field,” and Father Jim Kirby, the coach at Dowling Catholic. Needless to say, I think the site rocks.

Hopefully after reading my edition of THE NEXT LEVEL blog, you’ll be encouraged to scope out the site and see what it’s all about. If you’re a fan of college athletics, faith or running, you’ll probably find it to be pretty awesome. I know I’m pretty obsessed, and I only discovered it three days ago!

Here it is, my first post for THE NEXT LEVEL. Enjoy!

My senior year of high school I joined the ranks of many others like me who share a passion for running, and blogging about it. Occasionally I get a little personal, share a running story that’s maybe just a bit out there. But seeing as it’s only a select audience who cares to read what I have to say, they usually get it and just laugh along with me.

I guess entertainment is one of my goals in life. Isn’t that part of the reason we begin to run in the first place? A small part of us craves the limelight. We love the press coverage, the look of awe on people’s faces when they say “you ran 10 miles?,” and it’s no secret that as a high schooler running at Drake is cool, but it’s the sense of pride felt while hearing Mike Jay’s voice echoing your name throughout the stadium that really leaves a mark in your soul.

All of that has changed now that I have entered the realm of NCAA Division I athletics. My high school PR in the 1500 would have been enough to earn me credit for an Iowa all-time best (had Katie Flood and Shelby Houlihan not also broken the record that same day) but now that PR is simply a stat in my bio on cyclones.com, and it is not nearly enough to garner media attention nor intimidate my competitors when we step to the line. You have to do something a little bigger to catch people’s eye these days.

It’s easy to fall into thinking that no one really cares, no one remembers your name, and that you’ll never see your name in the headlines again. Frankly, maybe they don’t and maybe you never will, but with that kind of attitude you’ll definitely not work your way back to the top.

Seeing THE NEXT LEVEL for the first time came at a good moment for me. My indoor season had just ended with conference two weeks ago, and while the meet went well for me, three of my teammates ran at nationals this weekend, and their accolades trump mine tenfold.

Those three girls have earned All-America honors multiple times. Dani Stack was the fastest collegian in the 10k at USA’s last summer, Betsy Saina became a NATIONAL CHAMPION on Friday, and Meaghan Nelson, a former Cedar Rapids Xavier athlete, was injured for the whole of last year, and came back to be a cross country All-American, and finish fourth in the 5k this weekend.

I run with these girls at practice. I have dinner with these girls on the weekends. We share the same locker room, do the same workouts, and even wear matching sweats and cuddle in bed together. (There’s me getting a little personal) They are my teammates, my friends, and my inspiration all at once.

While living in the shadow of Dani, Betsy and Meaghan, I could easily think to myself “Oh they are so fast, I wish I was the fast. I wish I was the one on the front page of the ‘Iowa State Daily.’ I miss running making me feel important.”

Instead of getting some cheese to go with my whine, I look up to my friends, I respect them, and I let them motivate me. I am still green in my career as a collegiate athlete, but even Betsy “National Champion” Saina had to start somewhere. I see on THE NEXT LEVEL that there are still some people out there who remember the Iowa high school runners from way back when iPods couldn’t talk, and even if only one other person aside from my mom and grandpa read my blog, that’s OK with me because I have served my purpose as an entertainer, and reaffirmed my confidence that the one person who needs to care how fast I run still cares A LOT. That person is me.

As long as there are personal records to be broken, races to be run, and the big question mark there each and everyday asking me, “How fast can you run, Mo?” then I will continue to lace up my trainers and go entertain myself with a run because while pats on the back are nice, the thought that someone else is enjoying my running is nicer. The feeling of self accomplishment in my burning calves, joy in my sweating brow, and motivation in my blackened toenails is superior to any “kudos to you” I’ve ever gotten.