After a freshman campaign where she won the Big Ten championship and earned All-American honors, rising junior Erin Finn entered her sophomore season as the fastest runner on the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
Her second year on the Michigan women’s cross country team began more impressive than her first, with a first place finish in the Big Ten Preview race. That performance lead to a second place finish in the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown and a fourth place finish at NCAA Pre-Nationals, putting Finn amongst the top runners in the nation.
But just when Finn was supposed to be reaching her peak heading into the postseason, she suffered a leg injury and was unable to race for the remainder of the season.
“I was absolutely, completely devastated,” Finn said.
From her times, Finn seemed to be exceptionally fit and in shape to finish the season in the top 10. With Finn on their side, the Wolverines were in the hunt to contend for a national championship. However, Finn was pushing her body to the limit too early, and eventually the physical strain halted Finn’s sophomore run of success.
“I kind of just realized that I was training a little too hard,” Finn said. “I already was on my way to fixing that, but it was a little too late, and the damage had already been done. It was just a matter of time before I got hurt. It was extraordinarily hard and I’m not proud of how I handled it immediately after, but I’m proud of what I learned from it.”
Among the lessons Finn learned was that training harder is not necessarily always the best way to attack practice. She now strives to work smarter instead of harder, as pushing too hard can lead to injuries. In a sport where pain must be blocked out and endured during competition, Finn now approaches situations differently. Instead of relying on how she feels physically, she relies on her past accomplishments, being satisfied in them and giving her body the appropriate amount of rest to recover.
Part of the recovery period involves fueling your body to replenish what you worked off. Finn said that she was probably underweight last season, which didn’t benefit her during competition.
“There’s a line,” Finn said. “You want to be thin, but not too thin. And I was probably on the worse side of that line. So now I’m really focusing on eating healthy, but also eating enough, because you burn a lot of calories when you run the amount of miles that we do.”
Despite all of the hardship Finn has been through in the past year and all of the changes she made, she has embraced her growth from the situation.
The injury may have been a blessing in disguise. While the time after her injury was difficult to be cheerful through, she cites that her relationships with her family and Jesus have been strengthened. Finn learned to rely on those foundations in her life more to handle disappointment during trying times.
“I was in a very bad place during a large chunk of the cross country season,” Finn said. “I’m not sure if I can say that I ever really was cheered up for a while there. But after a while, I started realizing that this wasn’t how I wanted to live my life.”
After the revelation of how she was living, Finn’s outlook changed. Currently, she has more to take delight in outside of athletics.
“I’m enjoying more things outside of running for sure,” Finn said. “I’m making church a priority, I’m making volunteering a priority, and just kind of being more relaxed about everything. I’m not as crazy about getting perfect A’s and having perfect performances every time I’m out on the track.”
This newly-discovered relaxation may carry into the upcoming cross country season. Back in the outdoor track season, when Finn returned to competitive racing for the first time since her injury, she was reminded of how much she loves to run. All of the physical and emotional pain ended up being worth it to live out a passion.
When she performs her pre-race ritual of seeing the clock strike 11:11, putting on a pair of lucky socks, and saying a prayer with her mother before a race this fall, Finn will be beaming ear to ear. She’ll once again be able to compete in the sport she knows best with the reminder that she has the ability to overcome whatever hardship or hindrance she may encounter. And she’s confident, even though she may not be as fast as her previous seasons to start out her junior year.
“Running-wise, I’m definitely not as in shape now as I was last August,” Finn said. “I think that’s smart, because I’ve really been holding back and making sure that I’m taking things slowly so I’ll be ready to peak in November. I’ve been training hard, but smarter.”
This smarter approach to training will benefit Finn in pursuit of her number one goal this upcoming season: staying healthy. Along with Michigan’s second best runner last season senior Shannon Osika, who was also injured for the postseason, Finn aims to stay injury free to lead her team to greater heights. Her yearly goals of winning the Big Ten championship as an individual and as a team have not changed.
Erin Finn is ready to complete what she was unable to finish. She’s ready because she entered a time in her life devastated with an injury and came out of it with a reason to celebrate.