Senior Maggie Allen wasn't paying much attention to the TV in her hotel room.
She was sitting in the air conditioned room, relying on her teammates as distractions and trying to keep the thought of that sticky Thursday being her final collegiate race in the back of her head.
Jacksonville, Florida was hot and humid on May 23, the first day of NCAA East Preliminary Round. Allen was fresh off a victory in the 10K at the Big Ten Championships with a time of 33:08.59, shattering Iowa’s facility record by one minute and 54 seconds.
Allen was set to race the 10K again with the top 12 finishers to qualify for the NCAA Championships. It was Allen against a field of 48 other runners from across half the nation — the other half was competing in the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Sacramento.
Allen’s race was slotted to start at 9 p.m.
“It’s surprising how fast-slash-slow those like 12 hours go by,” Allen said.
Unlike most of her teammates, Allen doesn’t play music to get psyched for race day. There’s no motivational tunes she seeks out, no individual rituals and aside from a substantial amount of gum-chewing, Allen likes to stick to IU's warmup routine, including a shakeout run four hours prior to the race.
Three of her teammates qualified for NCAAs earlier in the day. Finally the sun set, and it was time for Allen to step foot on the track.
Donning a crimson spandex and crimson singlet with candy-stripes faded in at the bottom, Allen laced up her white Adidas spikes. Under the lights in Hodges Stadium at the University of North Florida, she took strides down the track as the PA announcer listed off the race competitors.
“And your Big Ten champion, Margaret Allen.”
The start line was crowded with the number of runners stacked not only at the start but at the stagger line as well. Allen constantly moved her eyes from straight ahead to down toward the blue asphalt, then back up.
Her potential final race as a Hoosier was looming, but when the starting gun went off, the thought went out of Allen’s head and she just did what she has been doing for a long time — run.
Allen wanted to run since kindergarten.
She was jealous of her older sister, who was four years older than her and good at running.
When she was finally able to get involved with running in third grade, Allen’s experience didn’t live up to what her young mind drew it up to be.
“I didn’t like it at all,” Allen said.
But her mom kept her in it, and Allen put all her time and effort into running once she realized her 5-foot-4 stature wouldn’t cut it in basketball.
Allen struggled with injuries at Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, which caused her to miss a few cross-country seasons. But when she was healthy, she reaped the rewards of being a two-time state champion in the 800-meter run and 1600-meter run. Her personal best in the 800 was 2:13.68 and mile time was 4:57.93, which ranked her as No. 3 and 5 respectively in Kentucky history.
At the KYtrackXC.com 5K Showdown in 2014, Allen dropped a 17:38.63. But when looking for colleges, Allen didn’t want to be close to home. Any university she was looking at was always around five to eight hours away.
It wasn’t until her dad filled out an online questionnaire for IU in 2014 because he always wanted his daughter to go to IU. Allen got a call from recruiting coach Andrew Poore and was very confused since she didn’t know her dad filled it out. Poore visited Allen at home and stayed there for three hours.
“He left, and I told my parents I want to go visit that school,” Allen said.
After her visit, Allen said she knew she wanted to come to IU.
Just like that, her plan of a far-away school turned into just a two-hour trip.
Allen's junior year roommate, senior Katherine Receveur, qualified for the cross-country NCAA Championships in 2017.
Allen placed 18th in that race and the Hoosiers were on the bubble of making the championships as a team.
No matter the team’s future, Allen went to Target with her other roommates, junior Kelsey Harris and senior Haley Harris, to purchase a goodie bag of nail polish and a spa kit to give to Receveur for advancing individually.
On the way home, Allen received a notification on her phone: “Indiana girls cross-country makes it to nationals.”
Allen told the Harris twins to stop the car, and once they pulled over, she read them the message. The three didn't speak any words but just screamed as loud as they could. Allen called her dad and again, no words, just screams.
“Even just thinking about that was so much fun,” Allen said.
She said it’s her favorite memory since coming to Bloomington.
In high school, Allen was in her own head about her success. She trained too hard, causing her to miss those cross-country seasons, but since getting to college, she realized she couldn’t control everything.
She trusts the training methods of IU Coach Ron Helmer, who has been at the helm for 11 years at IU, and relies on her teammates, just like in the hotel room, to help her get better not just as a runner but as a student.
Allen was going through I-Core in the Kelley School of Business during her junior year, and she arrived home one day to find the Harris twins doing the reading assignments for it.
“No one does the reading assignments,” Allen said.
But seeing her teammates do it made Allen feel like she had to do it.
“It was my best semester by far,” she said.
Allen isn’t ashamed to admit she can be directionally challenged. She doesn’t have a favorite route to run in Bloomington because everyday is a new one for her. She doesn’t quite know how to explain the team’s trails and turns of its runs.
“I think I like Maxwell,” Allen said. “Or no, I think I like the bike path. I don’t know, it could be a different one. You go like that direction and follow Haley Harris until she turns right.”
As her career ends, Allen's biggest takeaway is that you can't do it alone. She said she thinks the relationships she's built with her teammates will last beyond college.
Even when Allen is in Chicago for her career post-graduation, working for financial service company FactSet, she knows her best friends aren’t going anywhere.
“I’ve become a better person and a better student and a better athlete and a better friend because I’ve been able to become friends with people on my team,” Allen said.
Running has been a huge part of her life and she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon either.
Don’t be surprised if you see Allen running along Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago. Even if she doesn’t know where she’s going.
Allen officially graduated from IU on May 4. She wore a white dress with a crimson sash wrapped around her neck, and the rainy Saturday in Memorial Stadium looked the same to her as it did to any other. It just didn’t feel the same because her time at IU wasn’t over yet.
Allen still had work to do. One week after graduating she had to go to Iowa and take the gold medal in the 10K.
Thirteen days later, Allen found herself in Jacksonville.
Allen started the race in the third row of the pack, calmly hovering in seventh to eighth place early on. On lap three, Allen got trapped into the middle of the pack and had to bounce to the outside and surge ahead to avoid the clutter. She did the same on lap eight.
Fatigue never took form on Allen’s face. Midway through the race, sweat glistened underneath her eyes from the 80-degree weather and 68-degree humidity, but Allen’s strides remained strong.
Her arms don’t swing in the fundamental north-south direction, but rather with an east-west orientation, but they stayed level. When an elbow swung back, her blonde hair, slicked back into a ponytail, would bounce in the opposite direction.
Even when Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer and Jacqueline Gaughan quickened the pace with 10 laps to go, Allen’s form never faltered.
She didn’t go with the leaders, she stayed in the secondary pack, saving herself for the finish, ensuring her college career wouldn’t come to an end.
Six runners were all within three seconds of one another, but with two laps to go, Allen kept her outside tactic in place, avoiding getting trapped along the rail, and surged in front to cross the finish line in fifth place with a time of 33:31.14.
“It was really special,” Allen said.
Now, Allen is in Austin, Texas, for the NCAA Championships. No matter what, the 10K on Thursday will be Allen’s final collegiate race.
She said once she crosses the finish line, that’s when the feeling of graduating and being done will finally hit her.
One week before the race, her goal for it was undetermined. She wanted to ask Helmer what the race plan was before setting her mind on any time or place. As she has learned, she can’t control everything.
When the gun goes off in Austin, Allen will just do what's made her successful — run.
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