from Rob Molke
For the last year-and-half since graduating Syracuse University, I’ve been fortunate to call my home New York City–the City of Dreams. The fast paced, high energy lifestyle engulfed by the world’s most impressive skyline has taught me to be a dreamer, and for that I am thankful. If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. Without this New Yorker mentality, I may not have been able to take the leap and make the biggest decision of my life to date: pursuing my professional distance running career in the Twin Cities with Team USA Minnesota. On December 1, I flew out to Minneapolis with two checked bags, two carry-ons, and a renewed motivation to make the most out of my running career.
— Rob Molke (@rwmolke) December 1, 2015
2015 was by far the most eventful and challenging year in my running career to date. I’ve learned more about myself as a runner and person through the experiences I’ve had over the last year than any other. Although there were misfortunes along the way, the process was something that has made me stronger and more motivated to succeed post-collegiately than ever before. It was a rollercoaster of emotions that I hope to never encounter again, but looking back, I’m thankful for all of the great things that have come out of it.
Just over a year ago I qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston, recording a 1:03:27 personal best. Unfortunately, since then, I have yet to line up for a race longer than just a few miles. I raced one more time in March in a 5K before a sacral stress fracture sidelined me at the end of the month. As someone who has never before suffered from any serious injury, I was very lost trying to navigate my way back (no pun intended) to full health. When I was finally cleared to run in the middle of June, I upped my mileage too quickly, reaching about an hour run in the early weeks of July, and soon noticed a new pain: stress fracture number two, this time in my right calcaneous (heel). Frustration reached an all-time high, and 13 weeks later in October after countless hours of pool running, biking, and using the elliptical, I was finally cleared to run again. Just a few weeks into my comeback, I realized my Olympic Trials dreams would most likely have to be put on hold for four more years due to my complete lack of fitness–a very tough pill to swallow after I had put in so much work trying to qualify after graduation. However, I soon learned that qualifying to run the Trials was not the only opportunity I had as a result of my post-collegiate success.
Around the beginning of 2015 just after Houston, I came to the realization that I might regret passing up the opportunity to pursue my dream of professional distance running while I was still able. Although I was very happy in my current situation as an employee of New York Road Runners and an athlete for the New York Athletic Club, my gut was telling me that I could be doing more with my running, an outlet that has already given me so many incredible opportunities in my life. So, at the end of June, just as I was recovering from stress fracture number one, I made the decision that I was going to give running a shot and pursue running as a profession.
At first, I did a lot of research on how to go about this process. Since I was aware that I did not have the accolades that many of the top distance runners have at the collegiate level and beyond, it occurred to me that the search for an ideal training setup would be a challenge; and, unlike sports with organized leagues and teams such as basketball, the structure of professional running is a lot more open to interpretation. Luckily, there were a variety of great resources that existed where I could gather information to help me choose a set up that was right for me, including attending Run Pro Camp in June of 2015, websites such as RunPro.com, and talking with a number of people in the running community who had gone through the same process.
After reaching out to a few distance running groups, I visited the Twin Cities in October to check out Team USA Minnesota, and I was very drawn to the tight knit running community of Minnesota, Coach Dennis Barker, the members of the team, and the flexibility of the training while holding a part time job and freelance positions in my field of interest. The set up of the group was a great match for what I was looking for in a training environment, and I made the decision within a few weeks after my visit to join the team.
There are many sacrifices and hardships that came along with this decision. For one, my girlfriend Sarah and I are currently separated while chasing our running dreams with different training groups. Although we have lived in different cities since graduation (New York and Boston), we are now a bit farther apart; however, I am very confident in our relationship and our abilities to make it work. She means the world to me and I know one day we are going to look back when our running careers are over and be even more grateful for the future that we have together and the chances that we took when we had the opportunity. Also, I have never lived anywhere else but the Northeast. I’ve been fortunate to be close to family and friends throughout my life, and moving to a new area of the country is definitely intimidating; however, the community of the Twin Cities is very strong and so far I am enjoying the atmosphere of Minneapolis–it reminds me so much of Syracuse.
I highly encourage any athlete that is like me and unsure about their future in the sport to consider taking the chance to try running professionally for a period of time. As I stated above, there are many resources available to help navigate the process of determining the best training situation for you. It is a big risk, especially for those in a similar situation to me that were good but not great collegiate athletes, but I believe that taking this risk is what can help a good collegiate athlete take the next step to becoming great.
Am I scared? Yes. Do I have any regrets? No. For this, I am proud of my decision, whatever the outcome may be. I can always look back on this moment of time and be proud of myself for giving myself the best opportunity possible. A few months in, I am still adjusting to my new lifestyle, but things are going well and I am happy to say that I am once again healthy and getting back into training. As always, thanks to all of the support I receive from Team USA Minnesota, Brooks Running, my family and friends, past coaches and teammates, and all who have helped make this opportunity possible, past and present. TCB and Run Happy.