I have been able to watch Davie's Anna McBride compete from the beginning of her career, through my association with R.J. Reynolds (which competes against Davie in the Central Piedmont Conference). I have also gotten to know her a little bit, and so I was able to witness first-hand the suffering she experienced last school year. I had the privilege of cheering for her in the aftermath of all of these events, and then she granted me an interview in late July. The quotes below are from that session.
Propelled to New Heights
Good Start Goes Wrong
The 2010-2011 school year had started well for Anna McBride. She had run 11:14 for 3200 at the end of her freshman year, finishing fifth at the 2010 4A state meet and clearly establishing herself as one of the best runners in the state. Cross country season began with an 18:40 at McAlpine in the Providence Invitational, where she lost only to Sarah Rapp. As the season progressed, however, her times did not improve and she began to struggle physically. As the postseason approached, she had begun to lose confidence in herself. In her own words, "I would play up my opponents and reduce myself, and I began to believe I physically couldn't do it." In her last regular-season meet, the 4 Runners Only Invitational at Beeson Park, she began to feel physical pain while running. "I put in more effort but I couldn't make myself go faster. When I got done, my head hurt badly." The conference meet was even worse, and she was unable to finish. A visit to the doctor that week finally exposed the reason: she was anemic.
"It was a relief to be diagnosed," Anna explained, "since it meant it wasn't all in my head." She was told she would recover in 3-4 weeks, which would be one week too late for the state meet, and she took iron pills and began to alter her diet. "When I finished the regional without pain, my worries went away." McBride was able to salvage a top-25 finish at the cross country state meet, but was still far from feeling her best. She and Coach Daric Beiter planned to dial back her training and use the winter season for recovery. She raced minimally but still made the Winter SuperMeet, where she ran 11:42 for the 3200. "At the state meet, go figure, I freaked out before I ran," she commented with a sarcastic smile. "I was happy with the results, though. It was a starting point."
Pulling It Back Together
Her recovery progressed into the spring season, under the guidance of Beiter, with whom she had grown close. "After our last practice, my mom said I had him wrapped around my finger. I guess we all did, really, but he also had me wrapped around his finger. I totally trusted him, and I would've run two marathons a day if he told me to." Then everything came falling down around her on the morning of April 1st: "I got up that morning, earlier than usual, and I hadn't checked my phone yet. My mom was really quiet. She sat me down and told me that Beiter had died last night. I fell to the floor, screaming, then got up and ran to my room." She made contact with her teammates, and they met at Tanglewood to share their grief and cry together. She then joined her fellow students and many staff members at an afternoon vigil in the Davie football stadium, where the team decided to proceed with the invitational they had planned to attend the next day.
The following Thursday, the tri-meet with Reynolds and Reagan, was "my lowest point. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do or live for. I had a mini-meltdown before the meet, but after the 4x800 I felt better. Then I ran an 11:10 PR in the the 3200. I hadn't thought I could PR without Beiter. The depression began to fade a little bit." This would turn out to be the point where McBride began to seek solace in her running. As she explained, "You can't cry when you run, because your breathing gets off. When you finish, it all hits you." This proved to be the case the next Saturday, at the Villain Relays held by Bishop McGuinness. After a spirited kick that netted her a PR of 5:21.10 in the 1600, she broke down again. "I thought Beiter would be right there cheering for me. It hits you all over again."
At the CPC Memorial Meet, held in memory of both Beiter and Reagan runner Nick Doub, McBride was was bouyed by the show of support from other teams. Many wore orange ribbons at that meet and others, and she received particular support from rivals Kristen Henson and Julie Swaim of Reagan (at right with Anna). "I can't tell you how many times they were there with hugs when I was crying," Anna recalled.
In Beiter's Honor
Due to the late Easter holiday last spring, there was an almost two-week gap between the last regular season meet and the conference championship, during which time Anna had spring break. The time off allowed her to refocus somewhat, preparing for the competitive championship season to come. At the CPC Championship, where Davie was not in team contention, McBride chose to save her legs a bit. "It was my birthday, and my mind just wasn't in it. I ran with Julie, and we just kind of coasted a bit." With her fitness clearly back but her emotional state still a potential barrier, she was worried about the regional: "It's my least-favorite meet of all three seasons, because there's so much pressure to advance. We had been worrying about our 4x8 since the beginning of the season."
In the wake of Coach Beiter's death, assistant cross country coach John Clevenger had stepped up to coach the distance runners, and he had the unenviable task of trying to salvage their season. He helped Anna and her teammates to advance to the state meet in the relay, and then had to prepare her for her individual race. He explains, "Leading up to regionals Anna was worried about not performing very well and how that if she did poorly it would let Beiter down. Before the 2-mile she was a wreck and very emotional. There was nothing really to say to her other than no matter how she did, Beiter would be proud just for being in the race. I told her to hang with Tabor and Reagan for the first 6 laps knowing that her emotional state was in no shape to think more about strategy. I told her she could break the 11:00-minute mark if she believed in herself."
As the race was being staged in clerking, McBride confronted the idea that she should run the race for Beiter, and the thought brought back the tears once more. Once again, Henson and Swaim were there to comfort her, taking time from their own preparation to provide hugs and encouraging words that lifted Anna's spirits. Anna's race, in her own words: "I felt good from the beginning, and stayed right beside Kristen and Julie. I heard Coach Catton telling them to help each other. After the mile, I passed Kristen and decided I wanted to pass Julie. Once I got to the 800, I went by her. Knowing she had a killer sprint, I wanted to just keep going. I was really surprised that I was able to pull away from them!"
The final 800 that McBride unleashed in that race was stunning. She won by 15 seconds, with a huge PR of 10:58. "Breaking 11 was the only remaining goal that Beiter had set for me last year," she said, emphasizing the importance of the time to her. Furthermore, she was the only runner in the state, at any of the 3A or 4A regionals, that broke 11 that weekend, making her the #1 seed at the state meet. "Once she pulled away on lap 7," Coach Clevenger recalled, "I knew that she was running for more than herself. Truly, Daric was right there with her. Once the race was over, and she broke 11, she had an insatiable desire to continue what she started at states."
Propelled to New Heights and a New Perspective
Coach Clevenger describes the build-up to the state meet: "In my mind, I knew that Anna was capable of blowing the doors off the competition at states. I knew that there would be a lot of girls that could hang with her, but there was something about Anna that I had never seen in her before. She was focused, determined and finally had the confidence that she needed." During the meet, however, McBride found herself in a very irritable mood [her mother interjected here, saying "Same bundle of nerves she always is"]. Anna describes the turmoil: "I kept going over and over the girls in the race and their times, since many of them had run faster than 10:58 earlier in the season. Coach Holman told me 'You can win this,' which made me feel afraid to disappoint him." This internal struggle finally spilled over about an hour before race-time, according to Coach Clevenger: "I thought everything was going great until she started warming up. She had managed to bottle up her emotions before the race and during her warm up they came flooding out. She wanted Beiter to be there so bad and felt lost without his guidance. We finally got through with warm ups with some help of her teammates who came to support her."
The 3200 in her Anna's words: "At the beginning of the race, I got trapped in the back of the pack. I got mad, and I used that anger to move up in the curve and join with the lead pack. I knew Darby Middlebrook indirectly through a friend, and we had met earlier in the year (she's really sweet!). I never thought I would be able to beat her, but with 800 to go I was right behind her and still felt good. Once I went past her, I just kept going."
Another enormous 800 kick propelled McBride to a dominating win, but that wasn't all; the time of 10:46.08 was a new all-classes state meet record. Anna's amazing rise from the depths of despair was complete, and she had ended her season in a way that would have made Beiter unbelievably proud. Once self-defeating and lacking the confidence to fully utilize her talent, she had found the last piece of her running puzzle among what she thought were the shattered pieces of her life.
Said Coach Clevenger, "I was not expecting what I saw. We saw Anna find something greater than herself emerge as she opened up a huge lead in the blink of an eye. She wasn't running for herself, she was running for coach Beiter. When it was over, and she broke the state record, we were so proud of her and I think in that moment it really helped her turn a corner in her mourning process. Looking back, I think the race was necessary for to heal emotionally from such a huge loss."
As it turned out, there was still one more lesson to be learned, however, as McBride explains:
After the race, Julie said to me, "We can go to nationals together!" I was like, are you serious? I was exhausted, ready for a mental break, and we hadn't planned my training to go that deep into the summer. Then I remembered something [graduated teammate] Caitlin Tutterow told me after Beiter passed away: "Those team MVP plaques are just pieces of wood under your bed. Focus on enjoying your running." I realized that nothing was certain, and for all I knew I might never have the opportunity to do something like that again. And I realized that I really wanted one of those backpacks! From that point on, I resolved to try my hardest to enjoy my racing, and also to try not to get so wrapped up in what could go wrong that I caused myself to freak out.
Although she was past her peak and her training was compromised by the heat leading up to the race, Anna ran 10:50.1 at New Balance Nationals. After the race, it was clear she was physically wiped (the cover photo from this article was taken on the infield then). By the time I saw her in late July, though, she looked more healthy, both physically and mentally, than she had all of 2010-2011. It's clear from her results this fall that she is running with confidence and enjoying herself more.