D3 To D1: My First Few Months At Kentucky Track

By Bernard Lagat

January 13, 2023

“Katelyn, how are you?… Are you doing okay?… Are you alive?… Are those workouts killing you?”

Everyone keeps asking, so let’s talk. Consider this the first of my updates on life as an SEC track and field athlete at Kentucky.

I’ve been in grad school for a semester. School is as straightforward as it will ever be so there’s no need to waste time telling you too much about that. You’re here because you want to know how I’m managing being an athlete at one of the best women’s programs in the country.

So, let’s start from the beginning

Over the summer I broke my foot. The story we’re going with is that I kicked a guy in the face and I definitely did not fracture it by tripping on stairs on my first day at the U.S. Championships with CITIUS MAG. Do I look like that much of an idiot to you?

When I arrived, I met with the trainers ASAP to develop a plan for what to do. Let me tell y’all, rehab was hell. Spending two to three hours every day between that spacesuit (the Alter-G) and lower leg exercises was not the highlight of my initial weeks on campus.

Since I was still healing, I cross-trained for the first two weeks of official practice. I warmed up with the team but had to go back to the training room for my own workouts. At some point, I had to come in twice a day to do rehab and a workout before a different workout for practice. These initial stages felt isolating at first and it was hard to find my footing.

Eventually, my trainer gave me the green light to stop cross-training and do everything with the team, but she still had me doing extra workouts to get in shape. I was only “back” for a week and a half before the coach moved me into the faster running group. I was still fighting for my life to keep up at times but those repeat 400s ain’t got nothing on me now! Some of the other workouts though… that’s a different story.

As training progressed, I no longer ran with that group. At times I felt like a failure because I thought I was supposed to be improving with minimal setbacks. In Katelyn’s mind, life is supposed to be perfect, obviously. But sometimes workouts would be thrown at me and I simply couldn’t keep up. I already doubted my own abilities but it gradually got worse.

Let me tell y’all, my legs shook after almost every practice. I’ve never ran this much in my life. While there may be times when I’m quick to think about how much it sucks, I keep going because I know if I can get through this, there isn’t a damn person in this sport that’ll be able to shake me.

I’m often asked about some of the initial differences between Division I and Division III. There are a lot…

We can start with just the sheer amount of training and how we train. I can remember days at Ithaca where I’d be dying simply because we had nine 200s. Now I do at least double digits with probably one or two more things to do after. Imagine finishing a race, heavy breathing, going lactic and still having to go again right after. If any DI athlete is reading this they’re probably thinking, “no shit Katelyn, we’ve been through this for four years, that’s a normal day.” But like I said, I never had this kind of training so it’s all new to me.

Next is the resources. I don’t want to say everything is handed to us, but everything is there for us to take. We got a kitchen to cook in from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day of the week. Free food for all athletes. No excuse to say you can’t eat. Yeah, sometimes I’m mad when we go a few weeks without turkey for my sandwiches but then I remember I never had anything like this at Ithaca. Free food almost all day long and all you gotta do is figure out dinner and the weekends? I don’t think some people realize how much of a blessing that is.

Plus I have a nutritionist who I can see almost every day. I’ve been trying to lose some weight for years and I finally feel like I have the knowledge and the right people to help me on that journey responsibly. It’s been successful so far because I’ve lost four pounds.

Most of the team has mandatory scheduled tutoring and study hours… but not me though! (So glad I’m not in undergrad.)

Of course, there’s also the free gear and all the treatment tools you can think of. We’ve got a massage therapist, acupuncturist, and a chiropractor I’m pretty sure. There’s a treadmill that decreases the amount of body weight you run on. The track team has its own weight room. There’s a TV, pool, and ping pong table in the locker room. We even got stuff like parking lots just for athletes. Man, I feel like I’m in paradise when I’m not dying on the track.

But if I’m being honest with everyone, despite all this, every day is a different challenge. Sometimes I’m feeling good mentally. Other times are not so great. I miss my dad a lot because I’m living out a part of the dream that he and I always talked about.

Keeping a strong mindset isn’t easy. Like currently, I don’t see too much of a light right now. Especially as I see my teammates improve greatly and I’m battling to stay out of my own head. When I think about where they were when we began and where they are now, I can’t help but be proud. But then I look at myself and wonder why psychically I can’t do the same thing.

I question frequently if I’m genuinely built for this DI life. The culture is something I’m not used to and have had a difficult time adjusting. When I look at others who are in pain but are able to produce what coach asks of them, I get angry with myself if I can’t do the same. Even writing down the fact that I’m questioning myself makes me feel like I’m not built for this. But all I can do is keep going.

Considering Kentucky as an option for grad school and track wasn’t something I thought would genuinely happen. But I’m HERE. This is a big deal for me! I know people think I’m corny for talking about the school so much but DI was not an option for me out of high school. I did not have a bunch of big-name DI schools banging on my door when I entered the portal last season. I don’t have an athletic scholarship (but best believe, school is getting paid for – I don’t play that). But like I said: I’m HERE.

Going DIII to the SEC? That doesn’t happen every day. Most of the kids in my division who did move up were national champions, national record holders, 5+ time All-Americans, top 10 in performance history or had every other accolade you can think of. That wasn’t necessarily me. I’m going to take in every moment. I’ve never had this before and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity.

I disliked how small Ithaca was. It drove me insane a lot of the time. But the worst part about transferring is missing your people. I do not regret my decision to leave. I needed and wanted this. It’s going to pay off. But I miss the way people were. I miss my girls. When you spend four years with people, they become your family whether you like it or not. I think about them a lot. The kind hearts that they had were almost one in a million.

There are some times when I feel out of place. It’s almost like I’m here… but I’m not really here. Similar to a lucid dream. I wake up every day and forget I attend the University of Kentucky. I’m on the roster. I go to practice. I’m actually an SEC athlete. And to those who know me, you know I’ve got a huge personality, I’m extremely loud, I do the absolute most and can never sit still. So being in this new environment has caused me to close myself off a bit. I do feel like I’ve lost my voice a little. I want to be me but I’m scared. So, this is why I’m starting this newsletter. I want this to be a space where I can be myself and update you all.

My goal is to inspire others and convince them to take a chance on themselves. I hope you all enjoy going on this wild ride with me because it will surely be something to watch.

Here are five big things that have taken place lately…

  1. I won my first meet
  2. Even with these workouts, I’ve only cried ONE time at practice (y’all should be proud I’m a crybaby)
  3. My nickname at practice is Ithaca…
  4. I convinced one of my teammates to start Naruto (if you know, you know, top 2 anime). We’ll be at practice talking about it while Coach Hall looks at us like we’re crazy.
  5. Waffle House hits better than Cookout after a late evening on the town. If you know, you know.

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