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When I entered my freshman year at CU in the fall of 2009, I considered trying to walk on to the Buffs’ cross-country team. When it became clear that I didn’t have the times to be competitive, I settled for following the team’s progress and living vicariously through its star runners.
Naturally at the time, freshman standout Allie McLaughlin was high on my radar. She only started running cross-country her junior year of high school at the Air Academy in Colorado Springs.
When she came in fifth at the 2008 Nike Foot Locker National Championships after leading for most of the race, her natural talent became obvious. I watched that race on YouTube over and over again for inspiration, knowing that with more experience McLaughlin would hone her race strategy and be able to hold on for a win.
At CU, she had one of the best freshman seasons of any runner in CU history. With only Olympian Jenny Barringer ahead of her, McLaughlin was the Buffs’ No. 2 runner for the first four varsity meets of the year. She was the runner-up at the Big 12 Championship behind Barringer, and took third at the NCAA Mountain Region Championship.
At the NCAA National Championship, when Barringer faltered, McLaughlin took the reins. She came in fifth and was the fastest freshman, Big 12 runner and NCAA Mountain Region competitor to finish the race. She received All-American honors and recorded the second-fastest freshman time in the history of the race, trailing only Olympian Shalane Flanagan’s time in 2000.
All signs pointed to future stardom, and I looked forward to watching her improve throughout her college career.
Then, McLaughlin dropped off the map.
She suffered stress fractures in the past and watched the Rocky Mountain Shootout from the sideline on crutches. I kept hoping throughout the fall that she would compete in a race, but I eventually accepted that she would be out for the entire season.
The first time I saw McLaughlin on campus, I thought she was somebody’s little sister. Her 4’10” stature and tiny frame almost always come up in discussions about her disappearance.
Rumors have floated around that McLaughlin was too frail to be running the high mileage and intensity common on the CU team. Users of websites like Letsrun.com made entire threads about her, discussing overuse injuries and the potential of a burnout. Many even accused her of having an eating disorder.
I am confident that that last part is not true. As a runner, I know that training often and at a high intensity requires plenty of fuel.
McLaughlin has been an athlete her entire life, having played hockey competitively until her sophomore year of high school. She ran high school cross-country very successfully for two years, and made it through an entire semester of training at CU with no problems. Had she had an intentional eating disorder, she would have “burned out” long before she had the chance to shine.
McLaughlin is now a junior. The Buffs cross-country team made its debut Saturday at the CU Alumni/Open/Time Trial, and while McLaughlin did not compete, neither did standout Emma Coburn. Since the race is a non-conference season opener that often functions as a tryout meet for hopeful freshmen, it’s not uncommon for CU’s top returning runners to sit the race out.
I hope to see McLaughlin at the Rocky Mountain Shootout on Saturday, Oct. 1, whether she races or just supports her teammates. I will be patient as she works toward recovery and eases back into the sport. When she is ready to put her Buffs uniform back on and toe the line, I’m sure she will shock the nation with her talent once again.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Caryn Maconi at Caryn.firstname.lastname@example.org.