**Note: This article originally published in The Reporter and The Ambler Gazette**
Kate Dodds is not your typical success story. In fact, you could say adopting the sport she loves has been more of an acquired taste than an immediate love for the long-distance runner.
“I started running my junior year at Upper Dublin. The coach kind of found me in the hallway and was like ‘you should run; you have really long legs.’ I wasn’t any good really. I just did it with a bunch of my friends and didn’t take it seriously at all. Then I started to really like it…by the end of my senior year my coach suggested I try out to run in college and I was like, ‘are you serious?’
“I didn’t really start out phenomenal or anything like that. I just kept improving.”
The reward for all that improvement? Dodds recently finished third in the 10K at the Division II Track and Field National Championships, running the race in a school-record time of 34:52.66. She also earned All-American honors for the performance.
“(I) ended up getting first in the conference my junior year in the 10K and I didn’t really know what I was doing… for my final year, this year, I started to learn more about how the 10K works and I pretty much just trained for a 10K my entire year. I trained for nationals and everything I did was focused on just that one race.”
Building an entire year for a 35-minute race can put a lot of pressure on an athlete. But Dodds modest yet passionate approach may be what gives her an edge once the gun goes off.
“With 150m left I was in 5th place and that’s when the voice inside my head said ‘Come on Kate. Don’t settle. This right here is everything you’ve worked for,”’ Dodds said. “Then next thing I knew I was bent over the trash can with a 3rd-place finish. It was an extremely surreal and out of body experience to say the least. I couldn’t even believe it. I still can’t.”
“Kate ran a brilliant race,” Bloomsburg head coach Bernie Empie said. “Hovering near the back of the field for over 5000 (which she passed in 17:39), she moved up in the field each time the pack began to splinter. Her last 5k was 17:14.
“Her patience paid off as she closed the last 1000m as well as anyone in the race. It was inspiring and an unbelievable trace to watch. Kate had worked so hard and it’s awesome to see her all her efforts get rewarded with another All American accolade.”
Dodds was also an All-American in cross-country in the fall. She then won the 3K and 5K championships at the PSAC Indoor Track and Field Championships, two races she has gotten better at as her 10K times have improved.
Of course not all of this success has come overnight. Dodds quiet confidence stems from years of hard work and determination. After all, Dodds has had some making up to do since she’s only been a runner for five years, and a long distance runner for even less time.
“I was an 800 runner (in high school), so I was technically a sprinter coming into college and I was a walk-on…by my junior year in college I just started to get longer and longer in the distance.
“Going into my junior year I really didn’t want any of the lower classmen to beat me so I trained really hard and starting running a lot more mileage; I went from running like 30 miles per week to 55. That’s when I saw a huge improvement.”
Despite not wanting to get beat by the underclassmen it’s her classmates, both the same age and older, who Dodds has counted on to constantly boost her times.
“I always had people who were better than me who I always kind of looked up to and wanted to get closer to where they were,” she said. “My junior year we had a girl on our team, Vicki Davis, who was an All-American in cross country, the 5K and steeple so I always trained really hard to get closer to her. Then my best friend, Lauren Lehman, she’s a senior too – she was always better than me at cross country so I always kind of pushed myself to work out with her and it was a lot harder for me. So it would benefit (me) in the long run.”
Also in Dodds corner is a family member who really stands out, even amongst the big crowds the D-II Track and Field Championships draw.
“My best fan is my stepdad,” Dodds said. “He loves watching me run. He doesn’t really get the whole running thing but he’s always there. And it helped at nationals because there are so many people and he’s British. So I can always hear him cheering me on because of his British accent.
The 10K, just long distance in general, is so mental and there were some races that were really hard. He always reminds me that I’m better than I think I am and he always pushes me to be better.”
So what does the future hold for a long-distance runner who pushes herself mentally every day, and does it better than most of her competitors?
“My major is psychology.”
Of course it is.
“In the fall I’m actually doing an internship with the school psychologist at an elementary school…if I like that I’d like to go into possibly some psychology masters program.”
And just because Dodds’ collegiate career is almost over, she has one more cross-country season left in the fall before she graduates, it doesn’t mean she’ll stop doing what she loves.
“I always want to be involved in the running community,” she said. “I’m definitely going to always be running…that’s why I love it so much; you can really just like run until your 90 years old.”
If she keeps working this hard Dodds will probably still be competitive at 90 too.