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Rick Houston | | December 5, 2014

Just keep going

  Keller returned from a three-week injury to finish third in the regional championship.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- This is what it’s like to be a runner.

Runners don’t miss workouts if at all possible, and missing more than one seems like the absolute end of the world. Skipping just a single workout is acceptable, maybe, but no more than that.

Runners run. Not running is a bad thing. A very, very bad thing.

Now, consider the plight of Mackie Keller, a sophomore on Malone’s cross country team. She had been out of action for not only a day or two, but for a little more than three weeks due to an injury in her left foot.

Keller crossed-trained on an elliptical machine, anti-gravity treadmill and bicycle, but that was about it. The foot was swollen, bruised and eventually placed in a boot.

  Malone earned its first championship appearance.
X-rays revealed no fractures or anything of the sort. Her dad, a doctor himself, consulted with a colleague who specializes in sports medicine and was told that she should train by feel. In other words, do what she could possibly do and if it hurt too badly, stop.

But the NCAA Division II women’s cross country regionals in Evansville, Indiana was a few weeks away, and Keller was not going to miss them -- foot pain or no foot pain, injury or not.

“I was nervous, but I think it had just gotten to a point after cross training so long, mentally I was like, ‘I’m ready to run. I’m tired of ellipticals. I’m ready to be outside,’ ” Keller said. “I was ready to run with my teammates. I never realized how much I appreciated working out with teammates. I was ready to run with people. Mentally, I was ready.”

The support of coach Jack Hazen was instrumental in keeping Keller in the right frame of mind heading into the event.

“A couple of days before the race, I was just a little bit emotionally down,” Keller admitted. “I was anxious about the race. [Hazen] made me feel like no matter what, he still cares for me. That meant a lot. He said, ‘There’s no pressure on you. You’re okay. Everything’s going to be okay.’ That was very comforting for me.”

Keller did not win the 6k but she helped the Pioneers finish fourth among the 30 teams that competed in the regionals. Unranked, Malone bested four teams top 25 in the process.

“Mackie finished third on our team, and the women would not have qualified without her,” said Hazen in a release on the school’s website. “It was really gratifying to see her pull through and get her team to the nationals.”

About a thousand meters out from the finish, she heard people on the sidelines saying that Malone was in fourth place -- the final spot to move on to Louisville and the NCAA Division II national championships. She told herself to keep pressing, but tried not to think too much.

She just kept going.

What the team had accomplished didn’t really register until after she crossed the finish line.

“There was a lot of relief from the stress I’d felt over the past couple of weeks,” Keller said. “It was really great. All I’d been working for since May has paid off. I’m getting another chance to run with my teammates. I kind of realized that I can have confidence in myself.”

Come race time in Louisville, her goals are simple enough.

“My goals are to finish this race knowing I gave it my all,” she concluded. “I don’t really have any times or anything in mind. Another thing is I want to be able to be able to stick with my teammates during this race, stay in touch with them and give it my all.”

Runners run. It’s what they do, and it’s what Mackie Keller does. Pain or not.