Oct. 17, 2011
By Daniel Roth
Running is all about the struggle for personal improvement. You end up physically racing against others in competition, but the real battle comes before that in training. Joey Bywater, a junior on the Cross Country and Track and Field teams understands that "to be good you have to exhaust yourself."
True runners live for this constant battle; it's what gets them going and makes it all worth it. For most people the arduous pattern of pushing yourself beyond your physical limits only to do the same thing even harder the next day seems like punishment, but that isn't the case for Bywater.
"It's fun getting to a new point where you're excited to test yourself and just see if you've gotten better," says Bywater, "that's what I like, just trying to get to new levels."
Bywater started running competitively his freshman year at Lake Stevens High School for track season and this lifestyle has brought him success ever since. During his first year at Lake Stevens he broke many of the school's freshman track records.
"I was thinking about playing football the next year," Bywater admitted, "but after that track season I decided I should probably run instead."
That decision proved to be the right one. Bywater enjoyed tremendous success during his high school career including being Washington State 4A Cross Country runner-up as a junior in 2006, winning the Washington 4A State Track title at 3200-meters in 2006 and 2007, and the 1600-meter state title in 2007 among other personal accolades. His success in high school got the Huskies' attention and on his recruiting visit Bywater fell in love with what he saw.
"On my recruiting trip, (UW) stood alone. The feeling of hanging out with the guys here and (Head Coach Greg Metcalf) and just hanging around the facilities," Bywater says were big factors in his decision to run at UW. "The time during my trip was really fun and it just felt like a place where I wanted to be."
Bywater was immediately thrown into the fire. During his first year running for the Huskies Bywater faced a huge test against premier competition. At the Pac-10 meet he found himself racing against two Olympians: Galen Rupp and Andrew Wheating of Oregon University.
"It was really cool," said Bywater, who just a year before was competing against other local high school athletes, "to go from running in high school to running with literally some of the best in the world."
Facing such elite competition at the collegiate level requires a lot more training at much higher levels. Over the last few years Bywater has been able to grow a lot as a runner because of his commitment to excel in this new environment.
"In high school you usually have plenty of time to rest and there's a bigger offseason. But here it's like one long season," Bywater says about the changes and challenges that come with being a collegiate Track and Cross Country runner, "my freshman year I felt beat up all the time, as opposed to this year. I can run hard every day. I can run 80 miles a week and still feel like my energy levels are still pretty high."
College distance running truly is one long season. The cross country season takes place in the fall and ends in late November, the indoor track season starts at the beginning of winter and finishes with the Indoor National Championships in March and the outdoor season is after that in spring culminating this year with the Outdoor National Championships June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Unfortunately, injuries have slowed him down a bit during his time as a Husky. He suffered a stress related injury to his foot that prevented him from running for eight weeks. This took a huge physical toll because he was unable to maintain his training regimen, but the psychological impact was just as powerful.
Bywater has since recovered physically from the foot injury but it's taken longer to get back mentally. He says that after an injury like that, "it's really hard to get your confidence back and get excited. That injury was a long time ago but I feel like I really haven't been myself until now. My confidence is up and I'm really excited to test myself again."
He looked to be back to his old self on the track last year, making the Pac-10 final at 1,500-meters for the second time and advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals, where he finished 19th in the West. The top-12 finishers advanced on to the NCAA final site. This year Bywater doesn't want to get close to nationals like he did last year, he wants to be there himself. And he expects to be there. Bywater is eager to succeed in all three seasons, and as UW's top runner so far this fall, he has proven he can handle the long distances, but his main focus is outdoor track. He will not look past cross country and the indoor season, but his long term focus is the outdoor season at the end of the school year. That's where Bywater wants to prove himself most.
"Now that I'm healthy I want the expectation to always be to make it to nationals." Bywater confidently, "my goal is rather than being on the edge, to take that step over it and be one of the guys that makes the finals and makes it to nationals."
And just making it to nationals isn't enough for Bywater; he wants to score points at nationals and finish in the top eight.
During last year's indoor track season, Bywater missed a 4-minute mile by 0.53 seconds. Running a mile in 4:00.53 is impressive but it's not good enough for Bywater. This illustrates Bywater's self-made challenge for this year and next: to make the jump from good to great, from doing well to doing something that gets you remembered. And he doesn't just want to shave that pesky 0.53 seconds off of his time, he wants to plow through the 4-minute mark and eclipse it by at least a couple of seconds.
Bywater knows that it will require an ever-increasing amount of work to achieve his lofty personal and team goals during the rest of his time at UW, but that doesn't scare him. He's a self-proclaimed "track guy" so there is no doubt he'll cherish the long and difficult journey to the top that comes with being a successful runner.