Long before the leaves changed colour and the season started, Simon Fraser University (SFU) runner Julia Howley wrote down a goal in her practice journal — finish 15th at the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) national championships.
"I was able to just hold on this weekend and fulfill that goal in my last cross-country race of my collegiate career. So it was really exciting," she told CBC.
On Saturday, Nov. 18 in Evansville, Indiana, the senior at SFU found herself standing with some of the top cross-country runners in the NCAA Division II.
Finishing in the top 40 earns runners an "All-American" status. Howley's 15th place showing in the six-kilometre race earned her a special keepsake in the form of an NCAA trophy — one that now "looks good" in her room.
But her dream race almost got blown away.
"The race was scheduled to go off at 10:15 [Eastern Standard Time]. But some severe weather was forecasted for Saturday with some tornado warnings," said Howley.
Organizers had to act as fast as the runners competing in their event — quickly moving the start time up by two hours.
"Which means we were all up eating our bananas and peanut butter at 5:30 in the morning, getting ready to run," Howley said.
"So it was a little bit of a funny schedule."
The 21-year-old senior at SFU crossed the finished line in a time of 21:21. Her 15th place finish is the second highest for SFU in the NCAA's championship race.
Congrats Senior @HowleyJulia 15th place finish (21:21.0) @NCAADII Championships, 2nd highest placing for @SFUClan individual in program history behind alum @LindseyButters 12th (21:23.7) in 2013! @AthleticsCanada @NLAthletics @SFU @SFUalumni https://t.co/5a2SgGsn3b— @SFUTrack
It was Lindsay Butterworth in a 2012 race that had the best all-time finish for SFU.
"[She] competed at the World Championships for Canada this past summer, so it's not a bad person to be behind," Howley said.
"Kinda cool to see my name up with hers," she added.
With her cross-country career completed at Simon Fraser, Howley will take a few weeks off before getting ready for the indoor and outdoor track season.