Ayden Granados is a senior at McAllen Memorial High School. He's coming off a Texas UIL Class 5A outdoor track and field season where he was the state runner-up in both the 1,600m and 3,200m, achieving times of 4:11.03 and 9:08.91, respectively. So far this cross country season, Granados has won six straight races and remains in the hunt for a Texas state championship. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Ayden writes about his early beginnings in the sport, and just how it's shaped him through the years.
"But for me, running was an escape. It was a way to leave everything that was happening behind. It was a way to escape from reality itself and a way to see what the world was about: For its beauty and the freedom it gave me."
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Everyone has a story, and running is mine.
Ten years ago, I laced up my shoes and started that first run, at my first summer track practice.
Coach Trejo watched me for the first time and said, "his hands are all over the place, he's looking all around, I can't promise you anything but we will see what we can do."
I had no special ability. I didn't just wake up and race to first. I had to work.
But because of life's unexpected surprises, sometimes I had to work harder for what was expected.
I have grown up in South Texas, in McAllen, where running -- at least until recently -- was not a prominent sport in the Rio Grande Valley. It was the sport that coaches made their athletes sign up for in order to condition them for others.
But for me, running was an escape. It was a way to leave everything that was happening behind. It was a way to escape from reality itself and a way to see what the world was about: For its beauty and the freedom it gave me.
Growing up, I only had my mom, my maternal grandmother and aunt. And throughout those years, I have had many setbacks, some in my personal life and of course many in my running career. All of them have changed me and continued to mold me into the person I am becoming today.
The way I found running wasn't your average way of getting into it. One summer, when I was on vacation in San Antonio, I ran my first ever 5K. That Saturday morning, I woke up and ran my first consecutive three miles ever. I had never done that before, those miles all in a row, but a part of me liked it, so when we got back home I asked my family if I could pursue it more. We found The Valley Running Club and I started from there.
Later, through continued 5Ks at home, we were shown the way to TAAF (Team McAllen), where I met Coach Tony Trejo and his son, my current high school coach at McAllen, Jessie Trejo.
When I first started, I was far from being a skilled or trained runner. But Senior Trejo worked with me and always said he saw a light in me. My first couple of track meets, I would be left in the dust by everyone in my division. I started questioning the sport as a whole, but after some conversations and working with my coach, he showed me true love for the sport. I slowly started finding myself enjoying running again and also found a new running family. It was pleasantly unexpected.
Around this time, I was getting older and the competition itself was getting faster and I found myself at a difficult crossroads. I wasn't training in the summer. I would be inside all day, and then, after going home, I would struggle and fall short against my competition.
Then one day I decided I had to make a decision. Among other reasons, whether it was missing out on opportunities or being disqualified for not being where I needed to be, those experiences made me realize that if I really wanted something, I needed to be committed to that very thing.
So I made the decision to do that. It wasn't easy, and it came with some hard decisions, but I used that frustration -- and sometimes raw emotion -- to drive me.
It drove me to be a better runner, to work harder, to be faster and to stay focused. If someone told me I couldn't or I wouldn't, I just trained even harder.
Running became an escape. Running was my therapy.
Over the years, I had beaten the odds, had endured surgery and had overcome diagnosis'. I always found a way to get back to running. So once my high school running career started, I knew this was it, this was what I had been waiting for. I had an amazing coach, a team that was like a brotherhood and it felt like I could fly every time the starting gun went off.
I started hitting new times and I felt like I was really making a name for myself as an up-and-coming freshman. But I still had a lot of learning to do, particularly with racing.
I learned that when I was patient and listened to my body, things started to fall into place. For such a long time I had listened to my coach's every word and instruction, sometimes not realizing that I had a race to run. Until one day he just said "Just go, just let it all out on the track." That moment taught me that sometimes it's just that simple. You can't hold on to everything that weighs you down. You need to let it all go, every doubt, and you have to give your races everything you have, until you have nothing else to give.
Of course, I've also endured life after COVID. Our running seasons in the RGV were shut down for almost two years. During this time, I struggled mentally.
It was hard waking up and motivating myself to run. There was no team and no school, just empty streets. Running with a mask was almost impossible. But I had to keep telling myself that this was what I wanted and what I had to do to keep my dream within reach.
I refused to let things I couldn't control get in my way. I focused on what I could. Until finally, midway through sophomore year, we heard the news that we were going to slowly go back to normalcy.
There was a point that I gave up on myself and truly wanted to quit, but I dug deep every time that moment came, pushing through and telling myself it's going to get better. I just kept thinking of everything I had gone through and remembered that little boy who put everything on the line to be the best he could. And so I fought through it.
The summer before my junior year, I wrote my thoughts into a spiral notebook and I picked what I did best and what I didn't. I made changes and started grinding.
The unexpected turned to reality. I learned to read my body and how to better control my breathing. I learned to push through and keep going. I learned to train harder and run harder. I made the moves I needed to with my teammates next to me.
"It drove me to be a better runner, to work harder, to be faster and to stay focused. If someone told me I couldn't or I wouldn't, I just trained even harder."
I found new strengths and crossed the finish line, one race after another.
But my heartbreak wasn't over. Life kept throwing me twists. My mentor, the man who made me the runner I am today, the man who guided me, counseled me and reminded me that not giving up on the bad days led to celebrating the good days, was losing his battle with cancer.
It absolutely broke me when Coach Trejo died. But at the same time, that little fire he saw in me many years ago burned brighter than ever.
He wasn't letting the unexpected stop him, until his last day.
He was Coach T, the Legend.
And so neither did I. As my senior year started, I knew I had to run for him.
The underdog from South Texas was going to do the unexpected.
So to every runner out there, I leave you these words: Train for the unexpected because the unexpected trains you for what you will never expect.
McAllen Memorial '23
CONTRIBUTE TO THIS SERIES
If you are a track and field athlete or coach interested in contributing to this series at the state or national level, please send your essay to MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at email@example.com, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.