After returning home to León, Spain, for winter break, Blanca Fernandez felt a sharp pain in her left leg.
Following a fall cross country season where she was a first-place finisher in six of the seven races she competed in, the graduate senior’s body began to wear down.
“You always have pains, like hips, and you can be sore from the workout yesterday,” Fernandez said. “You always have a nuisance that is on some part of your body, but this pain, I was like, ‘No, I cannot tolerate this. I’m running uncomfortable.’”
The pain was discovered to be tendinitis in her IT band on her left leg. Tendinitis can be caused by repetitive strain, or overuse, on a particular area. Repetition is not uncommon in a distance runner’s workout, as he or she can log several miles a day, multiple days of the week.
“As a distance runner you log, I call it, ‘time on your legs,’” coach Elvis Forde said. “They probably log more time on their legs than anyone else in terms of the repetitions you do. And the better you get at distance running, the more miles you start to put in. There are a lot of kids that suffer from overuse syndrome because it is the only way to get better.”
The injury required Fernandez to miss a majority of the indoor season.
Her first competition of the season was the last regular-season meet, the David Hemery Valentine Invitational in Boston on Feb. 12-13. Fernandez finished 38th in the 3,000-meter, which was the 11th-best in the American Athletic Conference for the 2015-16 indoor season.
The next meet was the American Athletic Conference Championships Feb. 28-29 in Birmingham, Alabama. Fernandez ran in the distance medley relay, but she didn’t run the 3,000 because of her injury.
“I started racing and training normally and I came back to the pain,” Fernandez said. “So that was really disappointing because you think you are there, but no, that was a joke. [At conferences], I had a lot of pain, so the coaches decided to not let me run.”
Fernandez, who was the first woman in program history to achieve first team All-American honors in cross country, said she should be ready to rejoin the team in about two weeks, as her timetable for return is based on how she feels.
“My goals this season are probably going to be the highest in my life,” Fernandez said. “This is my last semester competing with the team. As a team, I want us to get as many points as we can at conference and then qualify for nationals.”
Since transferring to Temple in January 2014, Fernandez has collected NCAA All-American second team honors in indoor and outdoor track for the mile and the 1,500-meter respectively.
Fernandez holds the school record in four of the five events she competes in. For indoor, she has run the fastest time in the mile and the 3,000 of any female Owl. For outdoor track, Fernandez holds bests in the 800 and 1,500. She’s also ranked second in the 5,000.
Fernandez also hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When she goes back to Spain after graduating, she will have to have a top-three finish in the 5,000 in Spain’s National Championship to represent her country.
If Fernandez qualifies, she will be the first woman in school history to compete at the Olympics.
“It’s like the dream of everyone to compete in the Olympics,” Fernandez said. “Last year, I was third in the 1,500. After that, it was like, ‘Maybe it’s not just a dream. It could be real.’ If I competed in the Olympics, my life would change completely. So let’s just go step by step and if I qualify, I will think about what will happen next.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.