STANFORD — Alex Bunch needed to learn how to have fun again.
Injuries prevented the Lincoln County junior from doing her best last track season, and in turn it prevented her from enjoying much of anything last year.
“I was really frustrated and it was really hard to get back into running again. I thought I was getting burnt out, and I got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it any more,” Bunch said.
In the 2010 cross country season, Bunch got a stress fracture in her hip. She rested, placing 32nd at the state meet, and then got ready for track. But she hadn’t healed all the way, and missed most of the track season. She finished second in the region in the 800-meter run and did not run the 1,600. However, she did have her best finish ever at state, placing 10th in the 800.
She placed 38th in the state in the Class AAA girls state cross country meet this past fall, but came into this track season with a new attitude.
““I missed half of last year’s track season, and it was frustrating because all I felt I was doing was catching up. This year I’ve stayed healthy and I’ve enjoyed it more. I just decided I wasn’t getting stressed out as much. God’s given me the ability to run, and I’m going to enjoy it, and that’s why I do it,” she said. “I’ve been trying to enjoy it more. I’ve run better times and I’m enjoying it more.”
She won both the 800 and 1,600 last week at the Central Kentucky Conference meet. Bunch is ranked first in the 800 and 1,600 going into Thursday’s Class AAA, Region 7 meet at Madison Central, and said she feels as good as she ever has, which is why she’s running as well as she ever has.
“I’m more relaxed before races, and it doesn’t mess with my stomach as much,” she said. “I’m not scared if someone passes me. I don’t freak out.”
Not too many people have passed Bunch at the regional meets.
In 2010, she won the 800 and finished second in the 1,600. She won both of those races in 2009.
She likes her chances to get back to her winning ways Thursday.
“I feel confident when I can run, but you can’t take anything for granted,” she said. “You may have someone who has the race of their life and runs right past me.”
Bunch is not getting ahead of herself, and knows she has to do well at the regional to get to state, but she definitely has her goals for the state meet. To reach those, she’ll probably have to run better than her best.
“In the state, the competition is stiff. It’s one of those things you don’t know what’s going to happen. You get in the race and you see who shows up that day,” she said. “I want to medal. I’d like to PR (personal record), but I really want top eight. That’s going to be tough.”
She ran her best time ever in the 1,600 at 5 minutes, 21 seconds at the Boyle County Invitational two weeks ago. She’s hoping to be able to trim off some of that time because that’s what it’s going to take to be in the top eight at the state meet in Louisville May 19.
“I’ll definitely have to run under 5:20. There’s several girls under 5:20,” she said.
But the better the competition, the better Bunch thinks she can do.
“When I get in race with a bunch of fast girls who can pull me through, that will help,” she said.
Bunch admits she checks the times of her main competitors to know exactly what she needs to do get better and who she has to beat.
“I just kind of know, ‘OK, this person’s a few seconds ahead of me, so maybe if I stay with them I’ll run a few seconds faster.’ Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t,” she said.
She’s hoping her injuries and self-doubt are behind her. She’s is running as strong as she ever has, and has learned how to properly train so she doesn’t suffer any more injuries that could sideline her again.
Bunch said she doesn’t just “jump in” to training now, but takes her time and builds into a strong workout.
“And every now and then, if I’m tired I take a day off because sometimes that helps more than running,” she said. “I don’t know if I was just unlucky in the past or what.”