German graduate student developing into a force for Iowa women's track
Mareike Schrulle doesn't hold expectations for herself.
She doesn't expect to win. She doesn't expect to be the best.
The German graduate student said she runs more freely — both mentally and from injuries — without the pressure.
"I'm a lot happier, and that helps me run better," she said. "To me, it's just a race. I'll always do my best. It's a lot easier on me."
The distance runner was a decorated athlete in her hometown of Arnsburg prior to becoming a Hawkeye last fall. She played a variety of sports, including soccer, tennis, and badminton.
Schrulle said she never gave much thought to running competitively, because it wasn't something she could see herself doing.
But she started running cross-country and distance events in 2006.
She claimed the German national championship in the 3,000 meters in 2008.
"After several months, I continued to get better," she said. "I wanted to do it more, because I saw there was success in this sport. I just had to train a bit harder and keep on running."
A German national gold medal is only a small note on her lengthy list of successes. Schrulle was also part of the national cross-country championship team that year; in 2009, she earned the right to compete in the 23-and-under European Cross-Country Championships. She placed 13th, only three years after she started running competitively.
The sky was the limit for the then-19-year-old. She said she wasn't quite sure where running would take her, but she knew she would keep after it.
But she hit a wall in 2010.
"Before I came here, I had tendinitis in my right foot. Once that healed up, I began to train again," she said. "But I still couldn't compete. I injured my ankle later on."
The injuries were a result of running "too many miles," the 22-year-old said. Schrulle said she pressured herself into believing that amping up her training was the best approach to continue running at a top level. She said the pressure to succeed ultimately caused her aches and pains.
She realized she would have to go easier on both her mind and her feet if she wanted to keep running. She raised the bar with different training techniques instead of increasing her mileage. She swims once or twice a week and lifts weights when her legs are sore.
It was also during her rehabilitation that Schrulle had the opportunity to come to the United States to continue her education and continue to run.
She said she was hesitant at first — she has strong ties to her family — but she finally decided to move because it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.
"I was like, 'OK Mareike. If you don't do it now, you can never do it again,' " she said. "There were no other possibilities. I had to."
She looked into the Hawkeye track and field program after hearing about Iowa head coach Layne Anderson while in Germany. She read up on Iowa City and didn't see anything she didn't like; she decided Black and Gold was the way to go.
She wasn't the only one excited about the jump. Anderson said adding Schrulle to his roster was positive for his other distance runners.
"The challenge hasn't been if she can compete, but rather, if she can stay healthy enough to compete," the third-year head coach said. "She came in with injuries and has worked hard and diligently to get to where she can run again."
Schrulle placed second in the 3,000 meters at the Meyo Invitational in South Bend, Ind., this past weekend, prompting Anderson to say she can only continue to improve — as long as she stays healthy.
"I'm an optimist, but the best is still very much ahead for her," he said.
While remaining injury-free is an accomplishment in its own for Schrulle, she said being part of the Hawkeye track program has done wonders for her. She describes herself as an "extremely social person" and said she loves the "family atmosphere" the Iowa tracksters share.
That atmosphere led her to move in with a few teammates. Rather than living in a quiet, one-person apartment in northeastern Iowa City, as she did as a newcomer last year, she goes home to some of her best friends, eats dinner, and chats away with her "family."
That family atmosphere rings true, as her distance teammates said before practice on Monday was that Schrulle is their leader by example.
Her accomplishments prove it.
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