BOULDER — Five years ago, Natosha Rogers quit running after a meteoric rise in the sport during her junior year at Texas A&M.
That year, 2012, she went from an “also-ran” to setting school records, indoors and outdoors, and eventually becoming a surprise NCAA 10K champion. Her last race before stepping away was the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Trials, where she finished second but didn’t qualify for the Olympics because she didn’t have the standard.
But she was plagued by illness and a nagging knee injury, eventually becoming unsure whether she had the passion to continue. She left the sport and studied abroad in Argentina, where she worked for a radio broadcast outlet on her way to earning a journalism degree.
“I just needed to decide for myself whether (running) was what I wanted to do still,” she told The Denver Post. “When you’re away from the sport for over a year, it’s a very long journey back, which I lived first-hand. I just changed my mindset and life and started seeing some success.”
On Monday, Rogers — a graduate of Dakota Ridge High School — raced her first Bolder Boulder 10K, finishing third in the women’s elite race in 33 minutes, 44.69 seconds to lead Team USA to a second place finish, one point behind Ethiopia.
“I wasn’t expecting to get third today, but a mile into the race, I decided to be a little more competitive and take a risk, and I’m glad I did,” Rogers said. “I train at altitude and have been doing some hill work, so I knew I had the strength to somewhat chase down (the) three in front of me. And one of them started to drop off, and I just made a bold decision to go get her.”
After her break from the sport, Rogers returned in 2014, signing with New Balance and moving to Boston to be a part of a training group coached by Mark Coogan.
She quickly discovered that training on her own was more effective, and she returned to Denver, where she now trains primarily solo and is coached by Steve Magness. Leaving the camaraderie of training with a group was a risk, but one that she felt she needed — and that her sponsor supported.
“I had to come back to Colorado. It’s where my roots are, where my support (is),” she said. “My family and friends were watching me. And having that made this an experience that I will never forget.”
She prefers training on her own schedule, cross-training when necessary, and running through the city, where it’s easy to get lost down side streets and explore.
“I decided, for me, that I needed to spread my energy out better,” Rogers said. “There’s a growing pain. … I started redeveloping that itch to do some big things. It took me three years to get back to where I am now.”
Rogers will continue to prepare for next month’s U.S. outdoors championships in late June in Sacramento, Calif., having qualified in the 5K and 10K. Last week, she ran 15:08 in the 5K — an eye-popping 20-second improvement over her previous best.
The journey back to top form has been long, but Rogers isn’t living with regrets. For her, running isn’t just a career or a sport, it’s also spiritual.
“Running is not all I have anymore, and I want to be sure I keep that balance.”