Courtney Bouchet remembers her first University of Colorado time trial well.
Bouchet, then a freshman, watched nervously in her neon yellow jersey as a group of Buffs runners warmed up together in their black and gold. Her dad Neal kept her company while she stretched.
Without blinking, the 5-foot-4, fifth-year senior can rattle off her time from that first race four years ago -- 25:46.
On Saturday morning at the 2013 CU Time Trial, Bouchet ran her final time trial with the Buffs, finishing the 5.8-kilometer race with the pack in 22:17.
Now in her last year of eligibility, Bouchet can't believe how far she's come since head coach Mark Wetmore offered her a spot on the team as a freshman.
As much as she fits in now, there was a time when Bouchet ran mostly by herself. As a freshman, Bouchet remembers how every single workout she got dropped -- runner speak for not being able to keep up with the pack's pace. During Bouchet's freshman year the pack included now world champion Jenny (Barringer) Simpson.
"There have been times that I was like 'I'm not going to make it, I can't do this,' " Bouchet said. " 'I can't get out of bed and go run with these people who are going to drop me instantly.' But it's been totally worth it. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Each year after that, Bouchet hit a new milestone. As a sophomore, she kept up with the back of the pack. By her junior year, when the Buffs women's team won the Pac-12 championship, she had established herself firmly in the middle of the pack. Last year she helped organize team runs in Boulder over the summer.
This year, she's leading quietly by working hard at every practice and offering some of the wisdom she's garnered in the past four years to younger runners on the team, Wetmore said.
"I don't think she would be offended if I said three and a half years ago she wouldn't have been on many people's formchart for making the Colorado varsity teams, but now she's looking like one of our leaders," Wetmore said after Saturday's race.
In the time trial, returners tend to run in a group rather than compete to win, and some Colorado runners run unattached or don't run at all. It's a chance for Wetmore and his staff to evaluate who did their summer workouts and who has the potential to walk on.
Wetmore likes Bouchet's "mature" and "businesslike" approach to training, he said. Part of that comes from the fact that off the course, Bouchet takes her classes seriously. She's studying molecular, cellular and developmental biology. As if that combination wasn't hard enough, she recently added a second major, neuroscience.
Bouchet is still debating medical school, but she knows she wants to get at least a master's degree in something like integrative physiology. She works in CU's Stress Physiology Laboratory studying the effects of exercise on rats.
What the lab has found through research is that exercise makes rats more protected from stress. That's helpful for Bouchet to keep in mind, since she spends a lot of her week exercising, stressed, or both, she said laughing.
When she first started working out with the team years ago, she asked her now-NCAA champion and Olympian teammate Shalaya Kipp for tips on how to improve.
At first, Kipp was skeptical. After all, runners walk on at Colorado all the time, but many quit after a year or so because they can't keep up.
Now, Kipp said Bouchet is one of her best friends on the team (the two can't take a picture together without cracking up and making goofy faces), and definitely one of the hardest-working and most improved runners at Colorado.
"I remember Courtney's first day because I was helping her and I was like 'This girl is just going to be following me around now,'" Kipp said. "And it turned out that she wanted to learn everything so badly and she was working so hard. She gets better and better and better and most people on our team now have no idea that she was a walk-on."
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CU Time Trial
Buffalo Ranch Cross Country
Men's 8K race -- 1. Ben Saarel, 26:19; 2. Zach Perrin, 26:19; 3. Connor Winter, Colorado, 26:20; 4. Ammar Moussa, Colorado, 26:20; 5. Blake Theroux, Colorado, 26:20; 6. Thomas Dialynas, 26:21; 7. Pierce Murphy, Colorado, 26:21; 8. Dillon Shije, Colorado, 26:21; 9. Hugh Dowdy, Colorado, 26:28; 10. Jackson Friesth, 26:51.
Women's 5.8K race -- 1. Melanie Nunn, 22:16; 2. Erin Clark, 22:16; 3. Catrina McAlister, Colorado, 22:16; 4. Abbey Levene, Colorado, 22:17; 5. Carrie Verdon, 22:17; 6. Courtney Bouchet, Colorado, 22:17; 7. Jana Stolting, Colorado, 22:17; 8. Hagen Reedy, 22:26; 9. Elizabeth Tremblay, Colorado, 22:32; 10. Jenny Desouchet, Colorado, 22:45.