By Matt Ensor, Graduate Assistant from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership

For some of us, running isn't just a form of exercise. It's a get away from everyday life for some and for others it's a way of life.

In places like the Pacific Northwest, running is a way of life. Schools like the University of Oregon fill stadiums with bigger capacities than the Siegel Center for track and field meets. People worship track heroes like the late Steve Prefontaine.

Yet this love of running isn't isolated on the other side of the country. VCU is also home to people with this same mindset.

"Running is basically my life. I do it for two or three hours out of the day," proudly states junior Hayley Sullivan of the VCU women's cross country team.

Sullivan is in the midst of her first season with the Rams after red-shirting last year. She joins the Black & Gold after two seasons at NCAA Division III's University of Mary Washington. She left the Eagles to seek new challenges.

"I was really doing well there and didn't have much as far as competition," Sullivan admitted.

In two years at Mary Washington, Sullivan had outpaced the competition. She was the 2008 CAC Women's Runner of the Year, and she represented the Eagles at the 2009 Division III Women's Cross Country National Championship in Indiana.

When it came time to move up to the Division I level, the Burke native looked to programs in her home state of Virginia. Sullivan chose VCU over George Mason after her trip to Richmond.

"I really liked it when I came and visited here. It was different. Pulling onto Broad Street and seeing the Siegel Center with its bright lights, I thought it was pretty cool," Sullivan said.

The thrill of increased competition isn't the only thing Sullivan is excited about. She is looking forward to working with her teammates and coaches. Specifically she's eager about the prospects of having school record holder Nicole Walters as a running partner. Though Sullivan is still fairly new to the team, she is in good company. Director of Cross Country, Nicole Cook, is also beginning her first year with the Black & Gold.

Sullivan is already being inspired by her former national champion coach, "She doesn't let anything bother her, and she's a good influence on everyone."

If Sullivan was anxious about the new challenge of running for the Rams, she didn't show it in the opening meet. She finished in the top 15 with a time of 19:49.01 at the Lou Onesty Open.

Sullivan will look to keep her momentum going into the rest of the season, thousands of strides at a time.