A chilly 36-degree day in Shelbyville, Indiana, welcomed then-freshman Payne Turney to collegiate running. With Covid-19 canceling the 2020 fall cross country season, she had been training the past few months with her Purdue teammates for this one meet, the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on January 30, 2021.
Turney completed the 6k course with a time of 24:13.0, the first race of her collegiate running career.
“That was when I thought, ‘oh my gosh, this is incredible,'” she said. “‘There’s a lot of competition here.'”
Since then, Turney has run for six top-five finishes in her cross country and track & field career, including three wins.
One of those first-place finishes came in her second collegiate race, the Hawkeye Big Ten Invitational, where she clocked a 1,600 meter time of 5:05.26 in her first indoor track & field meet on February 12, 2021.
Two weeks later, Turney and the team traveled to the Spire Institution in Geneva, Ohio, to compete at the Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships. She helped the Boilermakers finish seventh in the distance medley relay in 11:39.49.
“Being able to go to Big Tens freshman year was so exciting,” she said. “We got to have this big travel trip going with some of my best friends on the team. I thought it was such a great experience.”
This season, Turney has continued to race well to begin her junior year. On September 17, she placed 12th out of 183 runners at the John McNichols Invite in the 5k with a time of 17:54.9.
Turney began running in fifth grade when she joined her school’s cross country team. All her friends were doing it, so she figured she should join too. As she continued to grow into a high school athlete, Turney started to see a future in the sport.
She saw herself get faster and started breaking records. Turney earned three cross country all-state honors during her high school career and ended her junior year at the top of the mountain as the 2019 2A Illinois state champion in the 800-meter.
“You’re accomplishing these achievements, and you’re thinking, ‘oh, I want to keep doing this,'” Turney said. “‘I don’t think I should stop at high school graduation.'”
As a collegiate runner, Turney continues to compete in cross country events in the fall and races in the 1600-meter and the 800-meter in winter and spring track meets.
While Turney said it’s difficult to find free time during the school year, she and her roommates dedicated time to cooking group meals.
“We have been getting together and doing a lot of meals and perfecting recipes,” Turney said. “I think this weekend we’re planning to do some baking, baking some bread.”
Turney also loves to read. Over the summer, she worked at an undergraduate research lab and, in her free time, read a lot of science fiction books including I, Robot, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Ender’s Game. She enjoyed the opportunity to “branch out” and read different types of novels instead of her favorite genre, mystery.
“I’m a really big fan of mystery,” Turney said. “Some classic Agatha Christie.”
She also is a big fan of the newly-remodeled West Lafayette Public Library, which had been under construction since 2019. She said it’s a “lovely place to check out a book or study.”
Overall, running has been a huge factor in helping Turney grow into the person she is today. Looking back, the challenge of that first Big Ten cross country meet taught her so much.
“I learned that you have to be able to learn from your failure and your mistakes,” she said. “Have the mindset of, ‘Okay, that’s not what I wanted to do, not what I wanted to accomplish, but now I need to figure out how can I learn from that and apply it to different track meets.'”
That mentality has transcended into her academics as well. Back in her research lab, she has learned how to accept mistakes she’s made and results she didn’t want or expect.
As she looks ahead to the future, Turney plans to get her master’s degree in public health after completing her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. An intriguing career for her to land in would be a scientific role, like hands-on research, or a more administrative position with disease prevention.
While running competitively will end when she leaves Purdue, the lessons she’s learned along the way will always stick with her.
“Not every race is perfect, but you just have to keep learning from every experience.”