2014 USA Championships

Lesson learned: bad things happen that won’t affect anything but your brain. You can’t let them.

It has taken me a while to think of what to write about this weekend.  Not much can ease the feeling of disappointment in a bad race.  I’m fortunate enough to have my Oiselle and NJNYTC families’ support, which made it a little easier.  I was often reminded that everyone has bad races, something I’ve certainly always known, but the USA Championships are never a good time for it to happen.  I had high expectations for myself.  I’ve improved so much this season and felt great in preparations. 

Unfortunately, I let a little bad luck with some poison oak get in my head and I just didn’t have it on race day.  A rash first showed up Thursday morning and I spent most of my time for the next 24 hours trying to figure out what it was and how to get rid of it without taking something that would make me fall asleep or be on the banned substance list.  Poison oak is irritating and itchy, but it doesn’t affect your ability to run, and therefore it is absolutely no excuse for my poor performance.  No matter how many times I told myself I was fine, I wasn’t very convincing and I let myself stress out about it instead.  By race time, I put myself in a decent position at the mile, but by 2k I felt spent.  As I felt myself falling farther and farther back, it took some mental strength to remember that I never want to drop out of a race.  It was far from the USA Championship race I imagined, but it happened.  Now it’s time to pick myself up and learn from it.

On a happier note, it was a pretty great weekend for many of my NJNY teammates.  With so many finals qualifiers and podium finishes for Ashley Higginson and Donn Cabral, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of such a group.  It was also very exciting to see so many Oiselle birds competing.  Only big things ahead on both fronts.

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Race Day Recap: Payton Jordan

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photo credit @oiselle_sally and @flotrack video

Patience, trust, and strength.  I’ve been trying to think of what to write about my race at the Payton Jordan Invitational this past Sunday and these are the three words that come to mind.  I learned a lot about myself and racing.  This weekend’s lesson: push myself out of my comfort zone. 

Going into the weekend I knew this would be a highly competitive race.  That’s why you go all the way across the country to a great facility like the track at Stanford University.  I was ready for a big PR and this was the perfect opportunity to do it.  My previous 5k time was 15:56 and I had the 15:40 barrier on my mind.  If I ran 75 second laps (5:00 miles) I could run a 15:37.  And then I heard that the rabbit was going to take the race in 72-73 second laps.  Though Ashley, Nicol, Amanda, and I were sure we would have a group at our pace in the race anyway, I was still nervous about the start being faster than I was ready for.  I had my race from the Stanford Invitational two years ago stuck in my head, when I felt pretty amazing for 5-6 laps at a faster place than planned, and then hit the biggest metaphorical wall I have ever seen.  I couldn’t let that happen again, but I knew that being afraid of the pace wasn’t good either.

Patience.  When the gun went off, I put myself in it but continued to remind myself not to get too anxious.  This was really hard for me.  Not that I always go right to the front of races, but it usually goes one of two ways: anxiously on the shoulder of someone closer to the front, or completely shot out the back (and that’s when you know from the start it’s bad).  After watching the race, I can see that I was very much so in the back, but this time it was different.  I didn’t know at the time that I was the very back, and I felt more like I was relaxing and being patient than panicking while trying to stay in the race.  I also let myself get closer to the rail and go for the ride instead of wasting energy on the outside to be on someone’s shoulder.

Trust.  About half way through a race is usually make or break time for me.  Between 2k and 3k I just barely started to think about that wall from two years ago, but quickly changed my mantra from relax, be patient to stay tough, you can handle this.  Gaps were starting to form.  Packs were breaking apart.  It was time to put my head up and start moving up.

Strength.  Okay 1200 to go.  We do repeats at this pace all the time!  You’re strong, you’re strong, you’re strong.  Just finish it strong.  And I did.  15:30.33. New PR 🙂

Of course I can never help being critical of my races either.  After my excitement died down a little bit, my first thought was if I could go that far under 15:40, where were those last 4 seconds for the A standard?  Could I have started pushing myself a little sooner?  But I’ll always have those thoughts after races.  They fuel me for the next one.

So despite some travel issues with my bag getting lost both on the way to and from San Francisco, I had a pretty good trip.  Traveling with Coach Gag and my NJNYTC teammates was really awesome and Palo Alto is a beautiful place.  And I’ve always loved being able to race with my teammates.   Congrats to them on big PRs as well!  I also got to spend a good amount of time catching up with the Syracuse team. Finally, west coast races often mean a large contingent of bird supporters!  So in addition to Gags on one end of the track, I could hear a great Oiselle group cheering each lap at the other end.  

Race Day Recaps: BU Valentines and Millrose Games

Since coming home from Texas/Seattle I’ve been really busy getting back to work, both at Rutgers and with running, and traveling to more races.  That’s why I got so delayed on my race recaps.  Now I have some time to take a small step back and reflect on the last few weeks…

The biggest thing I’ve learned since starting this new phase in my running career is that not everything goes as planned and that’s okay. If preparations went perfectly, I would have slept well after my 3k in Seattle, not gotten sick the next Tuesday and been able to do a workout with my team to get ready for the mile in Boston.  I would have known exactly what and where I was racing the week after Boston, but neither was the case. In hindsight I feel a little funny thinking about the fact that I almost didn’t go to Boston. Yes, racing when you’re not feeling well is terrible and a bad idea when your next race is a week away. I didn’t want to run poorly and then make myself even more sick by traveling. But after sleeping for 12 hours that night, I woke up Wednesday feeling like a new person. My only hesitation then was that I had missed the workout. What if I wasn’t sharp enough to race? It definitely made me nervous, but I couldn’t miss a chance at a good race and a big PR.  I’ve always loved racing in Boston, and this time was no different.  Kate Grace took us out perfectly, again, and I owe her a lot of thanks for another PR.  Before I got on the line, Gag told me not to leave any gaps, which is something I remember Coach Fox always saying as well.  Both of them were there watching and I could hear them cheering, but I watched the Flotrack video of the race, I could see myself fall back half of a step and then get right back on where I know they were both in my head.  I was thrilled with a 6 second PR (4:31.3) and to be able to see my teammate, Amanda Winslow, run the third fasted time in the world just ahead of me (4:26.28).

The week that followed was a mess of confusion.  The plan was to fly out to Iowa and run another 3k.  We tried to get into the Millrose 3k, but the heat was over full so even waiting to see if someone scratched wasn’t an option.  And then Mother Nature attacked New Jersey again.  My flight was canceled and there were no other flights going out in enough time for me to get to Iowa and prepare for my race properly.  My indoor season was over and it was time to gear up for spring…until another curve ball was thrown at me.  Flights getting into New Jersey were being canceled as well, which meant that a spot opened up in the Millrose Wanamaker Mile.  I owe an I’m sorry/thank you to Katie Mackey, who couldn’t make it out of Seattle, and a big thank you to David Monti of NYRR for making me a last minute addition.

So I found out on my way to a workout Friday morning that in a day and a half I would be in one of the biggest, most watched races.  The number of times I had to wrap my mind around racing and not racing and racing again throughout the week was making me a little dizzy.  I told Gag that I was mentally overwhelmed and he responded with “Ha! That’s a good one. You’ll be fine.”  And then, though still nervous, I started to get pretty excited.  Nat sent me the quote,

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

  He’s right; it doesn’t matter if I knew all along or if I found out when I did.  I’ve been training hard and racing well and I was presented with an amazing opportunity.

I wish I could say that I took the quote and ran with it (see what I did there?), and had the most incredible race of my life, but it didn’t quite go that way.  No one went with the rabbit and it turned into a jumbled mess until 800 and I just didn’t have the same strength or speed to go from there.  I felt tired and flat.  The crazy thing is that if I hadn’t run in Boston the week before, the 4:35 that I’m disappointed with would have been my new PR.  I also know that it was really great for me to have that experience.  Actual racing like that is different from time a time trial-type race and I needed that experience on a big stage.  Now I need to work on having the courage to be the one that pushes the pace when the rest of the field doesn’t, and/or put myself in a better position to go.

Full of new experiences from the past month and a half in Texas, Seattle, Boston, and NYC, I’m ready to reboot for the spring season. I can never seem to say thank you enough for all of the support via all forms of social media. More good things to come!

Race Day Recap: UW Invite–Birds Fly Home

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I’m writing from the hallway outside my hotel room at 2:00 AM with a bad case of post-race insomnia.  I kind of forgot that this happens when I have night races (sometimes worse than others), though this was more of an afternoon race.  I think my body is totally confused.  On the one hand this makes sense.  My legs and my heart are feeling a bit jittery from all of the excitement, and I did drink I small cup of coffee on my way to dinner to make sure I survived the evening.  But on the other hand I should be exhausted!  We’ve had so many awesome events planned this weekend all leading up to a great effort on the track and an amazing team dinner.  After the flurry of activity and a little bit of wine, I would think my body would just relax.  Instead I tossed and turned for a couple hours before deciding to give this a try…

Ending #springtraining by flying to Oiselle City (aka Seattle) and kicking off the 2014 season was such an awesome idea.  I had run the 3k at the Dempsey twice before and both times were PRs and great trips, but doing it in flystyle was pretty special.  I had really been looking forward to meeting the Little Wing women and getting to know them.  We first met up with them Thursday morning when we got to act like models and do a photo shoot in some new Oiselle duds.  Then Amanda, Kate, and I headed to the track for our pre-race workout.

I’m running out of adjectives to describe how I’ve felt for our activities.  Everything was just AWESOME!  On Friday I got to see the Oiselle HQ for the first time.  It’s very cool spot just a short walk away from where we did yoga with Jasyoga founder and head coach Erin.  I have been following all of her posts on the Oiselle blog page in my quest to get into yoga this year.  Normally I’m not one for trying something I have never done before a race, and yoga has certainly never been part of my race prep.  I went into it with the plan of hanging out with my legs up on the wall if there was anything I didn’t want to do.  But I ended up doing the whole thing.  It was all very light and relaxing.  Every so often Erin reminded us not to visualize the race, but to think about and take in the feelings that we experience when we have accomplished our goals.  I really liked that exercise and it’s something that I can keep in mind when prepping mentally for all of my races. 

Then yesterday was go time.  I stuck to my trusted race day routine; shake out jog, breakfast (though I took a risk and had oatmeal instead of pancakes) while watching ESPN College Game Day (GO CUSE!), hang out in the room watching Netflix, go for a walk and get a sandwich, shower, and have some coffee as I head to the track.  I could feel myself getting a little nervous.  I raced on the roads a couple times this fall, but this was my pro track debut.  I knew I wanted to break 9:00 but sometimes I have trouble saying my exact goals out loud.  It’s like I need to protect myself in case it doesn’t happen.  Instead I told myself it would be good to PR and great to break 9:00, but I knew the whole time I wouldn’t be totally satisfied if I saw a 9:01.  We got on the line and Kate Grace was announced as our rabbit.  She did a really awesome job; the race felt so smooth.  I felt really strong and we got the wheels going a little for that last lap.  That feeling that Erin had us embody the day before was all there, plus some.  Amanda and I went 1-2, respectively, each with big PRs of 8:56.37 and 8:56.44.  I felt so proud to be part of Oiselle and NJNYTC.  And to be a Syracuse alum!  By the time I cooled down, Cuse had taken care of business in the Dome with Duke.

As I said before, we finished off the night with a celebratory team dinner.  Heading back to New Jersey (which seems like the Antarctica after spring training in San Antonio all month) tomorrow night.  All kidding about the weather aside, it’ll be good to be home.  More work to do!

Race Day Recap: Manchester Road Race

In the world of running, Thanksgiving morning means Turkey Trot.  Running USA’s infographic illustration shows how they have become increasingly popular in the past couple of years.  As an NCAA athlete, Thanksgiving fell three days into my post-XC season break and so I was always a cheerleader for my dad at our local Turkey Trot in Morristown, NJ.  Last year I joined him in the race to gauge my fitness in the middle of some serious base building when I didn’t have XC eligibility.  Thanksgiving tradition became a freezing road race followed by thawing out while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the National Dog Show on TV before an afternoon/evening full of food.

This year was a little different.  This year I became part of one of the biggest, traditional Thanksgiving Day road races: The 77th Manchester Road Race.  Though it was my first, this year’s race seemed to be even more about tradition, as it was Amby Burfoot’s 51st, setting the record for Manchester Road Race finishes.

To be perfectly honest, I had some serious self-doubt before this race.  I hate to admit it, but I was feeling pretty negative.  I have always heard about this race and what an awesome experience it is, and I had been excited about running it all fall.  The more I learned about the race from friends and coaches who have participated in it before, the more I became concerned about the 4.748 mile distance (a little longer than what I’m used to) and the monster hill that is the entire second mile.  Somehow everyone that told me about this hill did so with a smile on his/her face and assured me that I would have so much fun.

Still, once the spaghetti dinner was over and I was sitting in the hotel room thinking about stripping down to my Oiselle uniform in the anticipated 30° weather to climb a crazy hill, I questioned my sanity a bit.  I was having moments of mental weakness thinking that it would be nice to know I could bundle up at home and watch the parade on my couch with a cup of hot chocolate.  My dad was coming up to watch and then drive us both to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and all I could think was that we would be stuck in traffic eating sandwiches from a rest stop as our Thanksgiving dinner instead.  Not my idea of a good tradition.

I think these negative thoughts stemmed from nerves.  I needed to pump myself up, remind myself why I was there, and answer myself every time I asked what the hell I was doing.  While I was laying out my race day clothes, I started to snap out of it.  That Oiselle uniform means something important and I wanted to represent it well.  What the hell was I doing?  I was doing what I love and being thankful that I can.  I was remembering I spent five winters in Syracuse and 30° is nothing (especially with the arm warmers I planned to wear).  I was being the confident, fierce competitor that I know I am.  Yes, sometimes I experience moments of weakness and I start to get a bit negative.  The important thing is that I have ways to get myself back in it and support from a lot of people who remind me to be positive as well.

The morning of the race, excitement started to replace my doubts.  It was cold, but the sun was out and the way the community shares this tradition in Manchester reminded me, yet again, why I love runners so much.  During the warm up, Rebeka and I chose to check out the start/finish instead of dwelling on the hill.  I went through my usual routine and by the time we had to take our sweats off, the cold didn’t seem too bad.  My Oiselle race kit with the arm warmers, throw-away gloves, and a headband worked out perfectly.

The gun went off and the first mile felt pretty good.  With a distance like 4.748 miles, it was hard to think about what kind of pace I should hit, so I thought more about being competitive with the other women in the race.  I was in a good pack and then I saw 4:59 on the clock.  Even though I didn’t think too much about pace, that was faster than I thought.  Nevertheless, I tried to keep calm because it was time to start climbing.  When I got to the top, I realized I was happy the hill got so much hype from everyone I talked to.  It was definitely a big, long hill that you have to grind through, but all the hype made me expect to feel worse on it than I did.  It was keeping up on the downhill that everyone flies on afterward that was a challenge, but I managed to survive that as well.  Finally, we came around the last turn for the last downhill. I could see the finish line for about 600 meters and I finished strong.

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Pain Face.

In such and elite field, I was definitely happy with my fourth place finish.  And yet, once the excitement died down a bit, I couldn’t help wondering if I could have pushed a little harder in the middle and had the leaders a little closer to catch for the finish.  First place was 15 seconds in front of me, second was 8, and third was 6.  As an athlete, I think it’s important to find a balance between being proud of what I accomplish, and not being 100% satisfied.  There’s always room for improvement and I have enough of a competitive drive to want more.  I’m willing to work for it.  It’s going to be a good year.

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Manchester Road Race Legend Amby Burfoot on the right.

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Rebeka and me before the race…

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…and after the race

 

Things I’m Thankful For
1. The Cabral Family for taking us in Tuesday night so we had a place to stay before Rebeka and I could get into the hotel.
2. Nat for always being supportive with my running career, even when I’m a little crazy like I was when I was sharing my doubts with him Wednesday night and he helped me to stay positive.
3. My family.  My dad drove all the way up to watch the race and get me home for Thanksgiving Dinner (no, we didn’t eat rest stop sandwiches in traffic on the highway).  My mom is always very supportive even if she can’t always be at the race, I can never wait to call her when I finish.  And my brother and sister were home for the holiday as well.  I’m thankful that I have all of them, and my extended family, and that I get to spend time with them as often as I do.
4. The rest of my support system: My coaches, past and present, and teammates.

I’m thankful that all of these things have come together to help make me achieve my goals and make my dream life happen.

Race Day Recap: 5th Ave Mile

Yesterday, I ran in my first NYRR 5th Ave Road Mile Championships.  Though I ran the Sylvan Beach Mile in July, I keep wanting to say that 5th Ave was my first professional race.  I guess it feels that way because it was the first one away from Syracuse and built up from workouts with NJNYTC.  In a way, it was my second, first post-collegiate race.  But that’s a mouthful.

Race Day Routine…or not
I had to forget about my former race day routine. I never liked being to strict about it anyway because it would drive me nuts if something went wrong. For this one, I didn’t know what to expect and I wanted to be able to go with the flow. I also was home the night before with my parents and my boyfriend, Nat, which is obviously different than being at hotels when traveling with my college team and having a team bus taking us to the race. My mom made some delicious chicken, broccoli, and pesto pasta. Great pre-race meal. The next morning I got up early to wake my legs up and eat a good breakfast before making my dad and Nat leave the house at 8:15. I didn’t have to be in the city until 10:30, so 8:15 was way too early but I was nervous because you never know what could happen with traffic. Of course I got to 5th ave. at about 9:30. That was fine though because it gave me plenty of time to stretch my legs after the ride and find a Dunkin Donuts so I could stick to the one race day ritual I wasn’t willing to compromise on: coffee.

Go Time
I had teammates with me to show me the ropes, which is good because it was new to me. We checked in with Coach Gags and headed to the elite athlete tent where we were given our packets with numbers and instructions for the race. This tent was at the finish line, so we had to make our way a mile up 5th ave. to drop off our plastic bags with our belongings at the start before warming up in Central Park.

The race itself was pretty awesome. The first quarter is flat, second slight uphill, third slight downhill, last flat. I kept reminding myself to be patient because the road can be deceiving. At the crest of the hill 800m in you could already see the finish line and I felt like I could fly so I still had to tell myself it was only half way. Then when I was within 400m of the finish I started to press. I crossed the line in second place with a new PR and all I could think was that was fun! I can’t wait to do it again. A 1-2-3 finish for NJNYTC was pretty cool as well. Also, big congrats to the other Oiselle birds who ran in the 5th Ave. Mile and everywhere else this weekend! I almost couldn’t keep up with all of the tweets about new PRs! Exciting stuff.
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Now What?
The race was a great start to a great week, and hopefully great season. Today I got the keys to my new apartment and moved the first couple boxes of my stuff in! I can’t completely move in until Friday when I have my dad’s help with the furniture, but I’ll be stopping in after work all week to slowly move more boxes and do a little cleaning. Moving down there means no commuting and having teammates to run with on non-workout days. I also got a membership to the gym at Rutgers so I can use some of their facilities. I want to start swimming a couple of times a week, which should be interesting since I haven’t really done it before. I’m willing to try though because I know it’ll be good for me. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to next week and getting into the swing of things.

From Grad Student to Haute Volee

No More Homework, No More Books

It was incredibly difficult to come back from Des Moines and immediately start my summer classes.  After being part of the USA championships and talking with some amazing people, I was set on joining the New Jersey/New York Track Club and representing Oiselle!  So showing up to class at 8am the day after I returned when I knew I wasn’t going to be a teacher for a few years and my new “career path” was getting under way was the furthest thing from what I wanted to do.  But now five weeks of daily six hour classes later, I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Three more days until I’m done with grad school, and then I can fully turn my attention running.  I absolutely love teaching, but I have my whole life after my running career to spend in classrooms.

I’m having a lot of trouble putting the feeling into words, but what keeps coming to mind are memories of being a little kid knowing that a family vacation was only a short time away.  I remember feeling like I was going to burst with excitement and  lose my mind growing impatient with the anticipation of the greatest thing ever!  That’s the best description I’ve got for how I have been feeling the past couple of weeks.

So while my classmates have been spending every spare second they have redoing their resumes and cover letters for the zillionth time and stressing about whether they have gotten any interviews or not, I have been trying to hide my excitement (at least a little so I’m not putting it in their faces) for what lies ahead of me.  Sometimes when I listen to the job hunt conversations it’s completely overwhelming and totally freaks me out for the unknown, future day that I will become a part of that world.  But most of the time I am able to smile to myself and enjoy that fact that that day is unknown.  Don’t get me wrong, my classmates are all amazing teachers and I know they will do incredible things in whatever schools they end up in, but not many people are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to put that off and become a professional athlete. 

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Joining the Flock

Last summer my friends, Heather Stephens and Rebekah MacKay, and I had the opportunity to go to the USA Olympic Trials in Eugene as graduation gifts, and Rebekah was already connected to Oiselle through her sister, Sarah Robinson (@oiselle_mac).  The Oiselle team welcomed us for the week of the meet and I fell in love.  Other than a complete fascination with all of Rebekah’s Oiselle running apparel, this was my first introduction to Oiselle.  I couldn’t believe that a group of women who were so involved in the sport and genuinely invested in supporting women who run existed, and I felt so honored to be a part of it, even if it was just for a week at the time. 

After the trials, my obsession with Oiselle grew and I started following not only @oiselle on Twitter, but also @oiselle_sally, @oisell_mac, @oiselle_team, @drlesko, @fastk8, and @laurenfleshman.  I checked out what was new on the website constantly and followed the blog.  The feminine, fierce, sisterhood mentality of the entire company was something that I knew I wanted to be represented by and represent in my own running.  They summed it up perfectly in a blog post a couple weeks ago in the Oiselle Manifesto.

So when I had a meeting to discuss joining the Haute Volee team, I stared at my watch while pacing around my hotel room until it was time to go.  Nervous, anxious, excited…all of the above (except “excited” doesn’t seem to do it justice).  With each new thing they talked to me about, I sat on the edge of my seat making a conscious effort to stop myself from interrupting to say “YES! YES! YES!”

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I got to try on my uniform for the first time.  Honestly, I was home alone and danced around the house with it on for a bit.  It made me feel professional (the uniform, not the dancing).  I immediately could not wait to compete in it. 

Rewind to the trials.  The three of us sat in the stands in awe of the entire event.  The crowds of people that came out in support of track and field were insane.  The energy in the stadium was palpable.  I was overcome with so much respect and appreciation for the sport that I had been participating in for the last 8 years, and I didn’t even know before that moment that it was possible to love it more.  All I knew was that I wanted to be on the track.  I wanted to be at that level, and I was (am) willing to work as hard as I possibly could to get there.  When I think about training with NJNYTC, and representing Oiselle as a bird on the Haute Volee team, I know I’m on my way.

Eager to Start

I’m jumping right into it.  I’ve never done a road race in the middle of my base building (and the pretty early stages of it) and I’ve never raced a road mile at all.  The very same day of my last grad school class that’ll change.  I’ve definitely been a little anxious waiting for it, and a little nervous too, but mostly just excited.  At the risk of sounding cheesy, the butterflies in my stomach and the grin I can’t wipe off my face are really from knowing that I’m starting my post-collegiate career.  Better yet, I’m starting it with the support of so many amazing people.  I’m overwhelmed by the support that has been shown in the very short time since Oiselle made their announcement.  Thank you so much for pumping me, getting me ready to go, and for making women’s running such an awesome thing!  I’m honestly not sure what to expect in this race, but I know I’m strong, I know I love racing, and I’m very excited to see what I’ve got. 

Experience

I wish I had gotten this out sooner after my race last week, but I have had an insanely busy school/homework schedule since the day I returned. Anyway, here it is…

I’ve been struggling to come up with a word to describe how I feel about my race last week. I even almost titled this post (Insert descriptive word here).  My immediate reaction was pretty satisfied.  The USATF National Championship is definitely the highest level of competition with the biggest names of any race I’ve been in.  I came in being just off the A standard.  I was happy to be there at all and I was in it; I wasn’t dropped way off the back at any point.  Of course, my time was not very good, but we went out really slow and I came back a lot faster, just not as fast as some of those big names.  I got my first experience with post-collegiate national championships under my belt.

And then I thought about it more.  After the slow first half, I should have been able to come back faster than I have in any race before.  And while I did come back ten seconds fast than my first half in the second half, I figured out that it was the exact same pace as the second half of my previous 1500 and that one started a lot quicker.  I noticed when I talked to people after the race they weren’t sure what to say because they weren’t sure if I would be happy or not,  and it made me upset because I have had races where I was really, really upset and for good reason, but this wasn’t one of them!  But like I said, once I figured out my paces, I realized they were right to react that way.  It wasn’t all that awesome.  I’m on a different level now and I have to be ready to make moves like the ones that would have been necessary to make it to the final in my race.  I don’t think I subconsciously put myself out of it or anything, but I need to hold myself to a higher standard than “getting here” for my happiness with a race.

That being said, I’m still not upset.  I still feel the same as I explained with my initial reaction to the race.  With the week I had waiting until the last minute, continuously refreshing the entry list page, I am very happy to be here as a competitor.  It’s just an awkward feeling to come off of such a high two weeks ago in Eugene, and then be completely underwhelmed now. But now I am looking at it as great experience. Not that I ever sold myself short this year, or didn’t try, but this meet was a goal that I had for my post-collegiate self. Three months ago, when I ran at Stanford in the 5k and Mt. Sac in the 1500, the thought crossed my mind, was briefly mentioned by my coach, yeah I guess I’m kind of close to the standard. But focus was on NCAAs and my last season as a collegiate. I didn’t plan on making it. And then when I ran at Virginia, I thought sure I’ll try to bring my PR down a bit, but I hadn’t completely expected a 4:13, and getting so close to the A made me want to qualify even more. The way I see it now was that I got a taste. I got to see what it was like so that next year I can show up completely on top of my game.

Also, it was a great weekend to make my post-collegiate plans concrete, but that deserves its own post… 🙂

Moments of Pride: Goodbye NCAA part 2

Recently I filled out an application that asked me what my proudest running moment was.  This was very difficult for me to answer and I left it blank the first couple of times I looked at it.  Finally, I settled on the 2011 NCAA Cross Country Championships (my senior year), giving the following reason:

First, it was my first experience becoming an All-American, and I became the first female cross country All-American at Syracuse University, which is something I’m very proud of.  Second, becoming an All-American had been a goal of mine all season and I think I had one of my more courageous races, going out faster than I ever had to put myself in position to accomplish it.  Third, my coach’s only advice before I got on the line was, “You’ve worked hard for this, it’s time to go have fun,” and it truly was a race that reminded me that I run because it is something I love to do.

I have been saying to anyone who has asked recently that I have gained a lot of confidence and lately I have been getting anxious and excited instead of nervous.  This is true, except for this past Friday.  I have to say, mixed with my excitement was a nervous twinge.  After all, my record with National Championship performances wasn’t the best.  The videos on replay in my head all day kept alternating between my awesome workouts and my miserable feelings at the last two National Championships I had competed in.  And this one had even more pressure, being my last race in Orange and with a couple extra sets of eyes on me as I was approaching my post-collegiate career.

So as I was looking at myself in the mirror, minutes before heading to the track, trying regain the confidence that has helped me so much this past year, I suddenly remembered filling out that application.  I thought to myself this is no different, I have the same All American goal, I know it might go out very hard and I’ll have to put myself in whatever race I’m given, I did it then so why not now?  And that was it.  I suddenly couldn’t help smiling and I was ready to go.

It turned out only the first lap was fast, but still that meant waiting two nerve-racking miles for the break to come.  I put myself in a nice spot, not boxed in just in case the break came early, and not in the mess so I didn’t waste energy just trying to stay on my feet.  When it came, I was prepared.  A lead pack of six broke away, and I was left with four more.  I knew this was my group.  It was a little windy down the back stretch so I knew I didn’t want to be alone.  Then with 1000m to go, the girl leading my pack tripped right in front of me (major congrats to her because she picked herself up and still placed 10th).  From then on I was alone in seventh, but I knew many others were close behind.  I gave it everything I had, and after a great kick from another girl who passed me with 150m to go, I crossed the finish line realizing I had finally done it.  I actually remember trying to count the girls in front of me while coming down the home stretch, and then thinking you idiot, just finish!

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Eighth place; I just got my All American.  I got to stand on the podium and smile for the pictures (I couldn’t stop smiling) and then I got randomly selected for a drug test :/  (Of course being dehydrated from the race it took two hours and four attempts).  But then I got to have dinner with my parents and try to answer the 48 text messages and uncounted Facebook comments and Tweets.  I am so thankful for all of the support that everyone showed.  I spent the rest of the night with Bri, just watching TV in the room all night, taking it all in.  Of course, typical post-race, I couldn’t sleep at all, which wasn’t helped by the constant need for the bathroom after trying so desperately to go earlier.

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Since then everything has been a bit overwhelming, but exciting nonetheless.  The realization that I am no longer in the NCAA, no longer a Syracuse athlete, is taking its time, but the future planning seems to be happening very quickly.  I’ve said it many times before, but it never seems efficient enough to convey how much I mean it, I am so incredibly thankful for my past five years, and I can’t wait to have many more reasons to write in the future.

Patience

The anticipation of a race used to be the most nerve-racking part.  I used to feel the panic all the way up to the moment the gun went off, and then a flush of relief and trust in my fitness once the racing had begun.  There was nothing I could change about my preparation once things were underway.  This past weekend that was a little different.  Nothing had changed from my plans to not lead, even though I knew the second heat was probably going to go out slow, but instead of trusting my strength in a longer kick, I was told to trust my speed.  I never could have imagined that the race would go as slow as it did for as long as it did.  With only a mile to go, we had barely picked it up and it felt like my entire heat was still in one big clump circling the track.

Now normally at this point nerves are no longer a factor.  You’re more than two miles in and it is pretty clear that you’re feeling great and you’re on a roll, or you’re feeling awful and you just want to finish.  Yes, I felt great, but who wouldn’t at that pace?  We were moving much slower than the pace that it took any woman who qualified to get there.  It’s hard to tell how you’re going to handle the turnover.  I’ve done it before and I knew I was prepared, but when the moment comes, sometimes it’s not that easy.  I have had plenty of workouts that got me in a rhythm at a pace slower than I know I am capable of, but the rhythm is hard to break.  And when you are surrounded by more than fifteen very capable women, it is impossible to know how everyone else feels and will respond. 

So with three and half laps to go I found myself trying to sneak a peek at the scoreboard screen to see how many were still in the pack, but it was too hard to tell.  Three laps to go and the pace started to quicken a little bit.  Everyone was getting antsy, and as the top ncaa competitor moved to the lead, I was finally able to tell that I was in a pack of five behind her.  I knew we were slower than the first heat, so only four of us (in addition to the leader) were moving on to Eugene.  Two laps to go and the nerves came flying in.  Be patient started repeating in my head.  Not yet, I’m trusting my 1500 speed.  The pace was seriously quickening at that point.  All of us in that pack knew what it meant.  Bell lap; it was time to go, but the others knew it too.  300 to go and it finally started to string out a little bit, but I still wasn’t comfortable.  I was on the inside of lane one, and a little bit trapped.  I felt like I would have a kick, but if I couldn’t get out of there and other runners started to move on the outside I would have been in trouble.  Fortunately, I found my opening and with 200 to go I started to take off.  I trusted my speed work and it was worth it.

I can’t emphasize enough how blessed I feel.  I know that I have worked very hard to accomplish my goals, but it would have been impossible without the support I have had and the opportunities I have been given, first in getting to Syracuse, and then in the five years that I spent here.  This race was incredibly important to me because, even though I’m still hoping to get into the USA meet, it gave me one more ncaa race in orange.  It took a lot to get here, and I am thrilled that the end of being orange is still just a beginning for me.