Race Day Recap: Payton Jordan

image

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.  

Advertisements

Race Day Recap: UW Invite–Birds Fly Home

image

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/Weekend Recap: Dash to the Finish 5K

This past weekend I got to be part of an incredible series of events: New York City Marathon Weekend.  Growing up right next door in New Jersey made the marathon completely accesible to my family and me for spectating the three times that my dad ran it.  I specifically remember standing at mile 15 in a crowd at least 10 people deep that was going crazy encouraging the runners as they went by.  Everyone in the crowd wanted to know who the person next to them was cheering for so that they could join in the noise and celebration.  I was still a small kid and wiggled my way to the front and when my dad came by, everyone around yelled his name to help get his attention.  He ran toward the side and gave my mom, brother, sister, and me hugs and smiles before continuing on.  I remember being so proud and excited for him, and the enormous crowds that lined 26.2 miles really shows how special the running community is.  Though I was not in the marathon, being an elite participant in the Dash to the Finish 5K the morning before allowed me to become part of the experience.  New York Road Runners hosted an amazing weekend. 

Settling In
Friday morning, a couple teammates and I went for our pre-race run.  Just as we got back and started doing some strides, the sky opened up and it poured.  Something about running in the rain makes me feel really fast and strong.  After drying off, we hopped on a train to the Big Apple.  We stayed at the Sheridan New York, which was a block away from the Hilton, where we got our packets, checked out the hospitality suite, and hung out for a prep meeting with Sam Grotewold (@nyrr_pro), who, along with the whole NYRR team, was awesome and super helpful all weekend. As we got our bib numbers and left the meeting, they took head shots of each of us and we went on our way. We even got encouraging cards from some young aspiring runners like we did at NCAAs in June! Those kinds of things make me happy.
image

My roommate, Rebeka Stowe (@rebekastowe), and fellow Oiselle teammate Amanda Winslow (@awin250), and I walked the last mile of the course in Central Park to check out the sharp left turn we were warned about. After you make the left turn, the course goes slightly downhill for a little bit before going around a curve back uphill to the finish. When we were walking, we just kind of peeked around that curve and saw the bleachers for the grand stand set up. Assuming that was the finish line, we left the park there and headed back to the hotel before dinner. We should have walked all the way to the finish line… Through some crazy miracle, we were able to find a pretty nice Italian place called Pazza Notte for dinner that was able to seat eight people. A delicious dinner, a quick visit from Nat, and an early bed time. I really haven’t raced in the morning since I last ran cross country (which is now two years ago…weird), so 5 am seemed to be coming too soon.

Trust Your Strength
Coach Fox at Syracuse used to always tell me to trust my strength. That advice is the best way I can sum up the race.

image
After my typical race day routine (walk, shower, breakfast, coffee), we met the group in the lobby of the hotel to get the bus over to the starting line and even though it was still pretty dark out, it was relatively warm; a good racing temperature. We went through our usual warm up routine and stripped down to race-ready before finishing up our last couple strides. The bib numbers were huge and said our first names in big letters. Before we got settled in at the starting line, some French and German spectators stopped Rebeka and I asking for pictures! Feeling pretty important and famous, I kind of wondered where those three or four pictures would eventually end up.

Once we finally made our way to the starting line, I looked around at the amazing women that I was surrounded by all weekend. I’m getting better at remembering I’m one of them now. I know I’m not Shalane Flanagan or Molly Huddle, so the plan was not to go out with the leaders. After the gun went off, I knew I couldn’t have if I tried. I don’t know what kind of time they ended up going out in, but the leaders went out quickly and to be perfectly honest, the first mile didn’t feel very awesome. That made me panic a little bit because I also knew the first mile was supposed to be flat. This was when I had to remember the mantra: Trust your strength. I stuck with a pack and made it through that mile. I started to warm up a bit and felt better through the second mile before turning into the park for that last mile we had walked the previous day. I survived the sharp left turn, embraced the slight downhill that followed, and started to grind up the last half mile hill coming around that curve. But as I got around the curve, I wished so badly that I had walked all the way to the finish line the day before. The bleachers were visible from there and so I had assumed that meant there was a finish line near by, but this was no ordinary race. The finish line seating was set up for the marathon that was finishing in the same place, and for a race this massive, it had to accommodate for an equally massive crowd of spectators that would gather there. I still had about 100m to the big 26 mile sign, and then another 0.2 miles from there, all up a hill. Somehow I found my strength and made it to the finish line for 9th place in 16:10. I was definitely happy and excited and there was so much energy all around.

image

Bird Brunch, Rest time, and Race #2
We did a long cool down after the race to make it a “long run” day along the Hudson River Greenway, which had a pretty cool view that I didn’t quite capture with my phone mid stride, but here it is anyway.
image
The long cool down left Amanda and me with very little time to get back to the hotel, change, and get to the Oiselle meet up. This proved even harder when we got back to the hotel and found it absolutely swarmed with people who were probably getting in for the marathon. We waited forever for an elevator, and when we were ready to go back down, we let two packed elevators go by before making the decision to go down all 36 flights of stairs instead (interesting post-race and long run choice). We got on the subway and made it to brunch late, but with plenty of time to eat and chat with some new bird friends who were running the marathon the next morning. Brunch with these women really reminded me (not that I forgot) why I love who I’m running for.

I spent the remainder of the day mostly resting up so I’d be ready to watch the marathon the next day. Writing that I had to rest up to spectate feels funny while I’m thinking about the amazing strength of the people who ran the marathon. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did because even though I got a run in in the morning, I did quite a bit of unplanned running to watch as well. I watched and cheered at mile eight in Brooklyn, headed to the subway to go directly to the finish line. With our athlete passes for the 5k, we also got tickets to the grand stand to watch right at the finish line. The runners had 18 miles to run in that time and we really shouldn’t have had an issue, but the train took forever to come, and once we came up on 57th Street and 7th Ave, we had to get through Columbus Circle. There was a ton of security and the whole circle, plus a block out all the way around it, was blocked off. So we raced wide around the circle and all the way up to 66th street where we could go in. We just got into the park and ran right up to the fence as Priscah Jeptoo came by. Just made it. I tried to snap a picture of Geoffrey Mutai too, but even though I had more time to set up for it, my picture wasn’t so great.
image
image
I also had a great spot to watch Oiselle Founder and CEO and overall amazing person Sally Bergesen finishing strong and looking fierce!
image
Words can’t really describe the excitement and energy that overtakes so much of the city for the marathon. We stayed at the finish line and watched thousands of people accomplish something so awesome. You could see the pride in the runners’ faces as they crested the hill and approached the line. Being part of the Dash to the Finish and getting to watch all of the amazing people who competed in the marathon made it such a great weekend. I love runners.

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. 

blog pic

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. 

Hello Des Moines!

Drake and I got off on the wrong foot. The first time we met was at the 2012 NCAA outdoor championships, and it didn’t go well. It was actually one of the worst races of my career and it was pretty embarrassing and confidence shaking. I tend to judge tracks and the cities they’re in based on the race that I had. This was a lot easier to justify in cross country when the course changed depending on where we were. A track is a track. All of them are 400m flat ovals, but I do it anyway. So last night when I found out that I was accepted into the USATF national championships, I decided that Drake and I need to put our differences aside because I have some racing to do! I don’t care where the track is, I am thrilled to have made it. This year I’m stronger, more experienced, and more confident, so I’m ready to meet Drake again.

This is a little new to me, my first race out of the NCAA. I ran at USATF junior nationals as a freshman at Syracuse, but that was different. I had my whole college career ahead of me. My couches are still helping me out a lot with entering and declaring and how to get there. They will still be with me (and our freshmen who are racing in the junior national championships) at the track and I cannot say enough how much I appreciate that. I’ve been pretty anxious lately thinking about how things will change for me as a post-collegiate runner. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by people who are helping me work it out.

image

My first trip to USATF nationals as a junior participant--teammates and I with Kara Goucher

More (hopefully good things!) to come from Des Moines soon!

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!

image

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.

image

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.

A Week in Eugene: Goodbye NCAA part 1

Two weeks short of four years ago, I remember staring out the window of the rental car on the two hour ride from Portland to Eugene.  It was my first trip to historic Hayward Field, a chance to compete on the most famous track in the world, at Junior Nationals.  The seven of us making the trip spent the night before huddled in my dorm room watching Without Limits as if we needed more pumping up for the trip.  I remember the whole week like it was yesterday, touring the town, pictures at the track, pictures on Pre’s trail, pictures at Pre’s rock, lunch at Tracktown Pizza.  I remember watching the elite races, being in awe of the speed, talent, and poise. And now I am lucky enough to end my college career with another week in Eugene.

Getting There
Monday morning, our NCAA distance contingent (made up of myself and Bri, one of our freshmen who qualified in the steeple chase) did our pre-race workout. It wasn’t until after my last 200 that coach said, “Hey that was your last workout!” Still being hopeful for USAs, I can’t say that has really hit me yet. That very well could have been my last workout as an NCAA athlete! I feel like I’ve been pointing out “my lasts” constantly. Really weird feeling.
A couple hours later we were heading to the airport. Much different from the regionals trip, everything went as planned. We had a layover in Charlotte, ate a nice dinner and went for a walk in the airport (since I couldn’t really double) and then hopped on the next plane to Portland. Fortunately, I got a good nap on the plane because we arrived in Portland at 11pm (pst). We spent the night in Portland and drove to Eugene Tuesday morning.

Settling In
This was my third trip to Eugene (got to watch the Olympic Trials last year, in addition to Junior Nat’s), but the first time I got a tour of the town from a native duck. My boyfriend’s future roommate is a true Eugene enthusiast, was an excellent tour guide, and provided a very detailed list of things to do and places to go for the week. I have to admit, it’s a pretty cool campus, even past Hayward Field. It’s very green, full of trees, and buzzing with people (I didn’t realize they were still in class).
Later on, Bri and I went for a run on Pre’s trail, and then looped the track for her to see for the first time. The energy in the area is incredibly motivating and I was starting to get really excited for the weekend of races. After that we met up with Donald, the third Orange qualifier in the 110H, for some dinner at the Wild Duck (I recommend the chef’s special Greek mac n cheese!)

Finally, we embraced our true track nerdiness and huddled around my tablet to watch Without Limits. Unfortunately poor internet connection cut the fun short, but we were all still a bit tired from the time change and travels. It was time for a good night’s sleep.

Track Day One
image

By Wednesday we were allowed to be at the track. I have to say, they really know how to make you feel important. The facilities are pretty awesome to begin with; there is a three lane warm up track and a big turf field on the south side of the stadium. The turf field was the athlete hospitality area, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that even our three-person orange crew had its own tent! There was also a large tent with tons of snacks and drinks for the competitors. Between this area and the track were all kinds of fan stands set up with souvenirs and tack memorabilia.
image
image

We got these cards with our credentials. They were signed by aspiring runners from a local middle school with good luck wishes and invitations to write them notes of good luck as well! I thought that was so awesome!
We had a nice run together, around the neighborhood a bit and back to Pre’s trail, before I dropped Bri off. Then I did a 90 second pick-up in the graveyard across the street (Yes, track nerds, the one from the movie) and jogged it back in. Walked back to the hotel, quickest shower ever, and walked back to Hayward to get some dinner at Bepe and Giannis, great Italian place right next to the track.
image

Then it was back to the track for some men’s steeple prelims and women’s 10k action. It’s super exciting to see that kind of crowd at a track meet!

Pre-Race Day
My pre-race day was also Bri’s actual race day, so the early part was all about her (look forward to a guest post from Bri on being a freshman at NCAAs coming very soon!) Solid breakfast is pretty important for evening races, so we went to the highly recommended Glenwood. After some delicious french toast, we walked back to the hotel for some vegging out. I don’t like to sit here doing nothing but thinking race, race, race forever, so I pulled out some homework and worked on lesson plans (if you’re a teacher check out ldpnonfictionbookclub.wordpress.com). Then it was time for one last run on Pre’s trail, some strides in my spikes (same Victories I’ve worn all year), and pack it in. I made sure I had plenty of time to shower and get back to cheer for Donald and Bri. Donald got the orange ball rolling with an auto qualifier for the final! And Bri made me proud as a true freshman competing with the best. She has three more years to make it to the final and take the NCAA.
I got Bepe and Giannis penne pesto to go, partly because I wanted to see more races and partly because I didn’t want to sit in a restaurant alone. Then I got to see the men’s 10k and the 1500 of the decathlon. Finally, walked back to the Days Inn and watched an episode of The West Wing before calling it a night. I had a big day ahead of me!

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.

Disappointment

Last year and the year before on the Monday after all of the Last Chance meets, I went about my day as usual, except I was clutching my phone waiting for my coach to call.  Waiting to find out if enough girls who had run faster than me those years chose not to declare in the mile and/or 3k for the NCAA indoor nationals.  Two years. Two big disappointments.  I was so angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to push a little harder to getting an auto-qualifying time.  I let is become a motivational tool in my training over the past year.  The pain my legs would feel in any workout could not compare to the pain of missing this meet by hundredths of a second one more time. 
I worked hard.  I gained confidence.  I did it.  That same Monday night this year I had accomplished and gratifying feelings equal to the agonizing in the years prior.  Before the meet, my coach asked me what had changed.  He said even the way i carried myself was different, more self-assured.  Confidence is key, and it is not something that can be coached or taught.  It has taken me a really long time to get to this point, where I feel like I belong and deserve to be in some of the high caliber races that I have gotten myself to.  I was ready.
Trouble strikes when I have races like last night.  I wish that I had an explanation; not an excuse, but something that I knew I could change for next time.  The truth is it just wasn’t my night.  With two laps to go, all I could think was just finish.  Since the second I crossed the line, all kinds of thoughts have been racing through my mind. 
What just happened?  I feel bad that my dad and boyfriend made the trek out to Arkansas just to see that terrible performance.  That just happened on ESPN, in front of everyone in the country who follows college track.  I sooo thought I was ready!  How long has it been since a five minute mile was that hard or felt so terrible?  I have to run 2k more than that in three weeks??  Why do I do this to myself?
Dangerous thoughts that I cannot suppress.  But I have to suppress them.  It’s a chain reaction and a year ago I let the blow to my ego from not qualifying for NCAA indoor carry over to our outdoor opener.  Another big important meet with a terribly disappointing result.  I won’t let it happen again.  Time to get back to work.  June is a long way away.

Race Day

I wrote this for a class last semester.  I reread it before my first race this season.  Now, sitting alone in my hotel room anticipating the NCAA indoor championship 3k that I will race tonight, I wanted to take it out and read it again.  A lot of people ask me if I get nervous for races, and answering that question was not my intention in writing this, but it is the best answer I have.

One week into my freshman year at Roxbury High School I found myself on a bus, at night, on my way to a cross country meet.  It was at Randolph High School, my town’s biggest rival, and it was going to be huge with great teams from all over New Jersey and New York.  It was the Twilight Meet and my first serious competition as a runner. 
I had past experiences with cross country, but they were nothing compared to my new teammates. I found myself surrounded by ex-Junior Olympic competitors who had been running in big arenas since they were five.  I, on the other hand, had a much different start to my running career. 
I can attribute my introduction to running to my dad, who began running shortly after I was born to get in shape, and ended up falling in love with it.  Being the daddy’s girl I was (and still am), I wanted to do everything just like him.  So at age nine, I ran my first 5k road race with him: The Hangover Run.  The nine-year-old that I was had no idea what the name of this race implied, but I had gone to watch him on New Year’s Day for as long as I could remember and now it was my turn.  I loved the rush, the people cheering, and the attention I got for being a tiny little girl running a big long race. 
I joined the town track team that spring, but I hated it!  The cool kids played soccer anyway.  It was not until four years later that I found myself intentionally getting in trouble at soccer practice so that I was told to run laps that I realized I should give running another try.  And that’s when I fell in love. 
Eventually my love of running lead me to that bus ride, nodding my head the All American Rejects playing in my ear buds while I looked around at my new teammates.  Some of the other girls were old pros and they were going to represent Roxbury in the varsity race of the season opener.  As I sat on that bus, the one thing that kept me calm was knowing that I would not.  I was not a pro and therefore I would be warming up with a JV race that night.  The course was a 3k instead of 5k, and my score would have no impact on how the team placed.  No pressure.
Until there was pressure.  There I was, scrawny fourteen-year-old in a pink Lake George sweat suit I had gotten on vacation that summer, lacing up my shoes and getting ready to warm up for the JV race, when my coach decided I could handle the extra 2k.  To her, no big deal.  To me, time to panic.
All of a sudden my face felt flushed, my hands, which had been cold on that fall night, suddenly started sweat, and the sound of the music that had been playing at the finish line was replaced by the sound of my own beating heart.  What did she mean I was in the varsity race? Was she crazy?
I ran and found my parents to tell them they would have to wait another hour to watch me run.  They were proud and excited for me, but I cannot say the same for myself.  All that I felt was dread.  What if I mess up for the team?  What if everyone here sees me come in last place?  I couldn’t control my shaking body as I walked back to my team’s tent. 
It was then that I ran into Ali, a senior on the team and one of our top two runners.  I looked up to her so much and I wished I would eventually be as good as she was.  “Just relax,” she told me. “You’ll be fine.” She tried to give me a heart-felt pep talk about having confidence and keeping it fun, but it didn’t work.  I found no comfort.  I tried to tell my coach I couldn’t do it.  I tried to convince her that she was making a big mistake.  She wouldn’t hear it.  She had faith.  I tried to tell myself I could always drop out if it was that bad, but then I thought that might be even more embarrassing.  I knew I wasn’t getting out of this.  I jogged my warm-up with the rest of the team, but I did not engage in their light-hearted conversations and laughter.  I was completely silent as every possible bad outcome ran through my head.  We finished jogging, stretched, and marched to the starting line.
Finally, it was race time.  Time to sink or swim.  I stood with my team at the line on that dark night, under the spotlights, staring at the man with the gun in the middle of the field.  The warning whistle rang through my ears and I knew it would soon be time to go.  However, those next five minutes were agonizingly long; something that I have come to learn is a characteristic of all races.  I never wanted to feel like that again.
Arms out. “On your mark!” Why am I sweating so much? Stop shaking. Arms up. “Runners set!” Deep breath, keep it together. BANG!  With a puff of smoke and the sound of the gun, we were off.  My first of many serious races was underway.  Three miles went by in a flash as the adrenalin ran through me.  Now with two-hundred meters to go, every muscle in my body was burning as I saw the finish line getting closer and closer. One-hundred meters.  Fifty meters. Done. 
I had done it. I finished the race.  I didn’t pass out or spontaneously combust.  And I didn’t come in last place!  In fact, I had fun.  I felt the rush that I had four years earlier, and I knew that it was a feeling I wanted to have over and over again.  I chose to swim.
Eight years later, I think about how my life would be different if I sank.  Running gave me the friends that I am closest with today.  It made me decide where to go to college.  It changed my career plans from high school teacher to high school teacher and coach.  It made me decide to put off those career plans while I fulfill my dream of being a professional athlete.  It will always have a major place in my life, and all of those things might be different if I gave up that day.
In those eight years, I have learned to love the sweating palms, the increased heart rate, and the smell of sweat in the crisp autumn air.  Those things changed from meaning anxiety and fear to meaning anxiousness and confidence.  Those things mean it is race day.