Yesterday, as I popped over to letsrun.com to check out the NCAA Track & Field Championships results, I saw a link to results for the Portland Track Festival. It was as though I had forgotten this meet was even being run, despite the high profile middle distance athletes that were slated to race, including American track’s latest sensation, high schooler Mary Cain. Seeing the link to that meet gave me mixed feelings, as it reminded me that it was one year ago that I ran in my last track race and let the sun set on my professional running career. That race was a total disaster.
At the time I was trying to get my US Championships qualifier and I had a severely bruised left heel, was doing workouts on
the track and recovery on a bike, while cruising around in a walking boot the rest of the time. It rained the entire day before and day of the meet, things got behind schedule and we were held on the track at (chilly) Oregon dusk for over 20 minutes without our warmups on just shivering and trying to keep warm as we were promised, “Just another minute, ladies.” I was more scared to race than excited but tried to trick myself into thinking I was fit (which I was, surprisingly), on top of things and ready to achieve my standard because the pain I felt with each step, barrier and water jump? Yeah, that’ll go away as soon as the gun goes off and the adrenaline starts overtaking my body… right?
As you may have surmised, I did not achieve my standard. In fact, I did the opposite of that. I may have run the second slowest steeple of my life and felt a strong sting of pain with each and every step I took, never mind the pain I felt after jumping over things every 80 meters. It was excruciating, heartbreaking and demoralizing. 3 laps in, I seriously, for the first time in my racing career, considered stepping off the track because I knew it was going to be a very long 3,000 meter race and didn’t know if I could handle it mentally. But, like every other race I had entered and had control over whether or not to finish (anyone who’s ever run in a conference championship meet in the 5k at the end of the meet just for points knows what I’m talking about), I did finish. And I was upset. And sad.
I walked over to my warmups and backpack and just sat. I took a few minutes to collect myself, found a fellow steepler who had not had
the world’s best race either, and we jogged for about 10 minutes just so we didn’t seize up later in the cold Portland air. I had a chat with my coach over the phone (the way all of my training had been done that year- by phone) and he told me that perhaps I should take some time to consider my options (what?!) and that we’ll talk in the next couple of weeks. I didn’t know what to think, so I just cheered on the 5k runners that I knew and went back to the dorms, where most athletes were staying. I sat on my twin XL bed and kind of stared at the wall, then at a magazine and finally, exhausted, just went to sleep.
Mulling over your future is a tall order, especially when it involves potentially giving up something you hold very dear to your being. As it turned out, I needed to give my heel a break, get healthy and consider my next move, all while enjoying this time of recovery- or at least pretending to enjoy it. I succumbed to the reality of being a 29 year old steepler and that the 2016 Olympic Trials were a LONG way away. It was time to put my degrees to good use, find regular employment and still find a way to fulfill my running needs.
These days I don’t feel right if I don’t run (force of habit? buildup of anxious energy?), so I’m pretty much still pounding the pavement, gravel or grass 7 days per week, but it is purely out of enjoyment of the sport. I’m not trying to get in a shake out, recover from, or for, a big workout or hammer out a long run, though I do still enjoy the feeling of locking into a run for 12 miles. I derive great pleasure from my friends and running acquaintances’ success and feel a small cut of their pain when standards aren’t achieved or bad races are run. Friends come in and out of town and I am so pleased to be able to catch up with them on runs because it’s just like how it used to be: fun. We chat, we laugh, we share perspectives, all while doing the thing we love so much.
Yeah, I miss the exhilaration of hammering a great workout, speeding down the track and racing (and winning!), but that phase of my life has passed and I’ve surprised myself with not having any desire whatsoever to enter a local road race or be competitive. The only person I want to be competitive with is myself (as is shown by those runs where I knock out 6:30 after 6:30 just for the hell of it) and that competitive desire may or may not return in time. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see but in the meantime, cheers to having a blast throughout my running career and taking away so much from those experiences that have assuredly made me a better person on the track, in the pit, on the course and off.