Wow! What a weekend! Where do I begin?
Well, I arrived in New Haven, CT on a tiny, very loud and bumpy plane Sunday afternoon at their HUGE airport of one terminal and two gates. I was picked up at the airport by the elite athlete coordinator, JT who took me on a course tour on the way back to the hotel. We arrived at the hotel ten minutes before an athlete meeting and I checked into my room and met my roommate, Amy Hastings. Walked to the meeting with Amy, met and sat down next to Lauren and Zoila. Heard some info about the race, the potential to qualify for World Half Marathon Championships, the expectation to be drug free and stay on course, and well wishes from mens and women’s race liaisons. Also heard a little motivational speech by Steven Shay inspiring us to have heart and give it our all like his brother Ryan did.
Our hotel and the race start/finish was right by Yale University so it was a nice, clean spot of town. We walked a few blocks to a delicious restaurant and enjoyed dinner and good conversation with Zoila, Lauren, Colleen, and Jeff. After dinner, we just headed back to the hotel and went to our rooms. I chatted with Amy for a while (super friendly and fun to talk to) and we went to bed around 9ish. I was plenty tired from waking up early to catch my flight and the long day of travel. Amy asked me what time I wanted to wake up (the race started at 8:40 a.m.) and I said, “oh, I’m flexible….maybe 7 a.m. What do you think?” She looked at me a little crooked and said “Oh….’cause I was thinking 5:30 a.m.” Haha. Maybe this is why I’m SO often late for races! Do I just wake up abnormally close to race start time as a general rule?? Apparently. Anyway, I obliged to her schedule with the assurance of an on-time race arrival and we went to sleep. The alarm went off all too soon and I woke up with a gift from the hotel bed: wicked little knot in my upper back. Thank you hotel bed. I really wanted that the morning of my first National Championship road race. I immediatley went to the athlete hospitality suite (still in my pajamas, barefooted, puffy eyed, messy hair and all) to see if they had a massage therapist or chiropractor on duty yet and as I walked in to see 10+ guys and Magdalena Lewy-Boulet sipping their coffee and looking all bright eyed and sharp in their race warm ups, I sheepishly grabbed a banana and slunk right back out. Saw JT on my way out of the room and he slapped me on the shoulder and said “WAKE UP!!” I must have looked pretty bad…but gimme a break, its 3:30 a.m. for my body. I asked him if there was a massage therapist and he said they were showing up at 6:30 a.m. at the outside tent by the race start. So I went back to my room, ate my banana and Luna bar and got dressed. Washed my face in an effort to get the puffy eyes to die down (I probably could have used some cold compress or something too). Then I told Amy I’d see her in the tent and I headed out to find the massage therapist who finally arrived around 6:50 a.m. and I asked if he could do chiropractic adjustments because I couldn’t breathe very deeply without tightness and pain. He said “no but I do a good rub down” and was confident he could help me out. He worked on the knot pretty good for ten minutes or so and it started to feel a little looser. Those types of things usually take days to subside completely though, so I wasn’t expecting a miracle or anything. After that I went to sit in the tent with the other ladies who were arriving. I met a few more runners and enjoyed chatting and laughing about the large open box with 200+ chocolate donut holes that no one was eating. REALLY JT? (Or whomever was in charge of getting the food). Did you really think 15 elite female runners would ever even come close to consuming 200 donut holes at any point in time that morning? LOL. He had the usual water, bananas, bagels, but the absurd amount of donuts were obviously out of place.
About 35 minutes before the race I went to warm up with Lauren. We didn’t talk much, both obviously dealing with our own latent nervousness (it was her first championship race too) but it was nice to at least have someone to tap along the pavement with. Right as I finished my warm up and stopped my watch…..blank. Dead. No life whatsoever. Well, so much for relying upon good ol’ Garmin to help me avoid the mistake of going out too fast and blowing up. Guess I’m on my own with that one. Tossed the watch in my bag along with my warm ups and went to the race start to do some strides and stretching. I was actually not upset at all about the Garmin betraying me. My naked wrist felt liberated and excited to just be forced to listen to my heart and lungs and let them dictate the pace. On the line, Colleen and Jeff came up on each side of me; it was just like any old day doing our workout in Boulder. We paused for the National Anthem, and then BOOM! The cannon released us.
Pretty much all fifteen women suddenly coagulated like gel with a few “foreign bodies” (men) mixed in and the race pack was formed. The pace felt very comfortable and I knew we were not going out “too fast.” I didn’t even notice the first mile go by, but figured it must have at some point and just stayed in the middle of the cozy group. I did see mile two at 11:03 and was comforted to know that we were averaging 5:31 pace already (a pace I was not afraid to go after). The pack still probably had nine or ten of us there with the race favorites near the front. The miles seemed to pass quickly and I felt smooth and comfortable. My tummy did start to get a little upset around mile four but it was negligible. The gremlin hiding in between my rhomboid and trapezius was not complaining too much either, thank goodness. A couple of girls tried to change up the pace and take off into the lead at times, but the group absorbed them again pretty quickly. As the miles passed I tried not to let the fact that I was PRing in every distance from 4 miles on up throw me into mental doubt and fear of the coming miles. When we came by 10K in 34:00 I still felt reasonably comfortable in the pack and realized it had shrunk down to only five women with Magda, Amy, and Stephanie working it at the front and me content to sit back and watch the race develop. My stomach started to complain a little louder and I had to work harder to mentally suppress the discomfort.
Just after mile seven I took about 100 calories of EFS liquid shot and some water, hoping it might settle my stomach or at least just give me some insurance for the final miles of the race. At that point it was down to Magdalena and Stephanie with me hanging on their heels still…but not for long. The 8 mile marker seemed to slap Magda in the pants or something as she just took off and dropped us like flies. Stephanie responded a little better than I did, but I tried to keep the gap as tight as I could. In Magda’s post race interview she said she just ran a 5:06 mile on mile 8 and then went back to the pace we had been doing which means Stephanie and I must have been falling off pace too because Magda finished 57 seconds ahead of me and 45 seconds ahead of Stephanie.
Anyway, the last few miles consisted of me getting stomach cramps, mentally commanding them to leave, feeling okay for a few minutes, getting worse stomach cramps, groaning in my head, praying for strength, wanting to stop and relieve myself in the gutter but not wanting to embarrass the spectators or myself even more, keeping my focus on Stephanie so she wouldn’t distance me even more, imagining Amy coming up behind me and kicking past me while laying everything on the line so that wouldn’t happen, praying again that I wouldn’t have an embarrassment in my shorts while willing my stomach to behave, and finally seeing the finish line and jumping for joy (in my head) as the crowd carried me home.
It was a very long last couple of miles, to say the least. But finally, that mental anguish came to an end and I was rewarded with extreme mental relief and elation. My teammate Jeff had finished 20 seconds ahead of me and was the first to give me a sweaty hug and high five. Then I got some water, talked to the runnerspace.com guys and congratulated a few runners. Had a funny conversation with Kim Keenan-Kirkpacktric, the race liaison who was in the truck helping the guys film the race. She asked me a little bit about myself and told me how they were frantically searching online for any info they could find on me including the pronunciation of my name since I was obviously a dark horse, yet was up there running with the leaders until mile eight. Haha. I told her honestly I was just as surprised as she was to see myself in the final three. It was unfortunate how so many top ladies had an off day today. Amy, Colleen, Tera, Zoila, and others all felt “off.” Zoila put it into words so well in her post race interview. She said something to the effect of, each race is like receiving a gift. You have to unwrap it to see what is inside and sometimes its something you really like and other times its not. You can’t dictate what comes though. You just have to accept it and do the best you can with it. I’ve had plenty of those days. And I’ve been overcome and defeated plenty of times. Today was not one of them. Today I received the gift of a much welcomed and appreciated huge breakthrough to give me the confidence and experience to keep my competitive flame burning bright. Others were not so lucky and had one of those days every runner has to experience, evaluate, and learn from. Its part of the journey. I am just feeling so grateful right now that God allowed me to feel that breakthrough feeling today and gave me that gift of endurance and strength to get me through even though I had obstacles I was threatened by. Keep pushing through! Breakthroughs will come and they will be SO worth it when they do!