Updated: Feb 28
Making the List, Checking it Twice (Then Ten More Times)
The journey to Indoor USA Track Championships began with spending an inordinate amount of time staring at a list of boxes and numbers on a phone screen. Hours after having touched down from my previous race in Boston, I find myself checking and rechecking the event entry list for the women’s 3000m USA Championships event. After a few instances of narrowly missing out, this time, at long last, when entries were finalized, I did find my name high enough up the list. My ticket was punched, I had earned my spot at the National Championships!
I allowed myself to take a moment to bask in the excitement. The Championships had barely been on my radar this season, as I was gradually building back from an ankle injury in the late summer/fall. I was keenly aware of how narrow the indoor qualifying window is. (I would later discover my coach had already been monitoring the list for weeks, while I had been somewhat obliviously sticking to a “one race at a time” mentality). This would be only my second EVER USA Championships, and first indoor appearance.
Of course, I wanted my coach to come with me, as he knows just what to say to me and when to say it both before the race and during. However, last minute flights to Albuquerque were NOT cheap. It was clear this was going to be a solo endeavor. Fortunately, one of my husband’s close college friends and her partner had recently moved to Albuquerque.This meant I would get to spend some time with familiar faces who would not only come to cheer me on, but who were kind enough to let me stay with them, drive me around the city, and to join me on a run.
The Pre-Trip Scramble.
Once I had paid my entry fee and committed to running in the race, it was scramble time. First, I need to book a flight that would interfere with my work schedule as little as possible. Then, I needed to find a way to pay for it. Third, I needed to contact and reschedule the clients I had planned to treat on Thursday and Friday at the clinic. Lastly, I needed to repack the crumpled array of running gear, snacks, and supplies that my suitcase had just regurgitated from my previous racing trip.
I spent Superbowl Sunday reaching out to clients and adjusting my schedule so I could work Wednesday morning, then drive straight from work to the airport. Fortunately I was able to rearrange my end of the week schedule by moving clients to the next week. As someone who follows very few sports other than track and field, missing the Superbowl action was hardly a loss, and I was grateful to have the scheduling flexibility.
A Sweet Send Off.
I had a nice surprise en route to the airport — my husband’s middle school class had written me good luck cards, complete with colored pencil illustrations of me running in my Tracksmith kit. It was very sweet. It was one of those moments that reminds you running isn’t something you do just for yourself. Part of it is about encouraging the next generation of athletes to get involved in, and excited about, track and field. As a 31 year old athlete and coach, I see real value in showing young people that there is more than one path to take toward your goals.
I arrived in Albuquerque well after nightfall and promptly prioritized a quick jaunt on a groaning hotel treadmill, then bed. The next day, my friends gave me a ride to the ABQ indoor track facility, nestled amongst some mid to high rise buildings that comprise downtown. Here, I got my laminated photo ID badge in the credentialing room, then ran a few paced 200s to get a feel for the competition track. Right away my heart rate ticked up higher than ideal, and I felt a bit of a dry throat burn from the higher, dryer air as I strided up and down the raised curves of the track. Overall, I was excited and I felt a little lonely as I explored the facility without a coach or teammates. However, this is typical, as more often than not I go on my runs, and complete workouts and lifts solo.
The night leading up to race day, I slept like a rock on the air mattress. There is something about being at altitude where I sometimes sleep extremely well. Then, it was raceday. I woke up, groggy, and bundled up. I ventured outside into the cold morning sun and went for my typical 10 minute race day shakeout looping around the quiet neighborhood. Four to six hours before my race, I like to get a short jog in to get the body moving, as it usually results in my legs feeling a bit better come race time.
A few hours later, I was headed to the track facility, where I nervously watched a few races. Athletes’ footfalls thundered around the raised plywood track as a smattering of spectators in the partially filled bleachers cheered them on. Then, it was my turn. I layered back up and headed outside, finding a warm up course of sidewalks punctuated by city intersections. To keep in a calmer, less chaotic environment, I popped in headphones and stayed outside after my warmup jog to do my series of running drills and strides.
Then, it was back inside, to the pre-competition area that was a hum of nervous energy and movement. The pre-competition area was the size of a few hotel conference rooms put together, the walls littered with athlete bags, and buzzing with the chaotic movement of many athletes in various states of warming up or waiting. On one side is a medical area complete with treatment tables. On another side was a short 50 or so meter track lane for short warm up strides. On the other side were a series of tables for clerking check in, spike check, and a few rows of chairs where athletes are called to sit nervously after final call. Here athletes could be spotted changing into their spikes, slapping on numbered stickers, and waiting to be escorted out onto the track for their event.
I was mostly done with my warm up routine, but did a few drills and a few mini strides here and there to keep loose as I waited to be called over to the folding chairs. I knew most of the people who would be in my heat, as they are the pro athletes whose careers I follow on social media and who I have watched compete at big races in Eugene and on TV. However, I hadn’t spent much time scrutinizing the start list, as I do best when I’m not worrying about the competition much. Now, though, I kept tabs on them out of the corner of my eye here and there to make sure they hadn’t reported to clerking yet, as I’m always slightly anxious about missing final check in.
Finally, it was time, we were all called over to the white folding chairs to strip out of our warm up layers and to tie up our spikes with two, three, four, extra knots, just in case. No one wants to risk a shoe mishap mid race. The time had come. We were all escorted out to the line and nervous energy filled the air. We were standing on the line, moving our feet and jumping up and down nervously as the announcer introduced each athlete in turn, followed by the string of accolades that define each woman’s running career. I try not to listen too closely to these. My spiel is short, but many of the others have running resumes including NCAA championship titles, Olympic appearances, and high finishes at previous USA championships. This is the time to focus, be confident, and to not worry about the impressive women clustered tensely around the line. This is much easier said than done. I think for a second how the 3 minutes of introductions would be a wonderful time to be temporarily deaf.
Then, as the announcer goes silent, the official steps onto the track, and the starter's gun goes into the air. Thirteen women step up to the line, one leg in front, one behind, like springs ready to bounce into action.
The first few laps were a blur of elbows, spikes, and careful avoidance of the metal rail bordering the inner lane of the track. I try to hold strong, getting close to the rail, sticking tight to the ponytail bobbing in front of me, not letting other women take my spot. I fought like this for a few laps. But then, I made the mistake of checking in with my body. The speed felt hot, this is not going to be a classic championship jog and kick sort of race. This is the final, and these women were not messing around.
I try to stick close to the woman in front of me for a few more laps, but soon I've fallen behind the main pack. Shit, this is starting to really burn, and there's an unfathomable number of laps left. I fall off a little, find myself running alone, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other, looking ahead at the ribbon of open track and the illuminated blur of timing clocks, whose numbers are of little value to my oxygen deprived brain. I hear the announcer commenting on the race playing out in front of me. Yet, I feel strangely detached from the thundering footsteps and action up the track. I'm back here by myself, just willing myself to keep moving forward, step by step.
Then, I look up and there is a 3 on the lap counter. Only 600m to go. There’s a woman not too far ahead. Her form is starting to get sloppy. I check in again, and slightly surprised, realize I don't feel too horrible. A few more hundred meters and gradually I am starting to move, starting to reel her in. 2 laps to go. Another 100 meters and I pull up with her, then by her. I look up again, there are two more women ahead. I start to reel them in, and start to feel my legs really moving now. They felt strong, the rhythm of my own foot falls quicken and I pushed a little more. I catch them too, then think: hold form. .......Hold form.... HOOOOLLLLD. FORM.
The finish line materializes, finally inching closer and closer. I stumble past it and heave in some big breaths of dry air.
Women were strewn across the track at various angles in the familiar, mutual state of post-race exhaustion. I promptly joined them. Sitting down never feels quite as fantastic as it does on the other side of a finish line. I saw my name appear in the glowing letters of the large results screen. 9th place. Far from my PR. But hey, I’m on the first screen of finishers. 9th in the country. That’s not half bad. I know I had more, and I didn’t execute a great race, but I didn’t completely check out of the race this time either. I’m done. The anxiety of racing and competing is over. I’m tired, but happy. I’m learning to truly celebrate the little wins this year. You’re not going to knock it out of the park every time you line up to race. But, consistency and small steps forwards point to bigger momentum, growth in the right direction.
Back to the Grind
Now, I’m off to enjoy some of the local spicy cuisine of ABQ before I leave. Nothing quite beats a big post race meal and a celebratory beer or two in the small window of time before heading back home. Soon enough it’s time to catch my flight back to Eugene, where I will kick off a busy work week by leading a 7am strength class Monday morning.