Székesfehérvár

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My first race is a mile in Budapest. Or, I thought it was Budapest. It’s actually in a town called Székesfehérvár. I learn this the day before I arrive. My mom is meeting me in Hungary. This will be the only  race she has seen me run on non-US soil, aside from Olympics and World Champs. The plan was to spend time in Budapest, but instead we find ourselves renting a car to drive an hour into the countryside. The Diamond League is the world’s premiere track circuit, but there are other meets in Europe throughout the summer, and this is one of them. Luckily she loves me, and doesn’t care where I take her (she says). I think she even found a cross fit gym near the hotel.

This was supposed to be a “rust buster”. That means a low-key race that allows for practice with tactics, and flushing the legs after long travel and time change. I didn’t know that a world record holder and Olympic medalist would be in the race. But when I see the heat sheet with the list of competitors, there is Genzebe Dibaba.

The plan was to stay in the back because we thought she would chart a crazy-fast pace. But her pace was just normal-fast, and our chase pack was 4-5 seconds behind that. In the middle of the race, I see the clock and realize that I should be closer to the front. But this girl next to me is messing with my juju. She’s jerky in her running, and keeps pulling wide when I try to go around. She starts but then slows as I come next to her, and then tuck in behind. In that situation, the last thing I want is to expend energy with every acceleration as we vie for position. One option is to make a decisive move past her. Instead, I stay back and wait for the break. But shit, she gets there first! I respond and we both kick down the home stretch, I end up following her to the finish. I’m pissed that I wasn’t more assertive earlier in the race. We were battling for second and third, while Dibaba won in a time that’s slower than my PB.

It’s a good lesson to not be too intimidated by the accolades of other racers. I could have gone out with Dibaba and been just fine. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes. Race the athlete in front of you, not their past self.

I finished third

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Third place is not a win, but it is a podium, and in our sport, podiums matter. That is the difference between making the team and not, between Olympian and not, between medalist and not.

I took the lead in the race with a lap to go. It wasn’t something I had planned, but no one was making a move and we kept stutter-stepping the pace. By going with a hard acceleration, I forced my competitors to respond. Shelby and Jenny passed me in the end, but at this moment they are ranked top of the world, and that is not the level at which I have been performing. Yes, I probably should be looking to win, but I also want to be realistic with my goals and season progression. Today, a podium is a win.

I went into this Championship with the shakiest confidence of the last three years. Training has been hard, I haven’t been racing that well, and I don’t feel like I’m thriving yet in the program. Even with all that background noise, I was able to perform under pressure. 

This marks three years in a row that I’ve finished top three at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, three years ever. I’m proud of the consistency I’ve been able to maintain since my breakthrough year in 2016. Since starting my post-collegiate/professional running career in 2012, I have aimed to learn and grow as an athlete. With the help of coaches, training partners, and other experts, I’ve tried to develop and apply systems and knowledge to the goal of bettering myself and my performances. I’m proud of the developments.

That’s not to say I feel finished. I continue to understand different interventions I can implement based on feedback from my training. But I leave Des Moines at least knowing that I can still put up a fight.

 

Post-race is a daze

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It’s been a few days since the meet, and my outlook is deteriorating. Lauren Paquette is another runner training in Mammoth. I see her on the trip back, and she mentions how says she thinks of post-race emotions as a series of stages, akin to the stages of grief. At first, I’m done — physically spent and sheepish. Then, I’m reassured by Jerry and focused on the positive progress and on Shelby’s breakthrough, maybe denying the sadness of my result. Over the next few hours and days, I move to disbelieve, embarrassment, anger, and the slightest bit of doubt.  

The questions start coming: Am I cut out for this program? Will I thrive under this system eventually, like other people have? What happens if I don’t? I try not to linger too long, but the thoughts do arise. I joined last October, it’s now been seven months, and my results at this point are subpar compared to last year.

I try to reframe my thoughts. Do these results fit in with my greater understanding of how development in this program will work? Yes. Shelby and Courtney both talk with me about how they felt in their first year of racing, they describe a similar, disconcerting, sense of tired legs. It’s helpful to get that first-person perspective. Though the question still lingers: when faced with a series of mediocre results, when do I continue forward with resolve, and when do I reevaluate the underlying assumptions?

I know I’m supposed to be all-in, but my theory of training is that the best results come when you can honestly reflect on what’s working, and what’s not. One size does not fit all. One size doesn’t even fit one, if you take the length of their career, or changes in outside variables. You have to be able to take results (good and bad!) into account, and iterate if necessary. Wait forever and you’ve missed your shot.

But I trust my teammates and their shared experience; I believe this training is a new and needed stimulus, and that my body will respond; and I have faith in this program.  I redirect my questioning from the training to myself. Am I doing everything to support myself in my goals? If I’m going to give this my best shot, the answer has to be yes.

Photo by Al Lacey

I raced the Prefontaine Classic

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Pre is the premiere track meet in the US, the only Diamond League meeting on American soil. Every year, the best of the best converge on Eugene, Oregon. It’s my second year racing the 1500m at this meet. Last year I went out hard, sharing the lead momentarily. The pack overtook me, and I ended up barely beat at the line by another American, Brenda Martinez. This year, the plan was to stay in the back, let the race play out, and kick to pick up any carnage on the final lap.

In terms of process goals, I executed the first part well. I felt more aware in this race than I have in past years. In my view, I had been treating 1500s like long 800s: go out hard, and try to not die more than the other people. But that’s not how the race is best run (it’s usually more of a sit and kick situation, with a negative split between the first and second half).

But if you are playing the waiting game, there has to be a switch. On Saturday, everyone started gearing up for their move with 400m to go, and I just… didn’t. I had been keying off Shelby for the first three laps, and her race was the picture of how this plan is supposed to work: she moved up starting at 400m, and unleashed a monster kick coming down the home stretch, to win the thing.  She’s been crushing workouts, and it’s transferring to competition. This is a huge win for her.

My last 400 was slower than my other laps. The end result was a poor place, and a slower time than last year. Part of that may have been mental, when people started pulling away and I didn’t have it, maybe I let a few more seconds slide. But there was also a physical component.

After the race, all I can say to Jerry is that I felt… tired. I’m not a cheetah waiting to pounce, I’m more a cheetah at the end of a long run, who wants to get off my feet and curl up. That is not the ideal spirit animal!! He sees improvement with the way I handled the first part, and admonishes me to keep head to the grindstone. It’s all a part of the program.

Photo by How Lao

Bryan Clay Invite

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Our sea level block has come to an end. It was a great seven weeks of training, and we finished with a race at the Bryan Clay Invitational.

The race itself was more a test of fitness for our group: no big stadiums or awards. I ran the 1500👆🏼(with Shelby, Colleen and Courtney) and placed 3rd. ⠀ ⠀
The whole experience – race prep, mental fortitude, body perception and calm – was a million times better than my indoor races. I have to be happy with that. But I‘d be lying if I said I was thrilled with a time of 4:08.

Everyone says to be patient with a training group change, it takes time. I say that. And yet, the truth is, I’ve never fully believed it. In every past experience working with a new coach, I’ve set a personal best within the first six-ish months. I’ve always thought the advice to be patient can easily turn into an excuse to be complacent, and one has to be vigilant to keep them apart.

I am also someone who tends to rely on intuition in my decision-making. Complacency only kicks in if I know something is off and I don’t address it. In this situation everything indicates good progress. Training is going well, and my mood is high. The only outlier is a race result. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀
So I’m adjusting my cynicism and staying patient and resolved. I trust I am not being complacent, and things will continue to progress. Is that just a rationalization to make my principles consistent with my actions? Maybe. But I believe it. And really, that’s all that matters. 👊🏼💥

Photo by Brett Guemmer