A Little Ode to the Road

In light of the Medtronic TC 1 Mile this Thursday, I went ahead and penned (keyed?) some of my favorite things about road racing.  I ran my first professional road race last year, and I was stunned.  I felt like it was my birthday the entire weekend, and it most definitely was not.  Compared to track races, the hospitality aspect of road races is shocking and so appreciated.

I went into road racing with the expectation that it would closely resemble track racing, and I was quite surprised to be in the wrong.  Interestingly enough, road miles even cater to different athletes than track miles for reasons I can’t entirely pin down.  Road miles add a degree of uncertainty that isn’t a factor on a 400m track with plentiful splits.

For the most part, road races tend to pay athletes relatively well.  Many of these events pay as deep as ten individuals, and this money really makes a difference for a new pro navigating the complex world of light sponsorship (or no sponsorship).  Most prize money in track and field does not pay as deep – for new athletes struggling with finding support, prize money that pays out deeper to the field can be really encouraging. 

Another pleasant surprise with the road-racing scene is that the event does not last all day.  Unlike a never-ending track meet, these events are relatively finite and they do not run behind (or ahead of!) schedule.  As someone that really appreciates timeliness, road races are efficient!  Plus, there’s something about racing in the “streets” that sounds super tough.

Wee bit personal

I found out last week that my running contract is over and will not be renewed.  I would like to thank Skechers Performance for the support over the last two years.  That contract gave me validation straight out of college when I felt like I needed it, and for this I am very grateful.  That contract made me feel like it was ok to call myself a professional runner, and made it feel ok to pursue running.

The past two years have given me a lot of perspective into this strange world of professional running, sponsorship, pacing, etc.  When I first graduated, I had a tough time convincing myself to forego a “real job” in lieu of a substantially less lucrative running career.  However, I knew that I felt a certain passion for running that I did not feel for either of my majors, so I decided that I would give running at least a year.  The shelf life of a running career is far shorter than that of a different trajectory, and I didn’t want to regret not trying.

I’m so glad I chose to run.  I felt like I had not nearly tapped into my potential in college, and I wanted to make sure that I did get a chance to perform near my physical limits.  For a myriad of reasons, this hunch appears to be basically correct, and I experienced a number of successes.  I’ve run much faster as a post-collegiate, and I’m happier with my performances.  I still don’t think I’ve reached my limits.

At the ripe old age of 24, I feel more committed to this trajectory now than I ever have, and I’m going to continue running.  While my contract gave me validation and the courage to pursue running, I’ve managed to find a training and support system that will sustain me now, contract or not.  I’ll admit that rejection stings in any form, but throughout this process I’ve learned to choose myself, and I’m not quite done yet.

I Love the Drake Relays

My favorite competition in all of college was the Drake Relays.  I’m a high-anxiety individual, and I basically operated in a state of near-dread throughout the entire track season.  Most of this pressure was self-induced, but I couldn’t help it.  I so badly wanted to qualify first for the West Regional meet, then wanted to make sure I scored points at PAC-12s and could put myself in a position to make it to NCAAs.

None of these objectives can be accomplished in the middle distances at the Drake Relays, and that’s exactly what made it so fantastic.  The Drake Relays forced me to remember that relays are fun, and that I actually like what I’m doing.  I’ve never felt a stronger sense of team than when I’m running on a relay, and it is really comforting to lean on a teammate when nerves kick in.  Drake allowed my teammates and I to disconnect from form charts and TFRRS, and just to compete for the sake of competition.  We were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief and Icy Hot, slap on some questionable temporary tattoos, and go race for one another.

The Drake relays are great, too, because all of Des Moines joins in the party.  The relays are complete with discounted cab services and a tipsy student body.  The atmosphere and attendance are amazing, which is somewhat of a rarity for a track and field event.

I remember huddling in the downpour with my teammates and watching the professional events at Drake. Drake Relays always hosted a badass 1500m field, and this was the first time I got to see some of my role models compete in-person.  I really looked up to these women, and it was inspiring to watch them compete.  This year, the 2-mile is being contested in place of the 1500m.  I’ve gained entry to this event, and I could not be more thankful or nostalgic.

On Regret

I’ve always had a soft spot for people with regrets.  I feel like we as humans have a self-protecting tendency to assert that we have no regrets, having happened into a place where we would not be without error.  From my experience, I’m not better off having made some of the mistakes I’ve made.  It’s also possible to appreciate something like a bee sting from a distance.  Not unlike a wicked hangover, I, too, am full of regret.  Here are my top running regrets, intervals I didn’t need to spike up for, foreseeable oversights, etc.

1.     Half-assing the steeple

I really stuck the landing on a steeple pit during my freshman steeplechase debut and ended up fracturing my heel from the impact.  This in turn made me terrified of the steeplechase, but I decided to give it another shot my senior year.  Instead of fully committing to becoming a steeplechaser, I tried to ward off injury by neglecting technique, hurdles, etc.  My sheer terror transferred over to racing as well, where I ran like I was afraid of the steeplechase.  In doing so, I forfeited several solid opportunities, both in the steeplechase and the 1500m.  Most things worth doing are worth full-assing, so to speak.

2.     Overly identifying with the mid-d crew

This is something I am struggling with now.  Throughout college I performed markedly better in track than in cross country.  This brought the conclusion that I was strictly a middle-distance runner.  While I thought this was something that served me, its something I’m fighting now, as I explore longer races.  I’m constantly coming up against my own justification that my abilities are extremely specific, and this is far from helpful.

3.     Pushing through injury

This is something I come up against all the time, and while I cannot claim success here, I think I can claim progress.  There are so many instances where forcing a workout, pushing through a long run, and hoping something will “loosen up” have not served me.  I have yet to regret a single off day, cross training day, or modification where I went easier than prescribed.  It is so frequently the best choice to give a new injury a couple days of caution than to train through it and hope it goes away.  The former has preserved a few seasons, while the latter has resulted in multiple weeks on crutches.  Modification is almost always a good idea.

4.     Barreling through illness

This lesson has not come to me through osmosis, but rather by making myself incredibly sick for an entire month.  The short-term satisfaction of sticking to the plan seldom comes without cost.  The optimal situation here is to take a few days easy or off, actually recover from the sickness, then resume training.  The less-than-optimal scenario involves full training, lots of DayQuil, eventual modification and poor recovery. 

5.     Not going all-out in races

I have seldom disappointed myself more than when I’ve finished a race with energy left to spare.  Conversely, poor races are far less disappointing when I can confidently say that I’ve given everything I had.  This phenomenon seems magnified when I’ve traveled to a race, etc.  Take it from me – always give it everything; the evening after racing will be infinitely more pleasant, regardless of outcome.

Pre-Race Anxiety and Why it Doesn't Matter

Stepping onto the starting line for the 3000m at the 2018 USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, I felt confident in a rare way.  I’d finally had a relatively “chill” race day, and my new pre-race routine that excluded excess caffeine and pump-up music had left me with just the right amount of nerves.  I was able to go into this race with low pressure knowing that I didn’t have the standard.  There was still the pressure that I imposed on myself, but I was able to enter this race with a “see what I can do” attitude that had proven effective previously.  I was in the best shape of my life and curious about how hard I could push myself.

After the gun went off, I absolutely panicked.  I was met by a dizzying array of negative thoughts that cascaded until I stepped off the track early.  I had never DNFed in my life, and I was horrified.  I thought I was set up for success, so I was shocked.

Last July, I stepped on the line for the USATF Outdoor Championships 1500m prelim in Sacramento.  I was incredibly nervous.  I so badly wanted to make the final, and found the prospect of failing to make the final relatively likely.  I did not have a fancy ice vest to ward off the stifling heat, and instead packed around a lunchbox full of ice-filled pantyhose.  This race was particularly late in the day due to a heat delay, and I was beside myself with nerves.  I had made those around me particularly miserable for the better part of the day, and I was one with the late warm-up porta potty breaks.

I stunned even myself and ended up making the final.  I made calculated decisions while racing, gave it my all, and my all was enough for that day.  Pre-race anxiety was at an all-time high, but it didn’t determine my result.

I’ve “shit the bed” both with incredible nerves and with no nerves at all.  I’ve had great races when I’ve felt calm and focused, and when I was absolutely terrified.  I know that these examples are purely anecdotal, but my experiences have taught me that the specific decisions made in-race are infinitely more important than pre-race mental state.

Hi there

During my college years, I started to believe in talent for the first time, and I came to understand that some of my peers were more talented than I.  I also began to understand that my delicate bones were made out of a material roughly as durable as porcelain, which led to a series of stress fractures and a deeply held belief that one step over fifty miles in a week would result in a glowing MRI.  I was not a hot commodity.

I never made it to an NCAA Outdoor Championship.  I tried desperately and failed, stringing together 13th and 14th place finishes in the West Regional 1500m (12 athletes qualify for NCAAs).  Fate’s poor timing led me to finish all 236 episodes of Friends the same week I finished my collegiate outdoor track career, leading to my most notorious public meltdown.  I planted myself on a stadium bleacher and repeatedly and aggressively sobbed to my parents, grandparents and teammates that “Everything.  Is.  Over!”

Remarkably, everything was not over.  Sheer will allowed me to find moderate success during my final season of eligibility, where I finished as an All-American in the DMR and mile.  I was not hotly recruited, but I felt ok shooting off a few emails and texts to professional coaches.  These emails were met with lukewarm enthusiasm, except for one coach, Jonathan Marcus, who was convinced I was a diamond in the rough.

I knew I was a nice piece of cubic zirconia at best, but I went on a quasi-recruiting trip to Portland and instantly knew I needed a change of scenery.  Over Thai food, Jon dangled a proverbial carrot that I could not refuse.  “We need to get you to 4:09 1500m,” he told my then-4:19 self.  While I didn’t really believe this was possible, it did sound nice.  Last year I managed to run 4:10.  These are my musings.