Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Place to Start

I got to the track last night at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix just in time to catch the end of the "Ask, Listen, Learn Youth Relay." From what I gathered, it was a coed 4x200m race for elementary school-aged athletes. The champions, the Cambridge Jets, were being interviewed as they began their victory lap around the track:

Interviewer to the team: "What do you think was the key to your victory here today?"
One girl responds: "Practice."

Interviewer to the anchor boy: "That was a great leg! You were really MOVING out there."
The anchor boy graciously agreed: "Yeah....I was."

The crowd was loving it, laughing, and saying how cute they are. At the time I felt the same way, but afterwards I got to thinking about how profoundly genuine their statements were.

What is the key to ANY victory, really? Practice. You could tell these kids were taking in a great life lesson: Hard work really can off.

And when you have a good race, what else do you really need to say? The victory speaks for itself. No one needs an explanation when you win. No one asks, "So, what happened out there?" when you PR. The time speaks for itself. You may be excited, and you could talk about all the things you did right that day, but in the end, when someone tells you it was a great race, all you really need to say is, " was." (Or "Thank you," if you prefer... :)

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to say that athletes are content to bask in the glory of a victory or a new PR for long. In my opinion, one of the most addictive properties of racing is there is always something new to shoot for after you've reached a goal. Success is sweet, but it comes with the craving for something even sweeter. There is nothing you really need to say after a great race, because it should go without saying, that you'll be seeking new heights next time.

Let's not forget though, unless you're superhuman, you are bound to have a couple tough races in the mix of the great ones. These are the races where an explanation seems necessary, because you feel in your heart that your performance does not reflect your ability, that your hard work did not pay off- and your time (or place) in a race cannot speak for itself.

I'm not talking about making excuses...I'd rather admit my weakness and find ways to tackle it than to disguise it in a lame excuse. Nevertheless, when I look at the harsh reality of a results page after a poor performance, I wish I could insert an addendum next to my time and place, just to let people know this isn't the whole story.

Prime example: Last year, at the 2010 USA Outdoor Championships, Iwent into the prelim of the 800m feeling ready to rock. With 200m to go, and leading, I was clipped from behind. Went down. Hard. Got back up, and finished in an ugly 2:10.

I was disappointed about the fall, but given the history of US 800m races where women have fallen (like, say, the 2008 Olympic Trials, where a couple people got tangled up and went down in the semi-final, and the entire heat was reinstated into the final...)- I thought for sure I would be given another chance in the semi-final. Unfortunately, my fall (along with my good friend and another very talented runner, Molly Beckwith, who went down with me) was deemed "incidental", meaning there was no illegal contact, it was an accident- so no one was disqualified, no one was reinstated. That was it. 2010 USA Championships, Heather Dorniden - 2:10. Just a line on a black and white page of track results.

It was then that I was inspired to start up a blog. I felt cheated out of a great opportunity to race, but beyond that I felt it was a great injustice that I never was allowed to speak to anyone about a ruling that I didn't understand. I felt voiceless.

Why then, you might ask, am I speaking up now, nearly 8 months after the fact?
Answer #1: My emotions were running high at the time, and I was looking for someone to blame when there was no one and nothing to blame but bad luck. I was afraid of what I  might say, and I figure no one likes a whiner.
Answer #2: I am intimidated by blogging. The thought of publicly sharing my thoughts, and in writing no less...(I am hyper-critical of my writing, just ask my husband Ben how long it took me to write papers in college that he could whip out in an afternoon...ha!). This was something I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to.
But lastly (Answer #3), I was reminded yesterday of what it felt like to finish a race, and feel like the results on the page were not representative of my ability, my expectations for myself, or all the hard work I have been doing. I just wanted to say to anyone who cares enough to read this: I'm going to do better next time, and I can't wait to share the joy and excitement of the good times in running with you too.

I'm uncertain of my intended audience, maybe I'm just doing this to sort my own thoughts, but it is my hope that anyone reading this might find that they have had some of the same thoughts, and realize that we're all not so different from each other after all.


  1. This has been my first opportunity to read your writing and you should never feel self-conscious about it. You write VERY well. Plus you're a dedicated and amazing athlete (and I totally brag on the fact that we are related). ;)

  2. Sitting on my couch on yesterday I stumbled upon the New Balance Grand Prix on TV as I was surfing around. I will pretty much watch any sporting event on TV (just ask Meghan), but I rarely see much track and field - especially on ESPN. So I was especially interested to watch.

    I had no idea that you were going to be running (although I do read all of Pat's releases top to bottom) - so I was pleasantly surprised to see your name announced at the start of the 800.

    I can honestly say you had me on the edge of my seat for the entire race. You looked like you belonged right in there with that pack the entire way. My immediate and unintendedly harsh text message to Meghan after the race (she was in the San Diego airport) was:

    "heather looked great for 600m - fell apart at 200 to go."

    When I say I was disappointed to see you not stay with the front runners for the last 200m, I don't mean it in the way that I was ashamed. I mean I was disappointed because you truly looked like you belonged with them and it's always so painful to see true potential unrealized.

    I am glad to see your determination come out in this blog and I assure you that you have a new loyal reader. No doubt I am the unintended audience you spoke of.

    Go get 'em!

    - Cole