I don't even know where to begin.
Let's try the present moment.
I am writing up this blog on a plane again, but in a wholly different place emotionally than I was about three weeks ago on my return flight from the US Championships. On the way home from Eugene I was fighting back tears, and seriously questioning my place in the professional running world. However, I concluded by saying I have faith that I am ready for a breakthrough...
Well, I cannot be happier to report that I was finally correct in my assessment, and a breakthrough is exactly what I experienced in my final three European races. I had a little Italian racing spree, competing on Wednesday, Sunday, and Tuesday in Nuoro, Padova, and Lignano, respectively. From those three races, I won my second ever pro race in a near-best time, I ran a big 1500m PR, and then topped it off with a LOOONG awaited PR in the 800 last night. I can't even describe how good it feels to be coming home after such a successful trip...though at the same time, I almost wish I could stay and keep the train rolling!
Currently going on my 20th hour of travel, and no sleep...I'm borderline-high. I keep catching myself gazing out the window at the endless sky, the sun finally setting...then closing my eyes, breathing it in deep, and letting a smile creep to my face. I realize how incredibly cheesy and stupid this sounds, but it is the truth, and at this moment it is such beautiful truth. I am loving this sense of renewal, affirmation, and peace that I have right now.
Ok, so let me share some of the details of this past whirlwind of a week.
I left my house in Leuven early last Tuesday morning...but not without a proper goodbye. I was the first from our group of athletes to leave the city, so on Monday, everybody decided to celebrate my last night in Leuven like it was my birthday or something. We all went out for dinner, and enjoyed one final round of Belgian waffles and ice cream for dessert. It was pretty fun, I must say.
I flew from Brussels to Rome (another exotic place to check off my list of "places I have been"...haha, if you count the airport), and then connected to a smaller airport on the southern Italian island of Sardegna. We then took a van from the airport to the official meet hotel in Nuoro, another hour or so of driving, but definitely an entertaining drive. Sardegna is endless mountains, green, and beauty. We cut through the sides of mountains, up and down hills, and even through tunnels that went straight through the rock. Besides the gorgeous location, my other first impression was: dang, it is HOT here!
I got to rest for maybe an hour or so after arriving to the hotel before a bus was taking athletes to go to the track for a pre-meet workout. I still hadn't had a chance to run, so I hopped on. We drove for kind of a long time again, and suddenly I noticed a glimpse of red like track surface through some trees. I blurted out: "oh, there it is!" to my seat mate, but then as soon as I said it, I thought no...that can't be it...
This track, to say the least, was not in the best of shape. It looked oddly small for some reason, the surface was worn and replaced, and worn again, it had a dry dirt infield rather than grass or turf like we're used to seeing, leaves were blown in and collecting in the first lane...you get the picture. Not to mention the fact that it was hot like the surface of the sun out there, and like most things in Sardegna, it was basically a small flat area, carved into the side of a mountain (meaning for all you distance people, no logical place to warm up around the track without hitting some serious hills in every direction).
I am describing all this in great detail because what happened next was one of the funniest things I have ever seen occur as a collective group of athletes enter a track for pre-meet. We all got off the bus, walked through the gates, AND JUST STOOD THERE. It wasn't the usual routine where you usually just find a place to drop your spike bag and get straight down to business. It was almost as if no one even knew where to begin in the heat and on this poor dilapidated track in the middle of hill country.
As a kid, have you ever had your parents do the thing where they stop the car and make you get out to "walk home" because you were fighting with your siblings in the back seat? Haha..I don't think I have, but this situation kind of reminded me of what some kids might look like as the car drives away...like, "They're coming back, right...? This is a joke, right...?"
Eventually the shock wore off, and rather than just standing there, we all got to business. Not without a couple nervous laughs and people asking, "is this REALLY the track we are competing on tomorrow...?" I was already feeling pretty awful from all the travel, so this environment was not exactly encouraging to me, but like everything else on these trips, you just have to go with the flow and make the most of every opportunity.
Despite all of these erupting negative feelings, the good Lord creeped in to reveal himself in a really unique way to me that evening. He showed me beauty like I've never looked at it before. Maybe it was the shabby condition of the track that served as such a perfectly stark contrast to everything going on there, maybe it was the breathtaking views of the mountains surrounding us on all sides...I don't really know...
All I can say is, suddenly I felt an incredible sense of awe at the beauty of track and field- all of it. I was captivated by the graceful elegance of athletes running so quickly, efficiently, and smoothly through space with bodies perfectly sculpted for movement.
As a woman, I am hard-wired to be my own worst critic about my physical appearance, but while I was appreciating the beauty of everything and everyone else there, I came to the realization that I am in the midst of all these other athletes because I too am beautiful, and I am capable of making something beautiful with my very movement. My sport can be a work of art, and I can be both the subject and the artist. This was a nice, idealistic conclusion to come to at that less than ideal track. Luckily, as we were being picked up to go back to the hotel, word was spreading fast that this was NOT the track we would be competing on the next day! :)
So the next day was race day! The track was indeed nicer, but the weather still quite hot and windy. Even in the shade as I waited to warm up, the heat was radiating through me on the blacktop, and I was slightly concerned about my odds of running very well that day. It felt like the conditions were much better for napping than racing, but I tried to put that in the back of my mind, and convince myself that heat is good for the 800m!
Funny international racing experience: Immediately before the start of the race, we were all divided into our lanes, pacing and waiting for the starter to send us off. I was literally facing the opposite direction from my starting line, not paying attention at all, when suddenly I realized all the other athletes were toeing the line, waiting for the gun! Oops! I guess I should learn "on your marks" in Italian! As soon as I turned around and got in my set position, the starter shot the gun! I am sure it was only like 3 seconds for me to figure out what was going on, but I bet it seemed like forever to everyone else who was already set before me, so sorry!
Anyway, I got out hard, found myself in first position at the break line, and just kept pressing forward. I wasn't sure how close everyone was behind me, but I wasn't about to look back. Because it was so windy that day, i hadn't really anticipated to run that fast, but at 600m, I heard that my split was still 1:29, and thought to myself, shoot! I can still run pretty fast today! I poured it on for the last 200m to win in a time of 2:01.96, and I was very encouraged to run such a fast time in less than perfect conditions, without people to chase in front of me. Plus, it was pretty cool to earn my first and second-ever professional wins back-to-back!
Next stop: Padova! It was a nice change from Nuoro because it was cooler in temperature, had a few more cool places to walk around the city, and was much flatter for running. There was a river just two blocks away from the meet hotel, so we pretty much ran there every day. They had a nice warm up track to do our premeet, and an even nicer yet stadium to compete at. The weather threatened to storm, but held out, and we had some excellent conditions for a fast 1500m field. Since there were so many talented women in the field, I pretty much felt like I was destined to run a faster PR than what I did in Ireland. I set my sights on trying to run 4:12, even writing down specific split times on my hand that I should try to hit in order to run that time. The race went pretty much exactly as I had hoped, I hit my splits, and felt pretty darn good running a new PR of 4:12.11! It was another happy night for me to make a big drop in my 1500, and gave me this feeling that my last race in Europe, an 800 in Lignano scheduled two days later, was going to be a good one too.
So last but not least, I returned to the beach town of Lignano. We only had a day to travel from Padova to Lignano and also recover and prepare for the next night's race, so it was pretty quick-turnaround time, but we still managed to take a walk on the beach and enjoy the place a bit. The next day, the weather couldn't have been more perfect, the race had a stacked field, and yet again, I felt like it was inevitable for me to run a new PR in the 800. I went out there, and jumped somewhere in the middle of the pack, and rode the energy through to a 2:00.41. I was slightly disappointed to be the first woman in the race to NOT go under two minutes, but I would be crazy not to be happy about s new personal best time since 2007. It had been a long time coming, and I actually felt so great in the race, like there is more good to come- a good note to end the trip on.
Now it's time to go home, see my family, my hubby, and move into s new house in a week! I am so blessed, and so happy.