Saturday, February 26, 2011

Back to the Land Of Enchantment

I can't help but reminisce about last year today. Last year, the USA Indoor Championship 800m was my "debut", so to speak, in the big professional running scene.

Since I wasn't sure how I would respond to the altitude here in Albuquerque, I came to the Land of Enchantment a few weeks early to acclimate. By the weekend of the meet, I was excited to race, but I was also pretty excited to just go home. The idea of standing up next to all these big-name, sponsored athletes while I wear my mix-n-match of every brand imaginable was a bit intimidating.

I must have communicated that somehow in a conversation to my mom, and the way she responded was exactly what I needed to hear. She told me to remember that I belong here. That I am just as capable of becoming a big-name sponsored athlete too, but I have to put myself out there and earn it first. And I can be homesick at times, but when I step to the line, that is the only place I need to be. For about two minutes, I can invest my entire self into every step, every heartbeat, every moment of the race...because as much as I try to feel sorry for myself before a race, when the pressure is on, and I am a little bit afraid of failing- it's true there is nowhere else I'd rather be than in every moment of that amazing opportunity God has provided me.

And now I'm back, decked out in my Asics gear, another year stronger and more experienced. One would think I've got it all figured out by now, but I don't think anyone ever really does, no matter how successful they are. I'm still reminding myself of my mom's advice, and saying, "this is where I am, this is where I'm meant to be." Whether my performance is good or bad, I will find joy in my current circumstances, and approach every experience as a stepping stone towards where I want to be. Where I want to be is what propels me.

2010 USA Indoor 800m Final

I put it all out there

I ran for no regrets

I finished 3rd place with a new indoor 800m PR 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Lucky was a good choice!

Well, I made it to Albuquerque for the USA Indoor Championships, and it has been quite the day of travel! Usually, the traveling is my LEAST favorite part about this whole running career- I find airports to be mildly annoying, and I especially dislike getting cramped into stinky airplanes for long periods of time. BUT, dare I say my experiences today were actually...nice?

I'll start from the beginning, but before I get into the details, there is something you must know about me. Many of my closest friends and family are already aware of this, but many do not know, that I never sleep alone. Ever since my freshman year of college, I have slept with at least 1, but up to 5 "furry friends" every night. (The number often depends on how many I accidently drop on the floor during my sleep.) Their names are Lucky, Rae, Ollie, Roscoe, and Kirby- they are my teddy bears, and I'm not for a minute ashamed of my beautiful family of bears.

It all started with Lucky, a nice little brown bear with a big red heart stitched on his chest. He was gifted to me from my older sister, Kara, when she left to go to college. Lucky and I grew very close, to a point where in college, I was beginning to get the sense that my boyfriend (and now husband!), Ben, might be a little jealous of him. So, I thought the best way to remedy the situation would be to give him a bear cub of his own to love. On Ben's 21st birthday, Little Rae (named after my middle name...making me Big Rae) sprung out of the Cuddle Zone at Target and into our lives. He's got superbly soft dark brown fur, and he's filled with beans, which makes him the best dancer of the group I think.

Inspired by my love of bears, Ben's mom, Lori, rapidly exanded our bear collection by adding Ollie (for my 21st birthday), Roscoe (for Christmas the following year), and Kirby the next summer. Ollie and Roscoe (collectively referred to as the "skinnies") are both awkwardly long-limbed and thin, whereas Kirby is made of llama fur, and is commonly mistaken for an Ewok (the best way to describe him is he kinda looks like he stuck a paw in an electical socket). Their awkward appearances only add to their charm.

So, for every travel trip, I chose one bear to come along as my trusty companion. As you can probably imagine, it's always a tough decision. This morning, I got so far as to zip up my suitcase when I realized I hadn't decided on The Chosen One. My thought process: "Well, this is a big meet, I need somebody reliable, somebody who's been through this with me before...Lucky it is!" I gave him a hug before I crammed him into my suitcase, and we were off!

Now back to my day: my dad picked me up to bring me to the airport this morning. It was smooth-sailing on the roads, and nice to catch up with him a little before he dropped me at the door. I arrived at 10am, took advantage of my new Silver Medillion Delta SkyMiles status to scoot through the bag drop and security lines (I even got to do the new body scan was fun, I don't get why people are all huffy about that!), and made it to my gate by 10:14. 14 minites? I think that's a new record.

Another perk of the Silver Medillion status is you are automattically put into the pool for possible seat upgrades on the plane. I checked out the screen when I arrived at the gate to see there were only 3 first class spots still open, and would you beleive I was third in line??

First class flying is quite the treat for a typical "business class" traveler like myself. I was pumped to get seconds on the snacks, a great lunch, and best of all- room to stretch out my legs.

Upon arrival, I took a cab to the hotel, and could hardly beleive it when the front desk man, Frank (like my dad!), upgraded me to a 16th floor room with a beautiful mountain view. THEN, when I go to pick up my meet credentials from my agent in the lobby, he hands me an extra goodie-bag filled with fruit snacks, granola bars, etc. If today is any indication of how this entire weekend is going to go, I'm very excited indeed! I can't help but think the credit is partially due to my loyal friend Lucky, who is relaxing with me now before I head over to the track for a pre-meet workout. Yes, Lucky was a good choice.

Lucky (left) and Rae on Ben's 21st- aka, their first day as brothers

Kirby, pumping iron with Ben and I on our Honeymoon.

PS- Shame on me for being like a typical parent who has a ton of pictures of the first and last kids, but I can't find any good ones of Ollie and Roscoe! I'll be sure to add them when I get home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cherries on top of cherries!

Well, I've got much happier news to report after this past weekend of racing.

I took a nice little road trip down to Ames, Iowa with my former Gopher/current Team USA Minnesota teammate, Gabriele Anderson. Regardless of the outcome of our races, I already deemed it a worthwhile trip just to get to spend a few hours of uninterrupted catch-up time with a person that I have so much love and respect for, and have so much fun with every time we're together.

Adding to the fun was the fact that the Gopher women's track team also made the trip down to compete at the Iowa State Classic. And of course, where there are Gophers, there must be Gopher fans and family! Before the race even started, I could deem the trip worthwhile, just to hang out "like old times" with my former coaches, teammates, and the best support system in the world.

And THEN, I could barely contain my excitement to warm up for the mile not only with Gabe, but with 3 close friends- Nikki Swenson, Elizabeth Yetzer, and Steph Price (the first two of which stood as bridesmaids at my wedding, I feel like I can't emphasize how much I love these ladies and their families!).

So, needless to say when that gun went off, I was already floating on air. I got out to a quick early lead, maybe a tad bit too excited in hindsight, but I really wanted to put it out there and see what I was made of, and I'll never apologize for that. Just over halfway through the race, Gabe took over the lead and gave me someone to chase, and I could feel the pressure from my Gopher girls close behind. In the end, we ALL ran down indoor mile PR's, and it was like the cherry on top of several other cherries atop a giant ice cream sundae.

Oh, and one last thing to be thankful for: Cooling down outside with all the milers after the race, I managed to trip on some shoddy sidewalk work and, it's isn't just you...falling down seems to be a theme for me, I tend to do it once per the good news is, I got that one out of the way!! I'd much rather scrape some skin off my elbow than trip up in a race again;)

A lot of athletes from other training centers have asked me why in the world I would ever stay in Minnesota to train, and a weekend like this fully confirmed my feelings that you can find a great coach anywhere, you can find a way to run in good weather (even if that just means on a treadmill or an indoor track sometimes), but you cannot go just anywhere to be surrounded by people you love that support you no matter what. In honor of the "holiday of love" yesterday, I just have to say to all the people that make this tough job seem a little but easier, and a lot more fun for me- I love you, and thank you!

Some Flotrack Links from the weekend:

Flotrack Coverage of Iowa State Women's Mile

Post-Race Interview

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.