Sunday, June 26, 2011

God works in mysterious ways.

When things don't go exactly as planned, or at least as I'd hoped, it is easy to question my decision to pursue a career that is wrought with inevitable failures. It's impossible to be successful every single time you race. Plain and simple.

The logical and optimistic side of my brain reminds me that as long as I keep trying, that heartbreak will be intermixed with bursts of absolute joy that always last a lot longer than the current lump in my throat. In fact I have plenty of joyful memories I doubt I could ever forget from this crazy sport of track and field. 

The hurt and frustrated side of my brain, however, asks if it's really worth it. Why invest so much time, energy, and my heart into something that has such variable returns? I came to this US Championships in Eugene, Oregon with a mission to make a final. I had a time under my belt this season that told me it was possible, I narrowly missed a similar fall to the one that took me down and out of contention last year in the preliminary round of the 800m...everything seemed to be coming together. And then I blow it. I finished 5th in the semifinal- a race that only takes 4 people to the final round.

Now I am flying home, while the women I was hoping to race in the US Championships Final are busy preparing for what will undoubtedly be an amazing race.

When I look at it this way, my mind clouded by such recent disappointment, I beg God to tell me what He wants from me- is this all part of His plan? Or maybe His intent was for me to be in that final today. He told me to be strong and courageous...maybe it was me who didn't follow through.    

In the midst of this I wonder if it is really worth it. Especially when it also comes at the cost of traveling away from home for several weekends, sometimes weeks, and the occasional month at a time throughout the year. Call me a homebody, but I do get homesick- even when I am visiting exotic locations all around the world. I'd argue if you had a home life as overwhelmingly wonderful as mine, you'd miss it too. It's not just the day-to-day routine of home that I miss, mind you. It's the big things I can't just "catch up on" later. After I fly out again this Wednesday for a three-week European racing trip, for example, I will miss good 'ol American fireworks on the fourth of July for the second year in a row, I won't attend bachelorette parties for three great friends, two weddings will come and go, and I won't be there to witness Ben's three-peat championship at the Afton 25k trail race (go get 'em Benny!)

Even as I was wallowing over these things I cannot change, I am amazed at how quickly God reminds me to count my blessings, and then pours blessing upon blessing on me just to make his point clear. My day started this morning at 4:21am (I never set my alarm for even minutes...something Ben got me accustomed to). I quickly got dressed and zipped up my suitcase and went out into the crisp Eugene morning to wait for my teammate, Gabe and her boyfriend Justin to come from her hotel to pick me up on their way to the Portland airport (about a 2.5 hour drive). Though it wasn't ideal for me to leave so early (my flight wasn't booked until 2:30pm, Gabe's was at 8:10am) I was grateful for the ride. Around 5:05am, I am still waiting, and getting worried. Gabe calls me, and says her GPS isn't working, the timing is tight, and she is worried she'll miss her flight if she keeps looking for my hotel. For a minute it looked like I was going to have to find a different way to get to Portland, and I was awake much earlier than I'd ever needed to be. 

By some stroke of luck, they gave it one more try, the directions worked, and they found me! We ended up making good time on the road, and got to experience a bright sunrise over the beautifully lush countryside of Oregon on the way. 

Gabe had no trouble checking in to her flight, and I requested a last-minute switch to the same flight, rather than having to wait another 7 hours for my own flight. The clerk told me it was my lucky day, there was just one seat left on the plane. When I was called to the gate desk, the clerk handed me my seat assignment: 6A...first class. What are the odds?

And then, definitely the highlight of my morning, I was making my way down the walkway to board the plane when a man called my name from behind. He was the proud dad of a young woman named Hannah, who just graduated from Hopkins High School. She had been in Eugene for the Junior USA Championships. They told me how she had seen my 600m race video, and was a big fan of mine. She had a successful weekend, running a new PR of 2:11 in the 800m, and will certainly have a bright future at Harvard. The look of admiration in her eyes as she asked for my autograph reminded me right then and there of the big reason I love having this sometimes burdensome, but wonderful gift. It doesn't just affect my life. The good days I have on the track can reach multitudes. It can inspire and encourage others. It can serve as a little window for people to see the incredible power and grace of God.  

Even if I don't make a final, I am perfectly loved and unconditionally accepted. I am forever on His team, clothed in His uniform, and representing something much greater than myself. There is no sacrifice I could make to ever match the endless gifts He provides for me. All I can do is continue to offer up my best, and cling to that logical and optimistic side of my brain that says YES, this is worth it. YES, I would miss this is if I gave up now. And YES, I still believe I am on the brink of a breakthrough. Like a dam about to burst, I will break free of my doubts, and rush across this earth, hopefully seeping in and leaving a positive, enriching little puddle as I go. ;) 

Monday, June 13, 2011

"Those Pesky Wabbits!"

No one could sum up my last two racing experiences better than Elmer Fudd when he said, "Oh, those pesky wabbits!"

For those of you who may not know, many professional track races have a "rabbit", or a person who starts the race with the intention of setting a specific pace for the other athletes, and then drops out at some agreed upon distance. The purpose of a rabbit is to get the race moving fast, without forcing one of the racing athletes to run out in front like a sacrificial lamb (it takes a higher expenditure of energy to run a race from the front). When you have a good rabbit, a race can be so much fun because you can sit on their shoulder, forget about your effort, and just roll with them until it's time to do your own work for the last portion of the race. In a perfect world, a rabbit would always run the pace asked of them. But, of course as the racers we need to remember it is not a perfect world, and sometimes rabbits screw up.

Exhibit A: The Appworld Solutions Elite Women's 800m in St. Louis, Wednesday, June 1st 2011

Before I say anything negative about the rabbit situation at this meet, I must first say that it was an absolute JOY to compete there. I loved the atmosphere, the fans, and the support staff that treated us so well during our stay in St. Louis. This was a charity meet at a high school with the best facilities I've ever seen, so our elite women's 800, and a men's mile to follow were the "highlights" of the night. They made us feel like superstars as they introduced us out on the track, and I loved meeting so many talented young athletes after the meet.

With that being said, however, take a look at the video coverage:

This is a perfect example of what I call an "excited rabbit." In the end, this girl did a great job of hitting the time we had asked her to run through 400m (57 seconds). However, she went out in 25 seconds (50 second 400 pace) for the first 200m, which is too fast for all of us who have to do one more lap still, effectively making herself useless to the athletes who are trailing too far behind her. She was a wonderfully sweet girl who I loved to get to know, but it sure would have been nice to have had her a little closer to me for the first lap, so I didn't feel like I was leading the race from wire to (almost) wire. It was my own mistake to start coasting in on the second lap, though, I will admit that!! In the end, an excited rabbit is a loss of a good opportunity, but it is not the end of the world. She didn't impede me from running my own race, it just as if she weren't there in the first place.

Exhibit B would be this past weekend in New York at the Adidas Grand Prix.

There was no video coverage of this race, so you'll just have to trust me on this one. Our rabbit was both an excited rabbit, and...shall we say, a pesky rabbit. As soon as the gun went off, this girl was out fast, just like the rabbit in St. Louis, she hit the 200m in about 25 seconds, leaving the leaders of the real race back to do their own work. This rabbit had told us she was planning on going through the 400 in 57 seconds, and then dropping out on the inside of the track, at 450m (so, the top of the curve in the second lap). I'm not sure where the wires got crossed, but after she went through the 400m mark, she put the brakes on. Which would be fine, if she got off the track, but she put the brakes on, and was coming to a complete lane one. So as the race is coming directly behind her, there was a bit of a pile-up. I yelled out "Watch out!", which wasn't enough warming before I physically ran into her, lost all my momentum, and then tried to pick it up again. There was a general bustle all around as the racers got put back together, but in the end I ran a disappointing time, and I'm not sure how much of that I should blame on the interruption of the race, and how much was my own shortcomings.

I am aware that rabbiting is an intimidating job, and the people who are willing to go out there and give it a try do deserve our respect, I just found it especially frustrating to race in these circumstances in my two races preceding the USA National Championships. I could certainly have used a fast, confidence-boosting race...but alas, I will have to wait to prove to myself that I am ready in the preliminary round in Eugene!

The good news is, I have already run a near-best time this season, I am healthy, happy, and hungry for more races to come. Another piece of good news is there are NO rabbits in US Championship races...ha!