Thursday, May 31, 2012

Willing to Hurt in order to Triumph

Have you ever driven by a homeless person on a street corner who has a sign that reads something to the effect of "will work for food"? I happened to see that the other day, and was moved in more ways than one by his simple, yet profound statement on a piece of flimsy cardboard.  First of all, the plainly obvious takeaway message I got was how desperate life situations can become to force a person to beg for work just to eat. We may all say that we work "so that we can put food on the table", but generally speaking, that work also paid for the table, in your dining room, in your house, on your land, that you also work to pay for. I am not one to judge the person who finds himself in dire need, nor the person whose needs are fulfilled. All I know is I am in the latter category, even if I still refer to myself as a "low-income athlete with a mortgage", I feel a certain calling to help those in need. Even if it just starts with keeping a few extra snacks in my car that I can share as I drive by a familiar person with a plea for help on a sign, I am asking my friends and family to hold me accountable on this one! :) Nextly, I came away with a metaphor about my running that I thought worthy of sharing (of course, leave it to me to glean running perspective in the most unlikely places!) What I thought was, as an athlete, what would my sign read? What do I feel like I need, and more importantly, what am I willing to offer to get it?  The first thing that came to mind came out a bit more like an odd craigslist posting: 'Olympic A-Standard Wanted. Willing to hurt for 1:59.89 or better.'     Before your mind wanders to all kinds of craziness, let me clarify. I am not willing to get clubbed, stabbed, or poisoned to run the Olympic A. What I mean by this is I am willing to run my guts out, and I am willing to feel a pain that I have never felt before to achieve my goal, because I know when the pain subsides, I will feel the greatest bliss.  I was talking to my mom on the phone sometime after one of my first races this season, and she repeated something she has told me several times before. She said "you never look absolutely spent at the end of your races, I think you've got more in you." Usually when she says this to me, I take it as a compliment, and say how I always try to look like that at the end of a race so that I am intimidating to my fellow competitors, even if I feel horrible inside. The more I got to thinking about it though, the more I began to believe that I need to be willing to run ugly, to truly run beyond myself and put it all on the line, in order to achieve this dream I have been chasing for so many years. Who cares what other people think of me if my time can speak for itself? I need to stop worrying so much about keeping good form at the end of a race (which is obviously still important to some degree), and rather dig deep and do whatever I need to do to come across the line under 2 minutes. At the time of my last post, I was just about to race Fortaleza, Brazil. That race went much better than the hot and muggy 800m I competed in Belem, but I was still dissatisfied with the results. I ran 2:02.24, just one hundredth of a second behind the Columbian woman who jumped me at the line for the win. I am not saying I wasn't trying my hardest at the end of the race, but I could totally pin-point a place in the race where I had hesitated to take the lead (about 320m into the race), when I should have went for it with gusto and never looked back. I took that experience to heart as I went into the US Road Mile Championships right at home in Minneapolis. It was a windy day, and probably wise to stay in the pack for wind block, but with a little more than a quarter mile to go, I decided my best shot was to go for it, make my move decisively and never look back. Thankfully it worked just as I had hoped! I won my first professional national title, and became the first Minnesotan to win the US Road Mile Championship in MN. I couldn't have asked for more a more supportive setting than my home sweet home, the crowd was amazing, I never stopped hearing my name throughout the entire course. Before the race, I had visualized myself crossing the tape first, and getting the US Flag draped over my shoulders as I run into the street a champion. What a dream come true and a moment I hope to replicate in the future! I can't say enough thank you's to Twin Cities in Motion, the USATF, my teammates, coach, and supporters of Team USA Minnesota, my Apple Valley High School distance squad who came to watch again this year, my husband, my family, and the entire MPLS running community that stuck around to watch. Next up for me is an 800m race in St Louis, just hours away. I am hoping to carry some of that confidence from the win on the roads, and some of that frustration from a narrow loss on the track, and turn it into an awesome performance.  Here's to dreams coming true, hard work paying off, and a willingness to run ugly!      Ps, pictures from US Champs to come when I am using a device other than my iPad to post!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Long Due update!

The world of blogging is trying to prevent me from making this post, but I vow it will be done!! (I wrote this post several days ago, on my iPad, but have not found a single place to get wireless internet here in Brazil, so I decided to re-type it at the business center computer so it can finally come out! With less than a paragraph to go, the computer froze and I lost my, please appreciate what I am about to say (again!) ;) I think every runner at my level expects to compete at a higher level in an Olympic year. Why? Because you HAVE to, if you want to make the team. You have to plan on warking harder, being more dedicated...thus, attaining a higher level of fitness, and running faster from the very beginning of the season, all the way to the final finish line. It is both a curse and a blessing to have such high expectations for myself. I truly beleive that I have put in the work, and I am ready to rock. But, until my first race, I had no way of knowing where I was at. Finally that opportunity arrived to ´test the waters,´so to speak, and get a true gauge on my fitness. I recently ran my first two races of the 2012 ourdoor season, and have good things to report! The first race was the Grand Blue Mile, on Tuesday night. It is a road mile in downtown Des Moines that basically kicks off the Drake Relays week of festivities. We had an unually small field of just four elite female competitors. With so few athletes in the race, it seemed no one wanted the disadvantage of leading so we got off to a slow start. I focused on staying smooth and relaxed until somebody decided to make a break for it. We went through the first half in 2:32, fairly pedestrian-paced for everyone in the race. We picked it up a little bit through the half-way poit, and then significantly busted it open with a quarter to go. As the finish line approached, it was Sara Hall and I battling for the win (Sara is the reigning national champion in the road mile, I took second to her last year). We were truly neck-and-neck with a block to go, my peripheral vision at one point told me I got her, and the next: she bursted through the tape just inches before me (Results listed us both at 4:45). As much as it is a heart-breaker to take such a close second place, I was still quite pleased with the fact that we closed our second half in 2:13, and I felt pretty darn good doing it. The race gave me confidence in my closing speed and ability to run a tactical race. However, it didn´t tell me much about my true potential thus far. I was immediately excited to get another chance on the 1500m on the track in a few days. Finally Saturday rolled around, and coditions were taking a turn for the better! (Frday produced some serious winds and storms, Saturday was just a bit cold and windy). Before I can describe the race, I must say it is always such a joy for me to return to the Drake Relays. The officials working there are the best in the world, as far as I am concerned. They are kind, courteous, and always thank us for coming to the Relays. Thank YOU for putting on such a classy meet! The fans are equally supportive and awesome as well. As the announcer Mike Jay was introducing the athletes in my race, it was amost comical to hear my long and heartfelt into that turned out to be equally as long as Jenny Simpson´s (who just so happens to be the 2011 world champ in the 1500m, and a native Iowan). That just goes to show they truly appreciate every athlete, and treat us all like World Champs on our come turf. Incredible. So the race itself went a little something like this: Jenny got out well on the tail of her own rabbit, I was following Heidi Dahl, the leader of the chase pack. It immediately became apparent that this would be a race for second...I rode right along, the pace felt comfortable, but quick. I had trouble hearing most of our lap splits, but was mentally in it for the race, and it seemed to by quite quickly!! (odd, for an 800m runner to say a 1500m went by fast) Before I knew it, we had a lap to go, and people were starting to make their final moves. I managed to slip through a little gap to start trying to form my own gap between myself and the race behind me. By 100m to go, Maggie Infield (who has been patiently waiting to make her move in the back of our chase pack), was coming on well, and together we started to chase down Jenny on the home stretch. In the end, I was third behind Jenny and Maggie, but we managed to get within a second of the world champ. I turned around to check the clock, anticipating to see something around 4:17 or so, because it felt so comfortable to me. I was shocked when I saw I ran 4:13.89! That is just a second off my PR from last July (not bad to be running near-PR pace in spring, and feel relaxed doing it!). Later I found out I had closed my final 300m in 47 seconds, which again gave me some happy thoughts about my ability to finish with a kick! It seems to me that was one ingredient I felt like I could not harness last year: the kick. So, having something to work with was a nice start! All in all, I had so much fun, was thankful for my loyal family and husband who came as fans to one or both competitions, and I was excited to get down to business in my next two races, 800m competitions in Brazil. One of which is already said and done, the other one will be happening tonight. I´ll update when I get home! Here´s to dreaming and beleiveing that all things are possible (especially in an Olympic year! ;)