Thursday, May 27, 2010

NCAA National 10k Recap

AM: 3 miles
PM: 2 mile w/u + strides

10k race @34:50
1 mile c/d
Total: 9 mile

10k start line

We headed over to the track at 6:30, just in time to catch the opening rounds of the steeple. Temperatures were above 85 degrees but it felt surprisingly nice in the shade due to the low humidity--44% according to I knew the heat would take its toll on some of the distance runners, just as surely as I knew I wouldn't be one of them. I've lived in this type of climate my whole life, and I planned on using that to my advantage during the later stages of the race.

Around 8pm, Tanya and I ventured across the railroad tracks for our familiar warmup loop around the cemetery. The same loop as always, but of course the mood was completely different. It was almost surreal, warming up in the same place we've been dozens of times before, only this time with so much more on our minds. We were jolted back to reality on our return toward the stadium. About 100 yards from the tracks w
e heard the whistle of an approaching train; sure enough, the lights began flashing and the protective arms lowered. We were too far away to beat it, so we jogged slowly up to the crossing and waited for it to pass. Except that then it stopped. Like, came to a complete stop right on the tracks. For as many times as we've joked about getting stuck on the other side of the tracks during our warmup, we never expected it to happen tonight. After a few moments of hesitation we both scrambled up the side of the train, gingerly stepped across an empty boxcar and hopped to safety on the other side. If that doesn't get your adrenaline pumping, I don't know what will!

Ten minutes later it was go time. We filed down to the track with the other competitors and did some final pre-race strides. I was delighted to spot some familiar faces in the stands just before the start, including Caitlin and the CRC crew, Tyler and Denise, and Run For Your Life owner Tim Rhodes. (After the race I would learn that there were many other friends there too, and instead of forge
tting to name them all, I will simply say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who came!) Tanya also had some pint-sized fans, as most of her class from this spring's Girls on the Run session came to cheer. I would discover over the next 34 minutes that the single best part of hosting the meet in our hometown was receiving such an overwhelming show of support from friends and teammates.

Pre-race strides

At 8:40 sharp we were off. I don't remember much about the first mile except that it felt quick: 5:28. Though I could only speculate about the pace of the race, I didn't suspect we would run faster than 34:30 given the heat. 5:28 was a bit fast. At this point I had a choice; I could surge to catch up with the leaders--Slippery Rock's Jen Harpp had taken a commanding solo lead, followed closely by a chase pack of Tanya and Sarah Porter and a few others--or I could bide my time in the second chase group and hope they came back to me. It was a crucial decision, and one I had to make quickly. I stayed put.

The lead pack midway through the race

The second mile slowed a bit, and I heard the announcer say 5:34. At this point Harpp had been caught, but my group was still a solid 10-15 meters back from the leaders. I began to notice them coming a bit closer, almost imperceptibly at first. Jordan noticed it too, and I heard him yell from his spot on the backstretch to be patient and let them come back within the next few laps. We passed through 5k shortly thereafter, although I never saw or heard a split. (Tanya told me later that she heard her 5k split as 17:29, which meant mine was probably around 17:34-35). For the rest of the race I would neither see nor hear another mention of spllits, nor would I concern myself with it. I was here to race, not to set a PR.

Sure enough, within the next few laps
the remainder of our chase group absorbed the lead pack. Now the group of contenders included Tanya, Sarah Porter, myself, Western State's Laura Kleppin, Missouri Southern's Kimi Shank and Dani Dell'Orco from Truman State. As far as we were concerned, no one else was still in the race. Surprisingly the next two miles were the most comfortable of the race for me as I settled in with the group. With six laps to go Tanya put in a surge, and none of us were ready to respond. I stayed tucked in to the group and let her go. I knew I couldn't wait until the last lap to kick, but I also knew I wasn't ready to drop the hammer just yet. Patience.

With two laps to go, our group was starting to string out just a bit. I sensed my chance approaching. At the 700 meter mark I heard Jordan yell at me to relax and go. I went. I thought about all the 12x800 workouts, all the hammers, all the miles that had prepared me for this point, and I trusted that my strength would see me through to the finish. If I could hold on, I would help earn Queens a 1-2 finish. At the sound of the bell, I looked up in surprise to see that Tanya was not too far in front of me. The lead she'd built over the previous mile was slowly eroding, and for the first time in the race I thought she might
be fallible. I dropped my head and dug deeper. The backstretch came and went.

The final hundred meters of the race I h
ave since replayed in my head at least a dozen times. I remember rounding the final curve, looking up to see Tanya ahead of me while simultaneously swinging wide to pass a lapped runner. I never in a million years expected to feel Sarah Porter also swinging wide, somehow emerging from nowhere to pass me on the outside. I had thought the rest of the group was history, and it caught me totally by surprise. I had no response. Should I have snuck a look over my shoulder a few meters earlier to make sure I was clear? Probably so, but at the time I was so intent on the finish and on trying to catch Tanya that it literally never crossed my mind to turn around. Instead, I crossed the line in 34:50--a second behind Sarah and about three behind Tanya. I had run my last 800 in 2:33 with my last 400 in 73 and it still wasn't enough.

hough I may not have enabled the Queens sweep, I suppose finishing with one National Champ and one All-American isn't half bad either. On paper, Sarah and Tanya have run 60 and 90 seconds faster than me respectively, so I consider competing with them as well as I did to be an accomplishment in itself. And they deserve all the credit in the world for making moves when I didn't, or couldn't, thus securing their finishes in the top spots. All in all, I feel like we put on a really fun and exciting race for the home crowd, which makes the outcome all the more rewarding.

Myself, Tanya and Sarah Porter

I'll close this recap by sharing a text message that my former coach Jeff "G-Unit" Gaudette sent me in November 2008, after I'd just committed to quitting my job and running at Queens. He said: "I believe you can be a national champion in the 10k!" I remember literally laughing out loud while reading it, as the idea was about as incredulous as anything I could imagine at the time. A year ago I was two spots out of qualifying for this race, and tonight I wanted to make sure I did not waste this opportunity. I did not win that national championship tonight, but I did compete my heart out and come closer than almost anyone else out there.