1. Palo Alto is Disneyland
The meet is billed as a chance for mid-d and distance athletes to hit great times in perfect weather. And it comes through. This is the land of constant sunshine. The people are happy; the trails, beautiful; and all the coffee is hand-poured. (Okay, maybe that one is only at Philz. The line for that shizz is LONG!)
2. Track meets are family reunions
It started in line for the rental car at the airport, jumping over partitions to hug old friends. I see that as I build relationships with other athletes, I am as excited for the opportunity to see them as I am for the races. And this was an extra-special trip, as a large Oiselle contingent was in town from Seattle to cheer.
3. Never sweat the shakeout
They always feel crappy!!! At least, both my runs on Saturday were nothing to write home about. It's never a great sign when two miles feels like a haul. Mel Lawrence and I had to keep reminding ourselves that this was the usual, not the exception. We would be worried if it wasn't the case.
4. Prep, with an extra shot of nerves
My only goal before a race is to not fret. There is nothing worrying will accomplish. But I am especially anxious for this one. I know that’s the case when I become a minimally capable human. It’s as if my energy is receding to focus on on the essential task. I don’t text coherently, it takes a while to get out full sentences, I avoid speaking because words will probably come out as squeaks. Struggles.
Mergaert and I drive over together. We grab coffee and get the news that Lauren Wallace killed her race. It is exciting to hear that the day is off to a good start. But that also makes the meet real. The world hasn't collapsed, the auto-timers are working. This is happening. I consciously focus mental energy on being happy for Lauren, and push out thoughts of the inevitable. (Calming tip for the weekend - focusing on positive emotions for someone else is a great way to get out of obsessing over yourself and cut through BS nerves). The enlightened Sally Bergesen once said that gratitude is the only emotion you can will yourself to feel. It’s a great one to replace the negative possibilities.
Laying on the grass, we are next to the pacer. I hear the plan is to go through in 66/2:12. Okay. Process. It's been 10 months since I raced a 1500, I’ve moved, I’ve been injured. And recently, I’ve been annoyingly perfectionist about pointing out every weakness that in my training and fitness (as a way to plan improvement). I’ve given the small, negative internal voice a lot of ammo.
Christine Babcock comes to the rescue with a very timely text: "I believe in you, and the secret that separates winners from everyone else is their belief in themselves." So true! I have never been someone who has relied on "predictor" workouts to tell me how I'm going to race. I just compete. And 9 times out of 10, going in with a cool head and a fierce heart is more helpful than the knowledge of perfect training - mostly because perfect is never attained.
I do my pre-race breathing meditation, the caffeine kicks in, and I'm a bubbling, bouncing goofball as we head-off to warm-up.
5. Bird Machine
The only other indication of nerves comes in the check-in area. We move there with 20 minutes to go, put on spikes, etc. There is a photographer taking pictures of Oiselle athletes. I had offered for him to shoot me before running, but now I can tell that I'm a bit heady, because I notice his every move. I am putting on spikes, and I'm posing! Pursing my lips, the whole shebang. Oof. It's time for extreme measures. I fumble in my bag, grab the iPod, and flip to Fancy, full blast: "first things first i'm the realest". mmm. Nerves melt. I'm grooving, got the swag, life is good.
I try not to depend on outside measures to help calm down, you never want to be counting on something in a big race and find out it's not allowed, or there isn't time. But on this occasion, it was perfect.
The plan for the race was to go straight to the back, stay calm and detached for the first 800 meters, use the next 400 to get in position, and be ready for the close with 300 to go. I never do this. It was nice not to use up adrenaline in a sprint from the start line. The pack in front was jostling for position. I could just look on comfortably. As we passed the finish for the first time, the gang of Oiselle fans started with a cheer. With every lap, their cheers of “Oiselle Oiselle Oiselle,” then “Kate Kate Kate” grew louder. After the fact, someone asked if I had heard them. I didn't hear anything else! A flutter of happiness rose in my belly every time I passed. It was perfect.
I was a bit boxed, and in that 3rd 400, had to start maneuvering to the outside, but the plan was working. Whereas in past races I would fall asleep in the 3rd lap, I was focused, I had an objective. And then, the best feeling is the knowledge that you are about to dig, and there is something to find. I started to squeeze at 300, and opened with 150 to go. I felt like I was flying out from any burdens that had been shadowing me the past few days. Wiiii.
6. Post race thoughts
- Post-race workouts are the ultimate humble-brag. I think they mostly exist to make the athlete feel like a badass. Who knows if they give any benefit, but Lauren took me to do an 18 minute progressive tempo, and I had fun basking in the adrenaline of the win.
- Life moves on. It was great, it was exciting, but as soon as I was done with the workout, I ran straight to the track to cheer on athletes in the 5k (Lauren Penney, Amanda Winslow, Ashley Higginson, Nicol Traynor). I felt the nerves of the spectator, willing your friends to do well, and the joy when they show they had something left for the end. Those races were the highlight of the night, with world leading times in the men’s and women's 5k and 10k. It was thrilling to be there. and a great example of another race tip: always remember that good or bad, life keeps going. On to the next one!