BY: REBECCA MEHRA
Rabbiting at Payton Jordan last Thursday in one word… ouch!
To back up just a little bit, before the race I had run on the ground (for the first time in over 2 months) exactly 5 weeks and 1 day prior. Before I was set to race in Edinburgh, Scotland for team USA (woo!) back in January, I got an MRI on my shin, which had been acting up for nearly a month after I raced at USA Club Cross Country Nationals in Kentucky. Through the month of limping through runs and workouts, I knew something was wrong, but being the stubborn runner I am, I refused to believe it was anything worse than a perpetually tight calf. I opened my MRI results while sitting alone in my car, and stared blankly at the words “Grade 4 stress injury of the mid right tibia.” Upon scanning the page a second time, I realized this was written for my “distal right tibia” as well. I had two high grade stress fractures. I had been down this road many times before, but the immediate heart throbbing and gut wrenching feeling still overcame me once again.
I spent the next two months making big changes. I moved to Portland. I joined a new club team. I cross trained 90 minutes per day. I went to dozens of PT appointments hoping for the day my PT would clear me to run. It took exactly 60 days for the words “ok, you can try a 20 minute run today, but it needs to be EASY.” I obliged and was absolutely elated. FINALLY!
Though I was so excited to be back doing what I love, I think the hardest part of coming back from injury is not letting yourself do too much too quickly- aka being extremely patient. I so badly wanted to put my spikes on again and roll at 1500m pace on the track. But it took another few weeks of running before I finally got to touch that. My first sub-70 second 400m I ran at practice was exactly one week before Payton Jordan, and in my 3rd “real” workout back. I remember thinking to myself “How the heck am I supposed to run 1000m at 66 seconds per lap when I felt like THAT for just a lap?”
For some context, a “rabbit” is sometimes contracted to pace elite level distance track races to keep the rest of the field on a certain pace. My job was to pace Heat 1 of the Payton Jordan women’s 1500m at 66 seconds per lap, for 2.5 laps, or 1000 meters.
Fast forward, and I am on the starting line at Payton, full of jitters and doubt in my ability to perform. Just a few minutes prior, I donned my spikes for the first time since January. Stanford is my alma mater, and stepping onto Cobb Track and Angel Field felt like fleeting comfort. To add to that, I was pacing 3 former teammates, and gosh I wanted to do a good job for them, but also had no idea where my physical limitations would be in pacing this race. They were depending on me, and I really dreaded messing up the pacing.
The gun went off, and I turned off my doubtful thinking as much as I could. I wore a watch, which I never normally do in races, but I did because I wanted to be able to check my pace every 200m, in case there wasn’t a clock I could reference on the track. I ran through the first 400m well ahead of the field, thinking to myself, wow, I must be fast if I am so far in front! Nope, it was 66.2, exactly on pace, and no one was running with me. At 600m into my 1000m of pacing, it hit me. My legs started to yell at me, and the negative thoughts seeped in as I tried to remain calm. My 2:45 1000m pacing job was actually going to be an all-out race. As I approached 800m (2:13) I knew my pain face was creeping up on me. Indeed, a photo later proved I was correct! At that point I was sprinting to stay out in front and on pace. I made it through 900m, only to be finally passed by the field. I jogged it in through the last 50m and watched the field blow by me. I was done! What a relief.
Some final rabbiting reflections… pacing when you are not in racing shape is ROUGH both physically and mentally, but so fun at the same time. I really did miss that leg-burning feeling you only get when you run races. I also totally felt the pressure of wanting to do a good job (even more so than a race), but also not being certain if I could even run the necessary pace for the field. And finally, I am proud that I threw myself back in the ring. It can be really intimidating spending months on a bike or in the pool while you see friends, teammates and competitors posting on social media about PR’s and winning races.
But at Payton Jordan I ripped off the proverbial band-aid and went for it! Last week was good practice of shutting out the negative self-talk and nerves, and running at 1500m race pace. For better or for worse, I expect with my minimal training this track season may be trying, but I am ready to be brave and go for it.
Despite the “ouch” feeling, rabbiting the 1500m at Payton was a big first step!