The Evolution of a Fan Girl: Why Do All the Cool Kids Go to Europe for the Summer?
Sarah OUaL, resident Fan Girl rookie here with another episode of what's going on in the wide world of professional running. Today we're going to Europe! Oui! Je m'en vais! (took that straight off an old Oiselle tee)
We're jumping the pond because that's where all the track athletes are. I know, European summer vacation ... how can you blame them? Rich culture, sexy accents, a palpable romance wafting through the air as thick as those fluffy croissants, local vino, the birthplace of pizza...
But really, curiosity took over as my twitter feed flooded with chatter about Diamond Leagues, standards-chasing, and meet results at odd times of day. And now with the World Championships just days away (Moscow, August 10th-18th). I had to get to the bottom of the excitement happening 10 hours in the future. WHAT IS ALL THE FUSS ABOUT EUROPE?!
I called up Oiselle HQ and grilled @drlesko with a million questions, kind of hoping her answer would be, “C'mon Lime, let's go see it ourselves!” and we'd hop a flight to Paris and watch @fastk8 run her Diamond League meet and I'd get one of those berets and we'd eat beignets and run all day.
(Kidding, obviously. I'd never be able to pull off a beret with my short hair.)
Here's what I learned from Head Mistress Tracknerd about why Europe is the “it” spot for summer T&F :
Europe has just been the shit forever. Lots of meets and big prize money pull in the top athletes, and therefore the hottest competition. A lot of runners who qualify for Worlds are still seeking “standard” times (Flotrack breaks down that complicated haywire HERE) or chasing PRs, and the best way to run fast is to run against fast people. Unless you're Jordan Hasay, who can do it on a random night at a random high school track with three dudes as pacers like, "whatever, no big deal."
Plus the European fans are into track and field like Americans are into baseball, AND they serve beer (possibly related?). So the question is, "Why NOT Europe??"
Okay, so why not?
It's expensive, and most track & field athletes aren't rolling in the Bens. Unless you're riding on the back of a big money training group, or your name is Bolt, it can be tough to make it work financially. Plus...
How do you get in?
You need a rad agent, I guess. Especially for the super-exclusive Diamond League meets. Anyone can go get some off-site training in, but if you want to actually run in a race you need the hook up. Know people who know people. Be someone or be super lucky.
Why don't we have this in the States? I'd put my butt in the bleachers for a secondhand endorphin high and Fan Girl fix...
There are some big track meets stateside throughout the year (Pre Classic, Adidas Grand Prix, Drake Relays, Oxy High Performance, etc.) but no cram-sesh circuit where athletes can hop city-to-city and get a couple solid races in over a short period of time. There's nothing necessarily keeping it from happening, other than someone having to pull in sponsors/prize money/rabbits and, oh yeah, athletes to compete, and then coordinating the whole thing, but I mean, it sounds like it's doable.
Anybody up for a side job?
* * *
After that backgrounder I couldn't help be curious as to what it's really like over there. I had this vision in my head of school field trip mashed with an Amazing Race-gone-wrong adventure. Mostly exciting! Slightly terrifying! Who will end up in extradition?!
Lucky for me Kate Grace was willing to fess up on the dirty details after her first Euro tour. What she wouldn't spill I was able to get out of her NJNYTC training partner and roommate, Saucony steepler Ashley Higginson (she's headed to Moscow for Worlds and -- oh yeah -- just finished her first year of law school in her SPARE TIME).
Kate learning what it's like from the other side of the stands – celebrating Ashley's second-place finish at nationals – photo cred Oiselle
They toured around separately – Kate running solo and Ashley traveling with a few other teammates, so I thought it'd be fun to see how their different scenarios influenced their answers. Below is what conspired...
Do you get to choose where you go? Or does someone just send you a ticket and tell you to pack a bag?
Kate Grace: Shortest answer: I gave my agent a rough outline of what I wanted for races, and that was my only input. Got notification about 48 hours before leaving! Longer answer: It's a definitely different method than how I'm used to traveling, and in a way, it's fun giving up control. Though next year, I hope to copy Ashley a bit more: have a set base for living and training together. Other well-known clubs do that. But yes, I was warned to be flexible with location and timing of races. I am at the whim of race directors, at least for the start of my time on the international circuit.
Ashley Higginson: It is a bit of both. My agent and I know I am happiest when I am with my teammates, so I tried to find a base camp for a couple of us to be together (Brussels). Otherwise, I stress what my coaches and I think would be a good plan event-wise, say a steeple and two 1500s, and we go from there. This year it worked out well with some meets I was familiar with from last year and then some lucky breaks, like getting into a prestigious Diamond League meet.
Do you know the language(s)? At all?
KG : No! And I hated that in Paris. I had forgotten what it was like to travel to a place where I didn't speak the language. I felt useless and, yes, ignorant. Not that it actually mattered for the meet. They prepare for the international component. I was worried what was going to happen with the race start. Do they say "ready/set"? Just "set"? Will I know the difference? So many questions! Ended up all in English. Problem solved. In Amsterdam, English is basically another national language. I speak Spanish, and there is a big race in Madrid. Maybe next year...
AH: I want to learn French so bad! My one teammate, Renée, is helping me best she can to learn little things. I know Polish and a bit of Spanish, but luckily most people here speak pretty great English… (making me feel like an ignorant American).
Do you know anybody? Lone Wolf or are you running with a Pack?
KG: I am Lone Wolfing. :( Jumping from meet to meet, and then relocating to Amsterdam because my agent recommended a physical therapist there. Though I'm not with close friends right now, the US running community is a bit like one big "wolfpack" (everyone knows each other through past training and meets). Last year, I wouldn't have counted myself as a part of it. Even this year, I had anxiety reminiscent of the high school dining hall (lies. We didn't have a dining hall. Maybe I'm thinking Mean Girls?). "Who do I sit next to without eliciting weird stares?" But I'm learning that even the veterans are accepting of lunch-mates.
AH: I need packs, that is the kind of wolf I am. I ran a meet on my own in Switzerland, then met up with three teammates. We are also searching for a way to meet up with Kate :) Also, Americans flock together here and at meets and in Belgium, I have gotten to know people better and had some fun making new friends to keep upon returning home.
How do you know when/where to be? Is there a camp leader or something?
KG: The only hard "where/when" is the race gun. My agent sends me those details (you fly out tomorrow, stay here, race here). Meets usually take charge of accommodation logistics starting the day or two before. So, when athletes arrive, they give us other details (food here, practice track there, physio on this floor, bus for meet at that time). As for the day-to-day, I am very much in control of my own schedule. Gags isn't here, but is the best with email/text/call contact. He plans workouts and training with us, and then we go about executing. The flexibility has been necessary for me, at least. I am working around the schedule of another group's physio. When I'm up until 1:00 or 2:00 am getting body work, it's nice to be able to sleep in a bit more.
AH: I consistently say how shocked I am that I find my way to these little towns and places and somehow it all works out. Given distance runners are typically pretty... regimented, I love how I have come here, eaten all new things, had to figure out different time changes, and ran attempting to find a track or soft surfaces to train on... and yet somehow it all works out. It reaffirms that adventure and changing the plan really can make a big difference in results. The adventure makes it fun!
Are there any track cliques? Do sprinters and distancers like, totally never eat lunch together? Who's the Regina George of T&F?
KG: NJ-NY posse baby!! (Well, I'm not with them, but in spirit.) And yes, one of the coolest things I'm finding about the international meet circuit is that the traditional sprint/field/distance separations tend to break down. Because we don't necessarily get to do the same races as our training partners, rooming is more random. At the last meet, I was with 100m hurdler Georganne Moline. Suddenly, I find myself hanging with jumpers and hurdlers at all the meals. People seem to make strong, cross-event connections on World or Olympic teams as well. That's how a lot of those athletes knew each other, at least. I'm excited to hear about that dynamic from Ashley in a few weeks.
AH: Haha, yes and no. More and more, I am willing to admit I may be part of a clique myself, given our NJ-NY posse. So admitting that, there must be “camps." That often has to do with who has the same agent or coach back home though. Otherwise, when you are riding solo, people are so nice. I have made so many friends traveling, in every distance. What we are doing, we vagabond track and field athletes ... chasing our dreams ... it connects us. Given that inherent similarity, it is hard not to find friends and unity. Example? My new biggest crush, roommate Natasha Hastings!
If there is interaction between athletes, would you describe the atmosphere as more summer camp, or college dormitory? Or prison.
KG: This is my first year here, and while I was expecting more of what Ashley describes, I see that there are a few different models. I'm tagging along with a sprint group in Amsterdam. The coaching staff is here as well. I would describe the interaction as ... boarding school? (Or, what I imagine that to be.) Just being in Europe gives a fun change of pace, but there is still a clear focus, and the "teachers" are always present. People may stay up later to watch a movie, but they aren't going out. And, meets are meets - everyone is very friendly at meals, but it's not like we are all up giving each other makeovers.
AH: I think for me it is a lot like a college dorm situation, as in I lived in dorms. However, also, in that there is romance, adventure, learning new things, experimenting, and growing up. Last year, coming to Europe and needing to “grow up” a little bit, helped shape the entire next year of my life, which has now sort of created a “four year plan.” It is ironically a lot like college, this little bubble to grow as a person without the real world in the way (or enough internet connection to be connected to it!).
Fantasy splurge time (will not affect your performance) - pastries? comfort food? never-ending bier stein? Please be specific, I'm kind of hungry.
KG: Ha! I think there is a misconception on the eating habits of elite runners. I have visual confirmation that even Olympic finalists eat dessert in the days leading up to races. If anything, I am currently fantasizing about good, healthy food. I had beer, bread, and butter for dinner the other night. (This may be another reason that I need to be closer to training partners -- people to cook with and keep up semi-normal eating habits.)
AH: ...can I say all of the above? Mary’s Belgian Chocolate? Leffe Blond Beer? Croissants? Cheese? Everything is better in Europe and I convince myself that “I’m on vacation” a few too many times between workouts occasionally. Being with all runners however, it is a sure fire way to ensure that you get your shake out (or shake off the chocolate) in and a few abs. So it all balances out!
New mandatory race kit accessory - loaded fanny pack or oversized visor hat? (it is tourist time in Europe, no?)
KG: Definitely a fanny pack girl. There has not been dancing on this trip, but if there was, what a great purse alternative. I am oogling over all the cool design here. Specifically, this adorable cafe/home goods store all in one. They have a wall of scarves, I want to buy every single one.
AH: DEF fanny pack. I always have 17 things in my hand and need a real cool way to store them. I purchased a pair of Birkenstocks at Oxy this spring in preparation for these journeys. They don’t always make the outfit, but they make my feet very very happy.
Your next long run is accompanied by a mystery (current) runner. Who do you fingers crossed hope it is?
KG: Aww, being able to meet up with my teammates would be ideal. Other than that? Alysia Montaño is awesome. If language weren't an issue, maybe Dibaba. Then, there are people I would love to talk with, but don't think would open up. Next question: long run and truth serum!
AH: Well, as a easy answer I hope it is KATE GRACE. We have been missing her in Amsterdam and been just off one another’s schedules. So working on that. As for a runner crush, Gabe Anderson took me under her wing in Lausanne and I really enjoyed getting to know her. The more people on the run the merrier!
Did you pack anything to make you feel at home? Teddy bear, boyfriend's shirt, 3D printout of your dog... etc?
KG: I am a huge tea drinker. I pack multiple options and varieties whenever traveling (doubly nice that I don't have to worry about tap water if boiling). It's definitely a comfort item for me. I skype coaches, family, and Seattleites, which makes this feel surprisingly similar to time in the US.
AH: I do like looking at photos on my phone, so I suppose they make me nostalgic. I also brought bananagrams, because you never know when a game will be needed! Last, I have this stuffed puppy named Whatchamacallit, and he is awesome and accompanies me many places I go.
Who would you rather watch go slow motion over a water barrier in a pair of extra short split shorts - Ron Burgundy or Hangover Alan?
KG: AHHH CAN I CHOOSE BLINDNESS??
AH: Given his confidence... perhaps Ron (ew). Given the potential hilarity of the landing... likely Alan.
Follow Kate Grace: @FastK8
and Ashley Higginson: @AshleyHigz
That does it for another edition of Evolution of a Fan Girl. If you have ideas or requests for topics feel free to leave them in the comments or email me at onceuponalime[at]gmail[dot]com. Or if you're interested in sponsoring my Europe '14 travel fund. Track and Field World Championship start tomorrow! FloTrack has the information on how to stream Worlds coverage and the schedule of live coverage is over at Universal Sports.
Sarah, Once Upon a Lime