It was quite a surprise to me that during my first steeple in 4 years I would run an 8:42 by myself in somewhat windy conditions, so you can imagine my shock at being able to complete a non-existent track season into a 6th place at the Olympic Trials and a PR.
This past track season that was never meant to be started after Tom Brooks asked if I would help him to a better time at the Oregon Twilight meet in May. I reluctantly agreed because I had wanted to do a steeple but after the Olympic Trials Marathon I was lacking the motivation to get on the track and actually do the work. But, I figured I’d been running enough and I would be in at least decent shape, so I got in two workouts prior to the Twilight meet and they went ok and I gave it a shot. It was like riding a bike honestly. The years of doing the drills, the technique work, and the workouts came right back. I figured I would have lost the ability to really get into the hurdle form I needed to be efficient but while I had lost some fitness there, the form came right back.
Hitting the B qualifier at the Twilight meet kind of lit a fire under me and I figured I had a good chance of hitting a time that would actually get me into the Trials. The trick was finding another race that had some quality to the field on the one weekend I had available to race. See, first I had the trip to Spain already planned which two weeks, the Teva Games in Vail after that, the USATF Half Marathon Trail Champs in Bend, and the Mountain Running Championships a week and a half before the Trials. So, I placed my hopes on the Portland Track Festival the Saturday before the Half Marathon.
Someone up there wanted to see what I could do at the Trials because after I came back from Zegama my body was wrecked. I had two terrible races at Teva due to illness, got over it and ended up having a great race at PTF to run 8:36 and just barely hit a time that I thought might get me in. Then luck or something higher would help me out again. After the half marathon the next day, I came down with another cold, hurting me at the Mtn Running Champs and keeping me off that team and a trip to Italy. (Three weeks later, Kasie Enman, last year’s women’s World Champ would also be the first person left off the team as well. I guess it was a curse to win last year.) A week and a half later and after two more workouts that rank among the worst ever, I decide I must have a sinus infection, get some antibiotics and hope for the best at the Trials.
Standing in last place among the 24 on the descending order list I didn’t have any expectations and no pressure. I thought, well, if I do make it into finals it’s further than I got four years before when I was actually focused on the event and was doing everything I could to do well. So with a bunch of hill work, trail running, and 6 actual steeple workouts I qualified 13th of 14 for the finals. Mission accomplished, right? Well, it was certainly more than I expected off the training I had under me. Thing was, I felt strong in these races and they felt sooooo short. It was awesome. I was working hard but we’d come through with 2 laps to go and I felt about as tired as after the first lap and I knew going into finals that with the field we had and my endurance and strength that I had a chance for a PR.
I also knew that if I put too much pressure on myself that I would inevitably fail to make a PR. So I tried to chill as much as I could and relax and have fun. Deschutes Brewery invited me to sign autographs at their pub at the Trials, so I did that a couple hours before my race and I think it just helped keep my mind off of it. I went home and worked the two days between races and came over to Eugene the morning of the race. I think that worked well to keep my mind off the upcoming task. My race plan was to get to the outside, sit on the main front pack on the outside corner. Staying away from flying legs and arms and making sure that I was able to move when a few guys started to break. The break came, I obviously didn’t have the speed to cover the top guys but instead I was able to keep it steady and burn the last lap to pass 3 or 4 and move up to 6th.
It was awesome for me to hit a PR at the end of a season I didn’t think I was even going to attempt and to finish 6th, a position that I hadn’t really been close to since 2005 when I was 5th.
So what’s the key? The secret? No secrets, just a lot of training. Sure, I didn’t get on the track much, but what do you do on the track, VO2 workouts, work on a little leg turnover, maybe some threshold. I was doing that, just on a different surface. I put in 140 mile weeks last year leading up to the Marathon. I ran a lot of hills working on VO2max, speed, and threshold. And there certainly wasn’t any leg speed involved in my race. Without the track work, maybe even with the work, I wasn’t going to have a chance of staying with the leaders to be in the top 3. I get that. But, I’ve also heard this from a lot of people “if you’d only focused on it, you might have made it”. Maybe. Probably not. Remember what happened last time I tried that? Yeah, that didn’t work out. For me, and this is personal, to keep my running sustainable I need variety. It’s the spice of life. Keeps it interesting to me. I get too bored with just focusing on the track, or the roads. Of course I realize this has also kept me from hitting my utmost potential too. Then again, I may not be running anymore if I just stuck to one discipline. So there you go. Catch 22.