I’ve never been good at rebounds.

When playing basketball in elementary school, I was great at putting myself in a position to shoot, but the game would move halfway down the other side of the court before I remembered to keep playing. And in tetherball, when I got one of those sweet set ups to absolutely obliterate the ball in an arc over the other players head, I’d smash the hell out of it and stand there stupidly enjoying the sting on my hand while the other player recovered enough to smash the ball back into my unsuspecting teeth.

Lauren Fleshman Prefontaine 2010

Photo by Phil Johnson (www.tracktownphoto.com)

When I agreed to run Pre one week after winning USA’s, I knew it was bordering on impossible for me to get my head back in the game in time. But its Pre. And its Nike’s big event. And its in the town where I live. Besides, you don’t turn down the Prefontaine Classic unless you have a really really good reason. And my main reasons for not wanting to do it didn’t seem good enough.

Yeah, I had just run a 5k, but back to back 5k’s are not unheard of. It just depends 1) How you ran the first one, and 2) How well you managed your recovery in those first few days. Well, for #1, I ran it HARD, so a successful turnaround depended entirely on #2. So how did you recover, you ask?

Did I cool down properly? Nope. Not at all, actually. I allowed myself to be carried from media and autographs to drug testing and then it was past 11pm. Whoops.

Did I get rest? Nope. None in fact. I stayed up all night and then flew to a wedding in Sun Valley Idaho where I ate rich foods, drank too many mojitos and danced until my legs ached. I finally fell asleep at 11:00 the following night.

Did I focus on getting my head back in the game right away? Nope. (I’m not doing very well here, am I?) I learned over the years that you have to celebrate your victories when you get them because you never know when or if you’ll have such a moment again. And since the credit for my season’s turn-around involved so many different people, I was of course obligated to celebrate with each of them in turn.

To be perfectly honest, earlier in the season when I was sucking so bad, I never thought I’d get invited to Pre. It wasn’t even on my schedule as a “maybe.” I was envisioning my season as a long open path with two hefty hill climbs: USA’s and the European circuit. Last week I was meant to be coasting down hill riding no hands.

But, you know when you’re riding or running up a killer climb and you keep glancing up at the top as motivation to push through the pain? You’re thinking, “I see the top! In 200 more yards I’ll get to rest, so lets push it!” But then the top turns out to not be the top, and the path takes a turn and Keeps. On. Climbing. That was Pre.

I heard rumors of a World Record attempt, as well as an American Record attempt, but I knew that it would be suicidal to get roped into that just yet. I may have won USA’s, but I still have a long way to go before I’m chasing records. What I needed was my own race plan, and to regain the perspective that for me, this year (and every race in it) is just one step on the path of my comeback.

I’ll tell you what though, the crowd at Hayward Field welcomed me on the track with such a huge applause that for a minute I believed I could do anything. I found myself saying, “What the hell! Lets chase the American Record! Maybe I can do it!” But in my heart, I knew I wasn’t there yet.

In a dreamer’s world, belief is all it takes to make records fall. In reality, they require a lot of hard work, and luck. But most fundamental of all, is respect; respecting the record is the key to breaking it.

Maybe one day I’ll be ready to have the race of my life on the day of the Prefontaine Classic, running for the win in record time…that would be cooler than a milkshake swimming pool. But so long as the meet is held the week after USA’s, I’m much more likely to get hit in the face with a tetherball.