WalkingHyde park 5k, by nature of where it fell on my season calendar, was always going to be a challenge for me.  Being the tail end of an eight week stint in Europe, I knew race preparations would involve combating the mental effects of homesickness and burned-out-ness.

With my physical form peaked out for the year at 15:13 for 5k (London) and 4:10 for 1500 (Slovakia), and Jesse gone home a week early, I was on my own to fight the mental battle.  And to be honest, I was really looking forward to it.

In past years, I’ve struggled to perform well once my mind has checked out.  Being such an emotional athlete, I build and build and build towards a major goal, fire burning hotter and hotter, and then…the fire department comes and puts me out.  Fast.  This has its plusses and minuses.  In high school and college, its great.  You build toward the championship (State or NCAA’s) and then you’re eating McFlurry’s and chicken nuggets on the bus talking about how much pizza you plan to eat on your time off.

As a professional runner, however, there is this added element of competing through the entire post-season.  That is where you will get your PR’s and the majority of your income for the year.  Fizzling out at the end of June doesn’t help with either of those causes.

viewSo right after winning USA’s, I contacted my agent and asked him to see if Hyde Park 5k would have me, nearly 10 weeks later, to compete in their very cool event.  With PR’s most likely out of range until 2011, I thought this would be a good chance to set a goal that would encourage personal bests on the mental side of things: finishing the season strong.

Long story short, I did it.  There were lots of doubts, and plenty of excuses I could have used to tank it, but I didn’t.  I was expecting the homesickness and tiredness to get worse and worse the closer the race got (as it did in 2007,) culminating in me being nearly in tears the morning of, but this time it was different.

Hyde Park 5k was a special event from the moment I got to London.  When I shuffled into the hotel, shoulders hunched with bags under my eyes, the lead coordinator for elite athletes said the one thing that fired me up more than anything else could have.  “So, you’re probably pretty tired and ready to go home, aren’t you?”

Those words tripped a breaker in my head, I stood up straight, and without thinking said, “Nah, I’m fine.  I’ve got one more in me.”

From that moment on, I was engaged in what was going on around me, and looking for reasons why I would succeed rather than fail.

I don’t know if it was my new attitude or what, but I had so much stinking fun the next three days, its not even fair to brag about it.  But I will, just a little bit.  The very small elite field of 10 women all went out to a fancy Italian restaurant and were treated to whatever we wanted by the race organizers.  The wine flowed, the courses kept coming, conversation was non-stop everywhere you looked, and the time flew by.  One organizer put up his glass to put into words what we were all thinking, “How rare and special this is to have all these women enjoying a meal together the night before they compete against one another!”

I responded “Yes!  We are all officially so disarmed that we’ll be jogging alongside each other tomorrow saying, ‘No, YOU take the win! No you! I had it last time!'”

We all giggled because it wasn’t really true but it was funny to imagine it happening.  We can be friends all the way up to the start line, but nothing can stifle the racer in us.

race numbers

On race morning, we all walked the 1.5 mile distance from the hotel to the start line together, the camaraderie from last night clearly still in effect.  Even in the VIP tent reserved for our relaxation, the least nervous of us are putting bib numbers on each other and having a laugh.  Intensity and fun coexisting in the best form possible.

the walk home

The happy walk home.

My race was fun all the way through.  I heard my friends cheering me on, and at one point had to resist the urge to do a whoop whoop to some fans that were cheering like crazy-people.  Even when I was gasping for air at 4k, I didn’t want to be anywhere else but in the present.  My only regret was that I didn’t engage my final gear at the end (same story as Slovakia) but the time and place were very good, and my goal for 2010 was proudly accomplished.