freaking out

Riddle me this.

This is what has been going on in Lauren-land today (most of it while you were sleeping). If you are the least bit curious to know what competition day looks like for a pro runner at the World Championships, read on.  I’ll take you through the experience just the way I lived it. I’m freaking out now that its all over by the way. It’s all so exciting I can’t stand it. Its 5am right now, the morning after my race, and of course I haven’t slept a wink.  So without further delay…

The Day of the Race

Korea Time (16 hours ahead of PST)

8am: wake to heart exploding out of chest with realization that today is the World Championships FINAL of the 5000 meters, and that I’m actually in it.

8:01 am: put the covers over my head, count to 100, and try to relax.

8:10 am: calmly head down to breakfast, intent on keeping things chilled out since I have TWELVE HOURS to kill before my race.

8:30am: In the dining hall (which is an amazingly converted subterranean parking garage 400 meters long) pickings are slim. I select a big mug of “brown rice green tea,” some questionable yogurt and cornflakes, 2 hard boiled eggs that are impossible to peel, and some legitimately amazing french toast.  One out of four ain’t bad.

8:35-9am: Most days I plop my tray down at a table full of American athletes of various disciplines, most of whom I’ve only seen on TV, and proceed to join in a table discussion, but today its a table for two with Leo Manzano.  Despite pulling his hamstring and missing out on making the final yesterday, he balanced his honest disappointment in his situation with encouragement for my upcoming race.  It was like the whole spectrum of athletic experience was encompassed in our little bubble, and I left breakfast with a new friend and a compulsion to stretch my hamstrings.

9am: decide to make a schedule for the day and pack up my things for the race so I can relax.  The idea is to let the schedule tick itself off item by item so I don’t have to think about it or make any decisions throughout the day.  When you are a ball of nerves, even deciding what time to take a nap can make your head explode.  Better to get all the thinking done at once.

10:30am: still thinking.

11am: finished packing and planning after a having a horrendous OCD episode which involved switching bags 3 times and quadruple checking that all my items were indeed in the right bags (one for race time, and one for post race since you can’t have certain things in the call rooms that you will want after you are done, etc.) Its really not that complicated, and I’m actually embarrassed I just shared that.

11am-1pm: Called Jesse with skype and we simultaneously watched “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and laughed way harder than the first time we saw it.  Actually got worried I was tiring out my abs.  Afterwards we talked and Jesse didn’t say one thing about my race, just like a good little husband.

1pm: Tried to nap. Mild heart attack instead.  Decided it was better to be around people.  Hung out with the roomies and had some good laughs, painted nails, etc.

2:30pm: Made Coach Row come down to lunch with me so I could chill. The buffet was my worst nightmare; one side dish was mashed up soggy tater tots from breakfast, creatively renamed “potato saute.” Barf.  Can we say emergency back-up lunch?  PBJ.

3:30pm: Showered, primped, and headed over to Coach Row’s for the final wait.

5:50pm: final snack: my last Picky Bar (All-In-Almond) and green tea with Eugene honey sticks (a gift from the runners back home, thanks guys!)

The Trip Over

6:00pm: Check out with the USA Team Staff where they visually check to see that you have everything you need.  I passed the checkpoint thanks to my diligent packing and repacking and repacking.  Boom.

6:10pm: board the magic bus for the Stadium, full to the brim with athletes and coaches, and plop down next to coach Row where we proceed to discuss the musical career of Luther Vandross.

6:15pm: drive past a breathtaking view of the stadium at sunset, set into the lush, rolling, Jurrassic Park-like mountains like a giant, white, glowing space ship.  Both of us silenced by the sight of it.

6:20pm: arrive at the high security mondo practice track, which is 400 meters from the stadium.  There are jumbo screens on the infield showing the races, athletes executing various stages of their warmups, and tents surrounding the perimeter filled with coaches and medical staffs and support crews.  We set our stuff down in a tent by the USA staff and I get horizontal, passing the time with idle chat.

The Warmup

6:50: get loosened up with the help of Jack Magic.

7:10pm: warm up for race WAY earlier than normal because we have to be in the first call room 40 minutes before the start of our race (most races call you in 15-20 minutes before the gun goes off.)  Due to the warm conditions, I only jog nine minutes, with seven of it extremely slow, and the last two minutes at tempo.  My focus is my breath, using discipline to re-direct my mind to my affirmations whenever it strays. Basically I ran around telling myself I’m awesome.

7:20pm: stretch, do some activation exercises, fluids, bathroom for the fourth time in an hour, etc.

7:40pm: stride a 200 and grab my belongings.

7:45pm: Hugs and final words from Coach Rowlando, and high fives from the USA Team staff on the way into Call Room #1.

Being Called in to Compete

7:45-8pm: All the women in the race are in a booth together, waiting while the officials check our numbers.  Many of us go into a separate room to change out of our soaking wet warmups into dry racing uniforms so as not to get cold while sitting around for 30 minutes in the air conditioning.

8pm: we are driven on golf carts from the warmup track to Call Room #2 underneath the stadium.

8:05-8:15pm: All of us plop ourselves on benches while officials call us up one at a time.  For all 15 of us, they distribute a special timing chip bib with our name on it for the front of our jerseys, and check our spikes as well as rifle through the contents of our bags for who knows what.  We have to sit there for 10 minutes until everyone has been checked.  Then we are (finally) allowed to go into a little area with a 50 meter straightaway for a couple last minute drills and strides.

8:17pm: We are lined up and led single file through various tunnels and small passageways through the belly of the stadium to a ladder that will pop us up 100 meters from the 5k start. Music and cheering gets louder as we approach the ladder until the sounds from up there make us forget we were chit chatting with the woman next to us, and the vibration of the arena seduces the performer in most of us and paralyzes a few with fear.  A Japanese girl next to me starts shaking, pulling her hands to her face and groaning quietly, and I am distracted for a moment with empathy for her.  I’ve been there and its awful. But in this moment, I look up towards the source of the vibration with wanting.

8:20pm: As I climb up the steps, the small rectangle of bright light expands until my head emerges above the mondo track and the massive stadium engulfs me.  I am a fleck of dust in the Universe. Catniss Everdeen in the Arena.  Light flooding in all around me and I squint and bury my head to avoid being overwhelmed by the crowd.  My knees wobble for a moment, and I repeat my affirmations.  The crowd roars in response to some performance, so loud that I want to cover my ears, and I decide to ignore it…all of it.  Its just me and this track.  Me and this track.

8:22pm: Two strides

8:23pm: Lie on my back and soak in the field until I feel grounded.  Step towards the line.

8:25pm: TV camera rolls across us.  The gun explodes.

The Race

First 3k: I’m all focus.  I lose myself in the laps and relax as much as possible.  Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.

5 laps to go: The Africans come swinging around the outside, and I pretend I am one of them: the rookie.  Having learned from the prelim that they work together, I try to read their pack dynamics and body language to anticipate when a move will be made.

4 and 3 laps to go: I cover all moves smoothly. I attempt to better my position, but once I do, they go back around me.  Its what they do anytime a non-African breaks into their pack, so I adapt my strategy and try to relax once again right behind them.

2 laps to go: The pain is barely endurable, and then 200 meters later, the leaders take off and the pack strings out.  I latch on as much as possible with the knowledge that I could easily fall apart at any moment.

1 lap to go: My physical limits are very near, but so is the finish line.

200 meters to go: I am barely surviving, reaching into the corners of the toothpaste tube to squeeze out just a little bit more, and I catch one more woman right before the finish line.

I didn’t know who won, who got medals, who I pipped at the line, what time I ran, or what place I finished.  Complete immersion into maximum effort drowned out all my senses.  It wasn’t until passing through the mixed zone with the media that I learned how I placed and all I could think about was this:

June 24th: 8th in the USA

September 2nd: 7th in the World.

Just goes to show, you never know what awaits you.  Believe in turnarounds. Believe in yourself.

Thank you husband. Thank you Nike OTC. Thank you Eugene. Thank you family. Thank you friends.

Lauren