Previously Unpublished Pre-Race Silliness:

Three days ago, I was working on a blog about how I was feeling in the days leading up to London, but I never finished it.  The meet hotel internet went down (due to a couple hundred homesick athletes using skype at the same time) and it never recovered. The basic idea was that I was feeling amazing two and three days before London and I didn’t know how to interpret the data.

A person who doesn’t overthink everything would probably say, “Awesome!  You felt amazing!  Go get ’em!”  Problem is, usually before a good race I feel terrible.  My final track workout before a competition is usually a slog-fest, with Coach gradually dumbing down the session to something I could have done as a 13 year old.  So imagine my confusion when I do this final session and feel…good.

The next day on my easy 7 miler I also feel good.  Running with an old friend I only get to see in London, we catch ourselves clipping along at a decent pace, and I have to remind myself to slow down with the race coming up two short days later.  This ease, this lightness, its just not natural!  Its making me uncomfortable to feel this good.

Day before race day, I head to the track for my 25 minute easy jog and 200’s and feel awful.  Ah, yes!  Finally! I think.  How sick and twisted is it that I’m relieved to feel like doo doo?  But that’s what so many runners I know do; we reference past experiences (good or bad) to take the mystery and stress out of the unknown future.  More often than not, we develop techniques to turn potential negatives into non-issues:

“I always sleep poorly the night before a race.  Its two nights before that really counts” says the kids I talked to the morning of Nike High School Nationals for cross country.

“I always poop like a million times before my race.  Its nothing to be worried about” says a slightly green, multi-NCAA All-American on race morning.

“If I feel flat on my warmup, I know I’m going to have a good race,” says the USA Champion.

Does this mean you have to have insomnia, diarrhea and dead legs to run well?  Most certainly not.  But if you have those things before every good race and suddenly you don’t, its a little disorienting.

The Race:

I hardly slept the night before due to an upset stomach and a crazy headache: the kind that makes you rub your eyebrows and pull your bangs to get the pain to seep through the roots of the scalp.  Was it the glass of red wine I had the night before?  I always have a glass of red wine the night before and this never happens?  I crack open another bottle of Lucozade sports drink and try to hydrate it away.  Although after drinking four of these yesterday and a bunch of water, dehydration can’t possibly be the issue.

I get up for breakfast and go back to bed until noon until I realize the headache isn’t going away.  I wander through town to a pharmacy to find some Advil, and as I pick up another Lucozade, I read the label.  I have to use all my self-restraint to keep from throwing the damn thing against the shelves of neatly arranged pills and products: “contains aspartame.”  The English put that fake sugar crap in EVERYTHING!  At home, if I avoid anything “lite” or “diet” I’m good to go, but in England, even the full-sugar sports drink has it in there…why?  I’m incensed, (but at the same time relieved my headache isn’t due to red wine.)

By the time I get to the track for my race, I’m calm, relaxed, and focused.  I feel a bit weak in the legs, but I remind myself that I’ve felt this way before and it turned out fine.

From the second lap, I know its going to be a struggle.  As the main pack picks it up to 69’s, I have no choice but to let them go, and for one lap I feel sorry for myself.  Just 24 hours ago, I had determined to go out with the front pack no matter what, even if it meant I completely bonked at 4k.  I just wanted to see how long I could hold on and give myself a chance to do something special.  But with my legs and body feeling this terrible, it wasn’t even an option.

Lucky thing was, I pulled my head out within one lap and decided to do the best I could on the day.  I ended up running in a small pack of three, well behind the leaders, and it wasn’t too bad.  The race felt like a dream, an out of body experience.  I was hyper aware of the crowd, the other events going on at the same time.  I tried to ignore the pack way ahead of me…the pack I envision throughout this comeback; the pack that still feels so far away.

We hit 3k in 9:09, and at three laps to go I actually started to feel good.  Rather than break away from my little group early, I wait until 400 to go and then shoot out of a canon as if I’m going for the win. I’m sure it looked ridiculous since I was in 11th place and 200 meters behind 10th, but what the hell?  It was a chance to practice my finish and I took it.

In the end, I ran 15:13: a great time for me this season and well ahead of my projections and goals for this year.  I didn’t jump up and down.  I didn’t blow kisses at the heavens.  I walked off the track and thanked my coach.  And then I got on a bus home and fought off the sleep that never came the night before.