Last Friday I ran in the Oregon Relays. It was my first-ever track meet at Hayward Field in Eugene. Getting a chance to race on this track was particularly special to me because of how many historic running events have taken place there and how many of my running heroes have raced on that very track.
I competed in the women’s 5000 meters, which is the distance I’ve raced the most both on and off the track. The 5K has been a steady marker of progress since I began running at the age of 14, with every minute knocked off being a new milestone. For the past five years or so I’ve plateaued somewhat, as I’ve run countless 19-something-minute 5Ks, but never faster.
This meet was probably the most formal/organized one I’ve ever entered. To start, they had a special outdoor warm-up area just for the athletes, complete with a mini track and field where we could do drills and strides. There I had to wait for my event to be called. Once my event was called, the other competitors and I had to take all of our belongings with us, and an official escorted us to an indoor warm-up area under the bleachers. This room had maybe five track lanes if we wanted to warm up some more. It was blazing hot in there! I’m guessing they have it this way so sprinters can warm up and not have to worry about pulling a muscle. As soon as the event before ours ended, all of my fellow competitors and I were ushered outside to the track. We had to walk along the perimeter to the 200m start, and I have to admit for a tiny, fleeting moment, I felt kind of like a track star. As we walked by the covered bleachers along the backstretch, the crowd just started going nuts for us. It was unreal. I almost waved.
Let me point out that this was a B heat at a relatively low-key event. The Mt. SAC Relays were happening the same night, which is where many of the nations fastest collegiate runners were. This worked out well for me because my seed time of 18:28 (a calculated guess based on a recent mile finish time) was just barely fast enough to squeeze into this race. However, it was also potentially dangerous because if I had a bad race, I ran the risk of being lapped and/or placing last.
After the meet officials made sure we were lined up perfectly at the start, the gun shot and we were off. Everyone started very fast and I had to make a decision to either go with them or get left behind. My breathing was getting labored after just two laps, but I’m pretty sure there was only one woman behind me, so for the sake of not losing contact with the group I pressed on.
After about a mile, some of the women seemed to be getting tired and slowing down, so I used the opportunity to catch a few of them. I had no idea what pace I was going (it seemed almost wrong to look down at my watch in the middle of a track race), so I just focused on catching up to the person in front of me, passing her, then catching the next person. I was glad to have people to go after because it helped me to keep pushing and never settle into a comfortable pace.
I couldn’t believe how quickly the laps flew by. Before I knew it, there were five to go and it was time to start moving. I spent the next several laps going back and forth with a runner from Gonzaga University. Every time I thought I had her beat, she’d pass me, but then I’d pass her right back. Then she’d pass me again. And so on. While we were both probably annoyed at each other, I think the fact that neither one of us wanted to give in helped to keep our pace up. The last lap was painful, but I felt strong and kicked it in as hard as I could, outkicking Gonzaga-girl. When I looked up at the scoreboard, I was completely ecstatic to see my name with 18:25.82 right next to it! A personal record by 42 seconds, and finally an end to my 19-something streak. My PRC teammate Laurel also ran, and she broke 18 minutes for the first time, setting a new personal record of 17:57. We both couldn’t have been happier.
I’m getting used to the irony of my fastest races being the ones I place the worst in. In this case, I placed 14th out of 19 runners. Looking on the positive side, I’m happy to have even been in the mix.