Sometimes, in running, it is hard to be honest with yourself when things are going badly. While you can feel something is wrong, admitting it to yourself is almost like admitting defeat. On the one hand it can be nice to realize that something physical truly is wrong, nice to have a plan of action to get your running back on track. On the other hand, in the course of an NCAA season when you have no choice but to race on. This admission and realization that something is wrong with your body can shatter your already fragile mental state, and in effect shatter the thread of hope you are hanging onto that you will be able to achieve your goals. Mental attitude is a funny thing. It seems that when you are fit and fast, you are always tough. However, when your fitness isn’t what you would like it to be, and you need that mental toughness the most, it is surprisingly scarce.
That being said, I did have more confidence entering the Big Sky Conference Indoor 3k than I was, likely, entitled to. However, even this unexplained confidence
was rather fragile. Nevertheless, I went to the starting line with fresh legs, and an optimistic outlook.
I was lucky to know in advance that there would be 23 athletes in the Men’s 3k. I was also lucky, having run on Montana State University’s track on multiple occasions, to be armed with the knowledge that these 23 athletes would be crammed onto a 4-lane, high-banked, plank of wood with long turns and stiflingly short straightaways. Had I not known these things before the start of the race, the trace of confidence I had may have been completely erased as I stood in the second of four rows of athletes on the starting line and thought “This is gonna be a C.F.”
Often times when I race I go blank, I couldn’t tell you afterwards what I was thinking about during the race, I have bits and pieces that I can identify, but its as if the race were a dream that I remember only vaguely. . . I do remember clear as day a giant cluster of athletes being called to the line and jogging a full 10 meters to get there. I generally like to take my time getting to the line, but after walking a few steps, I realized I was holding up traffic, so I trotted the rest of the way, then . . .
The race (somehow) got off to a clean start, and I (somehow) got into decent position without much effort. Two Eastern Washington University Athletes jumped into the early lead and took the pace out fast, very fast. . . Nobody bit. Diego Estrada (https://twitter.com/estradadiego) led the Northern Arizona crew, and Mike hardy, followed by Two Southern Utah Athletes, then me. I sat in about 9th or 10th early on. Although I was as confident as the situation could permit, I was not confident enough to be much more aggressive than that. Early laps went without a hitch, The Eastern Washington Athletes were realed in and passed within in 600 meters or so, other than that, nothing significant enough for me to remember happened. I worked my way into scoring position.
Just hang tough, work your way, up, feeling good, we’ll see what you can do when the race starts. 5 laps to go . . . wait . . . 6 laps, the lap counter says six laps, are they wrong, or am I wrong?
Miscounting the laps is the first thing I remember clearly in the race. The fact that this didn’t derail my race is a testament to either my maturity as a runner (this is what I would like to think it was,) or the fact that I really wasn’t running a hard enough race (this is what it probably was.)
Get to 1000, just pass anyone you come to, they are slowing, get to 800, the race is happening now, there are a lot of points right there in front of you, stay poised 7th place, I’m in 7th, I’m gonna score.
As I came by Coach Pilkington with just under 600 meters left I heard him yell, “Get excited now John.” He knew I had the wheels to do some serious damage. Then, there it was, with exactly 400 to go the entire field condensed in front of me. Diego Estrada had put the hurt on as soon as he passed the Eastern Washington guys, effectively stringing the field out, but somehow, magically, 2nd through 6th place all came together with 400 meters to go, all of them running in a big bunch within a stride of each other with me only about 2 strides behind and with plenty in the tank. However, a season filled with injury, illness, and inflammation damages more than just the body.
Here is what my thought process would have been during the fall when I was fit and everything was going well: “Oh, Look at that, 6 points, one convenient location.” This was my actual thought process: “GET SEVENTH, GET SEVENTH, GET SEVENTH.” The fact is, I really wasn’t hurting that badly, I knew it then, and I knew it after the race. What I was, was scared. When all you’ve done all season is rig up, fade, and under-achieve, it’s hard to believe that the same won’t happen. i am not saying that I most definitely had the wheels to pass anyone, or everyone that was in that pack, but I am most definitely saying that if I had went for it, and thrown caution to the wind . . . I might have.
In the end a 7th place finish at conference not a disappointment, in fact it was probably more than my coaches expected of me, and, considering I was ranked 12th, it was like a free t-shirt as far as team points go. I am not entirely disappointed with the finish. I am more disappointed with the season in general. However, I have learned a great deal about my training, and what my body can handle, and for the first time in months I am actually excited to get back to training, and progressing (after and adequate break.) Most of all I have learned that once the gun sounds, the only thing that matters is that race, not your other races, not your training, but what are you going to do, right then, in THAT race.