I’ve been presented with the opportunity to create a 4x400m relay team with former Georgetown teammates. We will compete in a series of races this spring and throughout the summer in order to raise money and awareness for Huntington’s Disease. Other than being away from the sport for over six years and fighting Father Time, the challenge clearly lies in the distance.
Arguments can be made about the hardest race in Track and Field, but it is unanimous that the 400m garners the greatest respect. In order to be successful at this distance, one must combine the perfect balance of speed and endurance. Too much speed, you’re screwed. Too little endurance, you’re still gasping for air down the homestretch. See the dilemma in getting race-ready in nine weeks?
To honor the competitor in me, it’s only right I ACCEPT. Not only that, but the fact that doing something for others is the perfect reason to step out of your comfort zone.
The first time I faced this monster, also known as the 400m, was back in April 2003, exactly one year after giving birth. I’ve given myself a few months ‘maternity leave’ and decided it was time for me to get back into the competitive swing of things. As a veteran 800m runner, the open 400m can be quite intimidating. At that time, I’ve only been training for six months and I didn’t have enough endurance training under my belt to compete at my specialty. Therefore, I felt like a lesser distance would be more feasible.
Allow me to take you back: the day has finally arrived for my first race back and I draw lane 7 for the Women’s 400m. Anyone familiar with the sport knows this is not a favorable lane. Because everyone stays in their lane for one complete lap, the runners are staggered to compensate for the extra distance the outside lanes encounter. What made matters worse; the runner in lane 8 withdrew from the race. So I am in no man’s land—I see no one in front of me or next to me, yet my competitors have full view of me.
Being out of competition for almost two years, my nerves are getting the best of me. As if they needed any help, the announcer starts reading the lane assignment. All my brain comprehends is “Former NCAA Champion…Olympic Medalist…World leader…” Just my luck to draw such a field for my debut.
Before I can psyche myself out, the gun goes off. I’ve got a race plan and if anything else, I will execute it. That’s one of the benefits of being in ‘no man’s land’; you’re not easily distracted from what’s taking place around you. I’m almost 300m into the race getting ready to enter the homestretch and I say to myself, “Where is everyone? Did something happen that I don’t know about? Perhaps they recalled the race and I didn’t hear?” As if she’s reading my mind, the Olympic Medalist from Africa pulls into my peripheral. Thinking quick on my feet (every pun intended), I remember to not panic and remember my mechanics: chin down, shoulders relaxed, and arms pumping like hell. That last 100m was a blur (the 400m tends to do that to you). Somewhere between the feeling of rigor mortis setting in and kicking myself for underestimating this monster, I believe she’s pulled in front of me for the lead, so much so that even a lean at the tape wouldn’t save me.
Bent over with my hands on my knees gasping for air, she comes over and congratulates me. For what, I don’t know. Nice try? Better luck next time? It wasn’t until I looked over to my gathered supporters, including Mom holding my one-year old, that I knew I had won. With their hands held up in victory and thumbs up all around, I felt proud…and relieved. Not only did I WIN the race, I conquered the monster!
But it didn’t go without leaving a mark. Like childbirth, the pain is so excruciating one is surprised we’re not extinct and this race still exists. Yet, many return because the joy supersedes the pain. I didn’t believe I would ever face the monster again (take the victory and run, child!). But, I did. I continued running 400’s throughout the rest of the 2003 season. There’s something about the sweet taste of victory; no matter how hard the battle you’re always hungry for more.
Now fast forward to 2016. Here I am today preparing to face this monster once again. I’m back on the track and dabbling in the weight room. It was hard work back then and it hasn’t gotten any easier since. We all come across a challenge or a reoccurring ‘monster’ in our life. When we stand tall, look it in the eye, and take it face on, we’re better because of it. And that’s what I’ve vowed embarking on this journey—to be a better version of myself yet.
I will be creating a journal through photos and videos starting Monday, January 11th as countdown to Albuquerque, our first race, continues.