The plan was to raise some money, trot around the track, bring awareness, and become reacquainted with old friends. Nowhere in the plan was pain beyond measure, gasping for air, or losing complete control of my body. But if I had to pinpoint a moment when it went all wrong, it was when I decided to look the Monster in the eye.
If there’s anything I learned while competing at a world-class level, it’s to never take anything for granted and always be prepared. With only nine weeks of training (minus one for a vacation and another for illness), I knew that I wasn’t ready to take the Monster on head on. I love a good rivalry and hate missing the chance at another bout, but it wasn’t about me, remember? I would have accomplished what I set out to do if I got people to start talking about Huntington’s Disease while collectively raising money.
I told myself that we had already won. My teammates and I were stepping out of our comfort zone for a good cause and that counts more than anything. Another opportunity will present itself down the road to satisfy the competitor in me. But for now, I will turn that switch off and look forward to a fun-filled weekend of running.
Day 1, the Lady Hoyas were gearing up to run the 4x200m. It was something we added to the to-do list at the last minute. We felt it would be the perfect opportunity to get the jitters out and prepare us for the 4x400m the following day. Boy, was I happy we did it! Everything sounded fun on the drafting table but the time had come to put our plan to the test…. and that’s when it became real. Maybe a bit too real. It’s crazy how easy it is to forget that feeling you get when you step into the arena—runners flying off banked turns, fans cheering, and fellow competitors silent in their focus. It is the perfect blend of “the fear of the unknown” and “the excitement of the possibilities”.
As the lead-off for this event, I’m standing in my lane trying to organize my thoughts:
“Everyone is using blocks, maybe I should too?.. No, let me stick with what works—foot on the line…I got this…as lead-off, I need to go for it and set the tone…Better yet, just don’t fall or pull anything.”
This is all going on in my head while constantly wiping the sweat off my palm in order to grip the baton securely. Gun up and we’re off. First step and I almost fall. “What did I just say about falling?” No time to argue, this race is quick and over before you know it. Two girls are out ahead of me. I pick the first up with ease. Still feeling in control, I go after the second one. I pass her going into the last turn, which gives me a burst of energy. Finishing strong, I pass the baton for my teammates to do the rest…. Gold!! The 4x200m National Champions!! Great momentum to take with us into tomorrow’s competition.
I can tell I haven’t done this in quite some time. My legs are screaming at me all evening. Not really sore, but just achy. Nothing a good meal, a few recovery techniques, and a good night’s rest can’t cure.
It’s day 2 and the Lady Hoyas are prepared for our grand finale, the 4x400m. During the warm-up, we’re quiet in our focus. I can tell we’re individually putting a plan together to try and get through these two laps. (Indoor running requires two laps to complete a 400m.) As I mentioned before, the 400m commands a respect that no one takes lightly. The world-record is a feasible goal but we dare not get ahead of ourselves.
For me, I just want to finish. I couldn’t believe I was telling myself this?!? Who is this person? Just finish?? However, I knew I hadn’t prepared the way I needed to and just didn’t trust my training. I had no idea how my body was going to react to the inevitable lactic acid. Therefore, I devised a plan of a controlled first lap with a strong move on the backstretch of the second lap to set up a strong finish and a respectable finish; anything to avoid the Monster.
Confident we had established an understanding that there would be no battle today, I stepped on the track as the anchor leg anxiously waiting for the baton. My teammate was approaching quickly a few strides behind the leader in second place. As soon as I grabbed the baton, the switch I thought was off automatically turned itself on. What? That wasn’t the plan! But once on, I had to admit I embraced it, even loved it! Baton in hand, I turned to take off and decided to look the Monster square in the eye, with purpose and determination. No fear, no hesitation, just an all-out-coming-for-you challenge. I was in it to win it!
The girl out front was experienced and running strong. I found myself chasing her at a pace beyond my capabilities. It didn’t matter; I was in the zone. That controlled first-lap nonsense went out the door. The fatigue I usually fight the last 100m showed up early. I didn’t care and for some reason neither did my legs; they kept moving. I went for that move on the backstretch, which zeroed me in on my target. Now I’m right on her shoulder and less than a stride behind.
We hit the 100m mark and I officially can’t feel my legs. I don’t even know how they’re still moving. We’re coming off the final turn and I’m preparing myself to slingshot pass her. Chin down, arms pumping like crazy…NOTHING. I realize I don’t have that extra gear I need to go by her. Mentally I knew what I should be doing but physically I couldn’t. At this point there’s nothing more I can do but hold on and hope she falters before I do. She doesn’t and edges us by .16 seconds.
Our effort was enough for a gold medal in our division AND a new world-record!!! Did you hear what I said…a NEW WORLD RECORD!!! Exciting, huh? You would think the news would excite me. I should be jumping for joy, right? Nope, not yet. There was something getting in the way of this celebration…PAIN!
I was in such excruciating pain I became angry. Stand up, pain still there; sit down, pain ever present. I needed it to go away. Nothing I did could make it go away. Nine weeks ago I could’ve prepared better, but it was way too late for that. I would just have to suffer through it and let it take its course. My amazing teammates persuaded me to go for a light jog. By the way, I didn’t think they were so amazing with that suggestion, but they were right. It worked and I felt much better.
Before we get to the celebration, let’s circle back to the angry part. I’ve been known to compare the Monster to childbirth. You go through this horrific physical experience but when the bundle of joy arrives, you feel just that—JOY, an end justifying the means. Same with the Monster. You go through this gut-wrenching battle but feel elated when you come out on the other end accomplished and victorious. Well, that’s what I was looking for, needed. I needed something tangible to validate the pain that was taking over my legs, body, and mind.
The race was so exciting that our entourage (yeah, we Georgetown folks roll deep) forgot to record individual splits. In my head, I had convinced myself that if I knew how fast I ran, I could rationalize the pain and magically it would go away. But hours later when I finally learned my split, I was still exhausted and my legs were still achy. Knowing didn’t change anything physically, but definitely made it worth it. I had pushed my body waaaaay beyond where I prepared it to go and even further than I thought it could go. But more important, the funds we raised for Huntington’s Disease from our accomplishment helped me regain sight of why I accepted this challenge in the first place. We practically doubled our goal of $2,500. Now that’s an end justifying the mean.
It’s been said that success is a journey, not a destination. Don’t lose sight of your journey. There will be mountains to climb, some steeper than others, but stay focused. You will reach the top. There’s something special about the view from the hilltop—you can look down and reflect on how far you’ve come as well as look out and envision the abundance that awaits you. As far as the Monster is concerned, I’ll be back—prepared and ready to slaughter. #iSlay!