Tuesday, May 22
The ride back to school was rough. Two hours squirming in my seat, sitting in traffic, watching the rain. When I pulled in, the weather worsened.
The campus was desolate and with good reason. Finals, Senior Week, graduation, it was all over. As I walked through the Life Sports Center I saw some faces but no one I knew. There were no lacrosse players stretching, no ball players pounding their mitts.
Someone told me a local television station wanted to interview me and Katrina. I thought it was a joke but sure enough, a minute later I was standing before this camera. The interviewer thought he had track athletes figured out as people angry about the lack of attention they got. I tried to answer his questions, but I knew he was looking for something else. I lost myself in other thoughts, and began to wonder about who was going to see the footage and how stupid I was going to look.
I thanked him when it was over and watched Katrina's interview from afar as I stretched for practice. I talked with my coach [assistant coach Susan Wallace-Cowell] about the day. I looked outside and found the rain was still coming down, pounding the ground with a rhythm that chattered. It made me shudder. It wasn't running in the rain but something else that I couldn't put my finger on that troubled me.
My coach offered to run part of the way. Tried to cheer me up like any other time, but I could see in her face that something was nagging her soul, too. This was the first year the school was sending track athletes to Nationals. It was something new to everyone. Coaches and athletes alike were breaking new ground.
Practice was the major highlight. Not only was it something to do, it meant contact with people, people I cared about. I lucked out: two senior teammates who had stuck around school trying to get their last hurrahs out came to practice. Today it was nine 150-meter intervals, increasing in speed with the progression of the workout. In between each interval I would walk back the 150 meters I just ran with my coach. We talked about anything that came to our minds, future plans, grades, summer jobs.
The topics were easy to digest and I preferred it that way. There was plenty of time to talk about the upcoming race. The stresses of strategy, pace and so on would be put on hold. The 800-meter race, or half-mile, is a complex event, which is not a sprint by its nature yet at the same time is not a race of great distance. In the past two years I have become fond of its characteristics. The event takes less than two minutes so there is not a lot of time to think—a fact that has its positives and negatives.
The day began with a flight into the congested Chicago airport. A puddle jumper brought us to Springfield, and now we finished the third leg of our trip in a Hertz rent-a-car. Coach [Brad] Hackett sat at the wheel, Coach Wallace-Cowell in the navigator's seat and Katrina sat in the back next to me. To onlookers, we must have looked like a family on vacation, trying to see the sights of middle America.
By six we were coming up to Millikin University. Parking was sparse. Nationals had started here earlier in the day and were still going.
I could feel the energy. I could feel it several blocks before the university. The crowd reacts with a roar. A gun goes off. The announcer's voice trails off in the background.
Walking toward the track only intensified this feeling of excitement. It all comes into view. The women's 10,000 had just gone off, the last event of the evening. This wasn't the real spectacle. It was Nationals as a whole. A rainbow of warm-ups demonstrated the number of participants present from all over the country. It was an elite society. The people present knew their stuff and had beat the rest. This feeling of finally arriving at Nationals stayed with me for the rest of the day.