Friday, May 25
Nine in the morning, and the task at hand was finding breakfast. We cruised one of Decatur's more lively roads of mini-malls and K-Marts. My coach asked me if I slept well. I told her I had two dreams about the race, both with different outcomes. I didn't give them too much weight because one took place on some chicken farm.
As the conversation went on it became clear that bagel shops do not exist in the Midwest, and there were only a few hours that stood between me and my race. It's a funny thing because racing will never kill you. The wait before a race is another story. I was truly scared and simultaneously talking about the relevance of chicken farms...
Four-fifteen meant it was time to go under the stadium where check-in was held. The race official examined my spikes like a fine tailor. A roar from above broke his concentration as he looked at the ceiling. The crowd approved of something. He brought his eyes down, and handed my shoes back to me with my racing number.
There were three heats of the 800 and I was in the last one. The top two from each heat and the next two fastest times would qualify for the finals. Standing on the track for the first time I played it like any other race and followed the normal routine. Easy sprints, loose warm-ups, more sprints.
The gun goes off and heat one is under way. I try to block it out and stay focused. I steal a glance at the race to see how it panned out. The gun goes off again for heat two. My time was coming fast and it was driving me crazy. As the last of the runners finish their race, heat three jumps on the track. The beginning of the 800 meters goes out of lanes, merging after the first 100 meters. The fifth lane was mine. My racing plan was simple: take the lead and run my own race.
There was silence as the official called us to the line. And then the crack of the gun. At about 150 meters, I had the lead. I went through the first lap right on pace, 53 seconds. I held the lead to the 600-meter point, and with half a lap to go someone passes hard. With 140 meters to go two more guys got by me. Less than 100 meters were left in the race and I was sitting in fourth. I pulled myself together and tried to pass the runners in front of me. It was to no avail and I crossed the line in fourth.
I staggered around after the finish line and tried to collect my warm-ups. It was all I could do. I found them and found the exit off the track. It was simple exhaustion. My coach was there waiting. She hugged me. Started talking. I caught some of it, but very little. Something about coming back next year and winning the whole thing. I believed her but couldn't hold a thought, I was so tired I just couldn't do anything but stand there looking for objects that would provide support.
The runners hit the 400-meter point and prepare for their last lap. The race is already over as the favorite pulls past the leader. As the race came to a close, I was relieved. It was a hard thing to sit through, but now it was over. I was finally free to start anew.
Nationals is an addiction, once you try it, there is no going back to the simplicity of dual meets and conference championships. I was grateful to only be a junior. [Katrina Beck (left) ended her career at the Nationals.] I was grateful to know that I would have another day.
While Nationals have come to a close for its competitors this year, it marks the beginning for our program. It might not have worked out as well as we wanted, but that was irrelevant. It was nothing short of an honor to be a part of this moment for Muhlenberg Track & Field.