At the request of scrunners.com, I am writing a journal about my last two high school races: the two-mile at Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, and the 5000-meter run at Junior Nationals in Indianapolis. Warning: this is a very long journal.
Friday, June 16
Friday is the second day of Nike Outdoor Nationals (NON), and the day of my event: the two-mile. Because my race isn't until 9:45 p.m., I wake up relatively late (compared to my usual 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. wake-up time for practice). I am going to be out of town for about a week after NON, so I have a pretty
substantial amount of packing to do. Luckily, I've taken care of most of that already, and I spend the morning cleaning our house and listening to music.
After a frenetic rush to finish packing, pick up sandwiches, and load the car, my mom, dad, and younger sisters, Emily and Annie, and I leave for Greensboro
at about 12:30 p.m. I am always irritable before big races (as the rest of my family likes to joke about), so they are glad to finally be on the road where
I will just listen to my iPod.
Until about two weeks beforehand, I had been planning on running the two-mile Friday night and the 1600-meter leg on Spring Valley's (SV) distance medley relay on Saturday morning. We had managed to convince my sister Emily to run the 1200-meter leg of the relay, and I was excited! We had never run on a relay together before (she plays soccer in the spring) and this was going to be my last Spring Valley relay. I was looking forward to running one final 1600, and maybe Emily would like track so much that she would run it next year (a very unlikely outcome)!
Unfortunately, though, she was having a lot of trouble in the workouts leading up to the meet (even though she seemed to be in good shape), and she suddenly developed an unnatural craving for ice chips. My dad somehow recalled that this was a sign of having low iron levels, so we had her blood tested. To our disappointment (but at the same time, some relief about knowing what was going on), she was severely anemic and wouldn't be able to run at the meet. Shalyn (McMichael) and Megan (Fulks), the other girls on the DMR, were still able to run in other events, but Emily would have to remain a spectator. It turns out that having a desire to eat non-food substances such as ice, paint, dirt, and hair is a symptom of anemia, so watch out if you suddenly want to devour your sister's hair! (Luckily, Emily only went for the ice).
Anyway, after about a three-hour car ride, my family finds our hotel and relaxes there for a while before heading to the North Carolina A&T track and field complex to pick up the race packet. The numbers, as usual, are huge. We return to the hotel, where I eat a light meal of a bagel and an apple (my standard pre-race fare) while everyone else goes for a jog. They then drop me off at the track before heading out to eat a more enviable meal than mine. I want to get to the track to watch my SV teammates run the 1600-meter sprint medley (which I regrettably miss while wandering around beneath the stadium looking for my coaches) and the 4x100-meter relay, and I also want to see the first two sections of the two-mile (which are being run earlier in the evening than my race).
In the stands I find coach (Kevin) Shaw and coach (Tom) Cronin, my coaches, and I settle in behind them to listen to yet more music and watch the races, with frequent bathroom visits, of course. My excitement for the race is now really building; the carnival-like atmosphere, speed of the runners on the track, and booming of the announcer's voice has a tendency to have this effect on me. I try to reserve that adrenaline for later, when I will need it during the race.
This year they actually have a Jumbotron, showing the live race footage and replays, which makes it easier to see some parts of the races. The first two sections of the 2-mile are fast, but not as fast as last year. I know, however, that my heat is filled with girls with sub 10:30 two-mile credentials—our race will be faster than last year. More people, including my family and a few of my friends, start arriving, but by now it is time for my warm-up…
As I jog out to the warm-up fields behind the stadium, I start to get the "oh my god it's almost here" feelings about the race. I have been training for it for so long, and have had disappointing experiences here in the past, and now this final race is going to happen within an hour. I try to shove these apprehensions aside, however, knowing that this really is just another race, and I am ready for it. We have changed my training from what I've done in past years: instead of trying to maintain a six-week peak from the state meet (May 5-6), I have done a mini-cycle, starting with base-work, hills and progressing through to quicker intervals. As a result, I feel much fresher and eager to race than in the past years, but my speed doesn't feel quite as sharp as it did for the state meet. I comfort myself with the knowledge that speed is of less importance in a two-mile than an 800-meter run and that my endurance feels much stronger.
Even though I suspect that the meet is running behind schedule, I do a short jog, grab my spike bag from the stands, and stretch. Along the way I see the other runners from my heat of the two-mile, almost all of whom I know. As I check in, my suspicions are confirmed: the meet is running way behind. I continue to jog around and do a few running drills (of course, interspersed with bathroom trips). I go through the race mentally one last time. The first lap will be quick, maybe with someone going out very fast. Then, the pace will probably settle down; at the mile, someone might make a move—maybe me? Then, 600-meters out, it will become an all-out race to the finish. Ok. No more thinking about it. You're ready.
I jog back over to the stands to see if Coach Shaw has any final "words of wisdom." He walks with me for a little while, telling me not to think about this being my "last race," to have fun, to be confident in my training, and to not expect pain during the race (I know the fallacy of this last piece of advice, but it is comforting at the time). Somewhat reassured, I continue to warm up, skittish because the 9:45 start time has now passed. Finally I decide to put on my spikes, despite the lack of any indication of an imminent start. However, minutes later they call us to receive our hip numbers. I have been randomly assigned number 11, which I decide is a good place to be because I won't be immediately smothered by girls rushing toward the inside lane. I actually am seeded 12th or something in the race, but I know that the seeds mean little; this is a new race, with a new set of outcomes.
They will bring us out to the track soon. I am now alternately very nervous and somewhat detached. Everyone seems to be doing strides feverishly to keep their minds off the race. Finally, the last heat of boys\' 4x800-meter relays is finishing, and we stride around the edge of the track to the start line. Oh no! My mouth is so dry. I need water, but I haven't brought any out…after a moment's hesitation I ask another runner for some of hers. That's better. And now they're telling us to line up. We seem so far away from the finish way back here at the two-mile start line! And now they are telling us the starting instructions, and now I am jumping up and down (probably a useless endeavor), and now we are getting "set," and now there is the gun…
The first 200-meters I don't feel anything, really. Everyone is just going.
Ok, ok, calm down. Get in a good position. Why do I always put myself on the outside, way out in lane three? Get closer in on the curve. Stay up behind the leaders. Good.
We approach the start/finish line. One girl is way ahead. Maybe she forgot that there are an extra three-four seconds added onto this first lap (easy to do)? Oh well, stay relaxed.
I'm in a good spot, and soon we're gaining on her. We settle into a pace.
Ok, oh wait someone is surging. Go with her. This is funny. Every lap or so she surges. It feels almost like the 3200-meter "time trial" I did at Furman a week ago with coach Shaw's dictated "surges" every other lap. This is good. Doesn't feel too bad. Oh, we're at the mile. Under 5:10. Good, not great.
Another surge. Here we go. Another lap down, ok I feel good. Ok go. "Have fun."
With three laps left, I move out into the lead. It feels good to lead the race, giving me extra adrenaline. The splits have been good, from the snippets I can hear. That gives me extra confidence, and I maintain the lead for the rest of the lap.
Keep it up; they're not going to give up easily. Nope, they're moving ahead of me. Hmm. Come on, follow them! They're going so fast! Go with them!
We're now 600-meters from the finish. I hear the announcer saying that we covered the last 200-meters in sub five-minute pace.
Oww, yes it feels like we did. Ok, this is where you knew they would go even faster. Come on. Pick it up.
As we go toward the finish line, I feel spent. Negative thoughts crowd into my head as I see the three girls ahead of me sprinting away. This is so hard.
I hear the drummers beating away, as they have throughout the race. I hear my family, coaches, and friends cheering for me, as they also have throughout the race. I don't even realize another girl is passing me as I just try to get my arms and legs to finish this thing.
Ok. Almost there. They're coming. Just finish strong. Finish, finish, finish.
It's so nice to have crossed the line and be done. I'm just so relieved. After several minutes of swaying around with my eyes closed, I regain my bearings and make my way over to the water table. I think I've finished fourth, but I later find out that I was fifth. Either way, I'm an "All-American," the award designated to the top six finishers in each event. I've run about a 10-second personal record, 10:21. By now everyone has finished, and we wearily smile, hug, shake hands, and laugh. I chat with a few friends I've made through running various races, and after awhile we finally migrate toward the track exit. As we walk around the track, I see my family and all the people who have come to cheer for me. I thank them all for coming, and eventually return to the warm-up area. Coach Shaw comes by and tells me it's ok I didn't win (the ultimate goal, of course). Then I begin a slow cool down, knowing that the awards probably won't be for awhile. At this point, it's just so nice to run slowly and know that the race is over.
After awhile I realize that the announcer is just finishing the boys' two-mile awards, which either means that I've missed the girls', or that they will be announced very soon. I start back toward the infield, but then another runner asks to cool down with me. Never one to turn down a running partner, I agree, but moments later I hear, "and (muffle muffle) Kate Niehaus in (muffle muffle)." Oh no! I'm missing it! I rush away (my legs are still in no shape for a sprint) to the awards stand, arriving immediately after everyone steps down. My one and only outdoor high school All-American finish, and I've missed the awards. It's too bad, but I still am able to collect the medal and complimentary shoes ticket awarded to each "All-American."
As we trot away from the infield once more, another girl asks me to cool down with her. It's now nearing 11:30 p.m., but I agree, knowing that the more easy running I do today, the better my legs will feel tomorrow. Beforehand we stop to pick up the Nike shoes (Oregon-themed), and I ask my patient family if I can have another 15 or so minutes. They humor me, probably partly because I've had a good race and partly because they're already so tired of being at track meets that 15 more minutes won't make a difference.
Finally, I leave the track and head to the hotel with my family. It's been a long day, but, as usual after fast, important races, I'm still on an energy-high. Sensing this, my dad takes me in search of some food (not easy at midnight) while the rest of the family tumbles to bed.
Saturday – Tuesday
Even though yesterday was a late night, my family gets up relatively early so that we can get on the road. Greensboro has been the first among many stops of our trip; our next destination is my aunt and uncle's lake house in Tennessee. After a quick breakfast, we head out for the five-hour drive, with frequent stops for me to run around gas stations and rest stops to stretch out my legs. For some reason, they hurt as though they're injured, which I know is not the case. By the evening, though, I've figured out why: they're bruised in several places. I find it bizarre (how did I get all these bruises? Spikes?
Pushing during the race?), but at least now I know that the uncomfortable feelings in my legs are nothing to worry about.
On Sunday, we drive to Cincinnati, where the majority of my dad's side of the family lives. My sisters and I get in a quick run, which consists of various loops around a half-mile field due to lack of other running options. Then, we have a large Father's Day dinner, at which my relatives unveil their cheering plans for the Junior Nationals race. Initially surprised that they are thinking of coming, I then begin to worry about their exuberant enthusiasm as they describe their ideas to paint their shirts (with the letters K-A-T-E-!), devise catchy songs, and scream as loud as they can during the race.
Since my sister is getting near the college-searching age, my immediate family takes another drive on Monday, this time to Kenyon College. We decide to tour the campus by running, which is better than running loops around a small field, but still requires some creativity because of Kenyon's tiny size. I finish my run with some strides on Kenyon's track, which is very nice for such a small school (as are the rest of its athletic facilities).
When the declarations for the Junior Nationals race are posted, I'm disappointed to find that the two fastest seeds in the race have scratched, leaving only seven competitors.
Wednesday, June 21
Finally Wednesday arrives. After wiling away most of the day sleeping, listening, and packing for the trip home, my dad and I leave for Indianapolis at around 3 p.m. My race is at 7:30 p.m., and the rest of the family (about 16 other people) has decided to come, too. This is very flattering, and I'm thankful for their support, but I worry that they will be disappointed with the small field and lack of excitement during the long 5,000-meter race. For the whole week they've been talking about the race.
My grandfather has been warning me that it will be hot today, and he is right. Before my warmup my dad and I wait in the car to escape the heat and humidity, which seems stifling despite the wind. Although Junior Nationals is run in conjunction with the USA track nationals, Wednesday is the first day of competition, and consequently the meet seems very low key. There are few athletes or spectators around, and very few events taking place. Nevertheless, the meet's formality is unmistakable. The meet packet is full of rules and protocol, there are roped areas accessible only to athletes, and huge groups of officials clustered under tents. Coach Shaw has also warned me about the random drug testing that can be conducted on anyone after the race, but I don't give much thought to its seemingly painless procedures.
When it finally is time to warm up, I start sweating before I even run a few feet. It really is hot! We have to check-in very early, something I'm not really used to because of my extensive experience with delayed meets and being turned away for trying to check-in too early. By the time I get back, the rest of my extended family has arrived. I don't have time to talk to them much, but they do tell me that they plan to spread around all over the track.
This is good; I'll have tons of cheering supporters (to my relief, they've decided against their more drastic ideas, like painting their shirts)!
It's now almost time to report back to get our hip numbers. On the way, I see the Stanford coach, but we aren't really able to talk because of NCAA rules.
When I return to the clerking tents I finally see other athletes. We stride, do drills, stretch, and wait for them to call us together. There are so few of us! I'm now very nervous; this will be my last high school race unless I qualify and decide to go to the Junior Worlds in Beijing. In order to do that, I will have to place in the top two in my race and achieve the qualifying standard of 16:30. Although I've never run a 5,000 in a "real" race before, last year I ran 17:00 with some guys pacing me, so I'm shooting for the standard. Even though this means that I'll go through the two-mile only ten seconds off my new pr, coach Shaw is confident that I can maintain the pace. Even if I don't achieve the standard, I know that I'm capable of running much faster than I did last year.
By now we've been given hip numbers, placed our sweats, shoes, and bags in baskets, donned our spikes, and been ushered out to the track. I don't know how this race will play out, but I know my race strategy: run nearly even splits all the way through. The boys are now almost done, and we're allowed to stride to the 5,000 start line.
Ok, you're ready. Be tough. It's hot, but just maintain the pace. It should feel easy at first.
We're told that after a few laps we will have the option to run into the outer lanes to receive a dousing with a hose and to grab a cup of water. Then, we're crouching for the start, and we begin. Unlike all the other races I've ever been in, there is no mad rush to the inside lane or to get a good position.
Everyone seems to be running slowly, taking their time.
It's ok, just take the lead. Just go your pace.
It seems like we're going very slow, but I know that the first 200 is supposed to feel this way for such a long race. When we've gone 200, however, I realize that we're already off pace. "41!" the announcer thunders, and I see the seconds ticking by on the digital clock. Clearly, I needn't have worried about being told my splits.
Too slow on the first lap! Speed up, this is not a good way to start the race.
I take the lead more forcefully, and soon we're running splits of 79-81 seconds (per lap). It is not feeling good, however. It's not too terribly bad, but the knowledge that we will have to run at this pace for 12.5 laps is daunting.
Don't worry about that! Just think about this lap. Now this one. It's ok, just stay on pace.
We pass through the mile in about 5:20. I'm still leading, I think another girl is right behind me, and another is either right with us or close behind.
It's very hot. It's very windy. I'm not feeling very good. We're already off pace for a 16:30.
You'll be able to kick in the last lap and knock off a few seconds. Don't worry about being off pace by such a tiny amount. Keep it up. Ok. Seven laps left. Not too many! Oh god, that's almost a two-mile. Snap out of it, Kate! Stay focused! Ok, maybe you should just let her go in front; you've been blocking the wind the whole time.
The other girl moves ahead of me, and I try to stay hooked behind her. It's so hard, though! As the laps continue I start losing contact with her.
I can hear my family cheering for me, and my dad telling me to relax and take some of the water offered to us. I just keep running, feeling myself going very slowly. Finally I take some water, dumping its entire contents on my head. Not much better, but within the next few minutes I become more resolved.
Ok, pick it up now. You can do it.
The laps are all blurring together, and by now I'm just wishing for the finish line. A few more laps. Ok, only three left. Only two. Last one.
It's finally over, and I try to steady myself after the finish. I'm completely exhausted. A man grabs me and supports me, handing me water and asking if I'm ok. I am, but he keeps helping me along until we reach the "mixed area,\" the tent where we recover and get our baskets of clothes back. I don't really feel much in terms of emotions; I'm just glad to be finished with that horrid race. I know I've finished well behind my goal time. I probably would have run faster if I had started slightly slower, rather than trying to maintain the 16:30 pace, but then again, I would have always regretted not going for it.
Anyway, despite the bad race, I'm looking forward to cooling down, seeing the rest of my family, and relaxing for the next few hours.
Unfortunately, I will not get the gratification of enjoying any of these activities. As I leave the tent I'm informed that I have been selected for drug testing. Not alarmed, I ask if the process will take very long. After being assured that it won't, I decide to get the silly test out of the way, and I wave to my family with the confident remark of, "I'll be back soon."
After following the aide through an underground tunnel into the heart of another building, I fill out some brief paperwork, have a picture snapped, and then I am led behind a curtain to a section of a room. There are a few other athletes waiting, also, and a large cooler of water and Gatorade. I sit there for a while, with a headache building, and then realize that we can go in to give our "sample" (a urine sample) whenever we are ready. Well, I'm ready, I decide, and I go in. The official helping me is very nice, and she explains the process as we go: wash your hands, choose one of the cups, inspect it, open it, and pee—with her watching! This is a very uncomfortable and new experience for me, and I naturally have some trouble. I am only able to go a little bit (far from the required amount), but this small amount must still be packaged and secured. We go to a different room, where I randomly choose a box, check it, open it, check the bottles inside, open one, pour in the contents of the cup, etc, etc. There is paperwork to be signed, and then I must seal the box and carry it with me.
I am sent back to the waiting room, box in hand. It is reassuring to see some more people in the room now, and after a few minutes more athletes come in from the testing room with boxes of their own, or even empty-handed if they couldn't go at all. At least I'm not the only one. We are urged to drink more, so I finish off a couple more water bottles and a Gatorade (of course, I must hold my box as I walk across the room to grab these fluids), adding to the liquids I had already drank immediately after the race and upon entering the room. Time passes. I become anxious, knowing that my family is outside waiting for me. I feel that I can go to the bathroom, but it is just so difficult in such an awkward situation! Finally, I decide to try again.
It's now about nine p.m. so I've been in the drug-testing compound for about an hour. I can do this, I tell myself. Yet, when I get into the bathroom, I once again have trouble. The tiny amount of pee that I produce is slightly more than last time, but still a far cry from the required amount. The woman helping me this time expresses her disbelief at both my inability to pee in such a situation and that I had drank any water during the day because of my urine's bright color. Obviously, however, even though my pee was clear before the race started, running all-out for almost 20-minutes in such hot conditions makes it difficult to produce such a large sample! After another round of re-packaging, I return to the waiting room. I wait and drink some more. I now realize that it will be awhile before enough fluids go through my system to fulfill the necessary sample size. I wait and drink some more. Becoming more worried now, I ask if I can at least send a message out to my family, but I am coldly told that I should have taken care of this before entering the testing facility. I didn't know that it was going to take this long! I had the impression I would be out in 15-minutes! I don't know what to do, so…I wait and drink some more.
At around 10 p.m. an official tells me that my dad had come in and inquired about me. She asks if I would like to tell him anything, and to my relief my mom enters the room a few minutes later. Under the surveillance of the officials (and with me still holding my box), my mom tells me that the rest of the family was very excited about the race, but she has convinced them to get some dinner. She and my dad will wait for me as long as it takes. I am very relieved and thankful for my family's understanding, and I return to the waiting room to…wait and drink some more. There are only a few of us left in the room now; most people did not have quite so much trouble. The officials, wanting to go home, too, of course, joke with us that it's a contest between the remaining girls and boys to finish first. It's understood, however, that really, when we go into that room, we had better produce a large enough sample.
Finally, around 10:30 p.m. (now two and a half hours later), I am definitely ready. I pee quickly, but now there is the worry that it is too dilute! Luckily, after a round of pH and concentration testing, the sample is deemed ok. Hooray! We finish up the paperwork and the final wrapping of the box, and I joyously rush out of the tunnel. (on a side note, the other girl and I finished before the last boy and we won the contest).
I'm finally free to leave, and I walk away with my parents. On the car ride back to Cincinnati, I reflect that this was definitely not the way I would have dreamed of ending my high school career, but then again…it does make for an interesting story.
In conclusion, I would just like to say thank you to all the runners, coaches, spectators, volunteers, friends, and teammates I have met over the past four years. I have been overwhelmed by the tremendous support that I have consistently received. I am lucky to have had such a positive experience. I've met so many amazing, varied, fun, and interesting people through running. Keep training hard, have fun, and good luck to everyone next year!