I opened up my track season this past Sunday at the Payton Jordan Invite at Stanford, CA. Racing at Stanford has been a spring staple for over a decade - I've raced here every year since 2002! Not every race as yielded a PR, but for the most part, Stanford's track has proven magical. Although this past Sunday wasn't quite a personal best, it did not disappoint - I came away from my track opener with my 3rd-fastest 5k ever, and a great springboard into the Olympic Trials in July.
Racing at Stanford reminds me why I love track & field so much - it's just such a FUN meet! When you walk into the athlete area, you can hardly go 10 feet without running into friends and teammates, past and present. It's a reunion of sorts, exchanging hellos with people you've raced against or trained with over the years. Friends and family fill the stands and call your name loudly, making you feel like a speedy rockstar as you circle the oval. The track is packed with energy, in a way that doesn't happen at a road race, where fans are scattered along the course. Here, it's concentrated, dense, intimate. And I love everything about it!
I haven't always loved track - there's been times when I've plotted my escape route off the track, to avoid the pity clap when you get lapped, or to cry privately and avoid the questions of "What happened?" But as I've grown and developed as an athlete, the track has become my favorite venue, and I relish every opportunity to lace up my spikes. Knowing that as I get older, opportunities to race on the track might be fewer; so this spring, I'm making a conscious effort to soak up each race, relish each lap, and live in the moment. I've recently been talking to one of my running friends, Irish Olympian and sports psych coach Ro McGettigan about mindfulness. In an Olympic year, it's easy to feel stress around racing, and possibly crumble under the pressure to perform. She's challenged me to remember that at my core, I run because it brings me joy. When I focus on that, and remember that track is FUN, the stress goes away and I can just run, free and uninhibited, letting my mind go and letting my legs do what they've been trained to.
And that's what happened on Sunday night in the 5k. Sure, I was a bit anxious beforehand - March had been a rough month and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to bounce back from the marathon. I was a little rusty at first - I was embarassingly slow off the starting line (gotta get my brain out of marathon mode!), and I wasn't used to all the jostling and jockeying of a crowded 5k. But after a few laps, I settled in, found that familiar, comforting rhythm, and rolled along, methodically making my way up in the pack.
Around the halfway point, I moved into 5th place, feeling fierce and fast but most of all having FUN! As I confidently joined the lead pack, I broke into a goofy grin - it was just such a blast to be out there pushing my body and competing! It was the polar opposite of how I felt at the Marathon Trials - there would be no death march tonight! True, I maybe played my cards a little early - the leaders threw in a surge with 2k to go and I was unable to match it - but I fought my way home in the last mile and held on for 6th place in 15:43, my 3rd-fastest 5k ever. I know what I need to work on, and I'm eager to get back to hard training. The post-marathon hangover is over, the doldrums have passed, and things are coming around right on schedule.
One of the other highlights of Payton Jordan was all the people there - so many family and friends came out to cheer, which was incredible. I thrive off of that, and part of what I love so much about running is that you can share it with others. So thanks, all, for sharing this journey with me!
Onward to more track!