Thursday, December 11, 2003
This morning I got up at 5:30 to go to school to take my History exam before leaving for San Diego, California. My parents went with me to the airport and I got there with plenty of time to spare. The ride from Orlando to Atlanta was about an hour and a half, so I slept almost the entire way. When I got to Atlanta I found my regional coordinator and left my stuff with him to grab some lunch with Angelina Blackman. The ride from Atlanta was long, but spent well with Maddie, Laura, James, and Andrew from the Southern region. I sat next to James on the plane, so we got a chance to exchange four hours worth of conversation!
When we arrived in San Diego there were plenty of Footlocker people there to meet us. We got on a bus and rode over to the island where we were going to stay in the Hotel Del Coronado. The ride over was GORGEOUS! We crossed over a huge bridge to get to the island and the water was so pretty and the little island was so quaint.
Arriving at the hotel we were given room keys, our Nike bags (full of free goodies), and information about our stay. It took me FOREVER to walk to my room! I was kinda upset knowing that I would have to make the long trek several times everyday. When I got in my room though, it was worth every step and then some! My room was huge with a nice sized bed and a cool looking bathroom. The best part was when I stepped out onto the balcony and saw the beautiful beach to my left and the city to my right. The view was amazing.
We left for a short run on the beach before we met with our coordinators for short instructions before dinner. Dinner was a tropical theme and was a great start for the exciting weekend. When we got there we found tables of food and as we entered the tropical room with our dinner there were all kinds of decorations and entertainment. After dinner and some games we got to meet our team captains. Representing the South for the boys was of course Alan Webb and for the girls was Sarah Schwald. We grouped together with our regions and our captains and they talked to us a little about the weekend and then gave us uniform pullovers.
I am finally to my room to go to bed at about 8:30. I am exhausted! At home it is 11:30 and I had an early morning and a day full of traveling. I'm ready for bed! G'night!
Friday, December 12, 2003
This morning I woke up at 2:30AM ready to go to school. My body is still on Florida time and it is taking some adjusting to get used to the three hour times difference. I was able to go back to sleep but woke up again at 4:30. My throat was super dry from the difference in climate. I was worried at first that I was getting a little sick, but a little bit of water and some more sleep did the trick. I finally woke up to go to breakfast at 7:30. I took my stuff down with me and as soon as I was finished eating we boarded the buses to go to the race course.
The Northeast and the South are kind of grouped together. We room together and ride the buses together. We arrived at the course at Balboa Park and all got together to go over the introductions and rehearse how we were all to enter the start line and then later walk over the course once. We went as a group over the whole 1.5 mile loop before we split up with our family and coaches. I ran with my coaches on a short run over the course to review several key spots including the half mile mark, just up the first hill and the mile mark, which is just before the biggest hill, the top stretch of the hill, and also the very steep, long downhill. We went over my game plan and then called it a day. I stretched a lot and then left my family and coaches to have lunch with the group.
We picnicked at the park where there was a magician, painting, twister, and lots of other games and activities. We enjoyed the nice weather and got to know the people in our regions. We stayed out at the park for several hours and finally loaded the bus to go back to the hotel at about 2pm. From the time we got back until about 5pm we had free time to explore the hotel, shower, and do whatever we wanted before dniner. I hung out with Laura Bowerman most of the time along with my room mate Allison Keiffer and other girls from the South.
Dinner was at 5:15pm in the Tropics Room again. It was a really nice pasta buffet. Everyone dressed nice and we ate before our parents and coaches joined us for the presentation and remarks from the special guests: Jim Ryun, Marty Liquori, Tim Danielson, and Alan Webb, the four Sub 4-minute milers. This was the first time ever that the only four men to break four minutes in high school were brought together in the same room. They each were given time to speak before the floor was opened for questions from the athletes and then coaches/parents. After the presentation and the open panel discussion World Class Nike Athletes and the four panelists were available to give autographs and talk to.
By 9pm all athletes are expected to be in bed. I have gotten to my room a little earlier than that to lay out my things for the next morning and sit out on my balcony to enjoy the waves and mentally prepare for the morning race. I'm excited about tomorrow, a little nervous, but VERY ready!
Saturday, December 13, 2003
I woke up this morning at 2:30am again. I honestly forgot I was in San Diego and about to run the most important race of the season, so I was able to fall right back asleep. This wasn't the case when my alarm went off at 5:15am. I allowed myself to lay in bed until about 5:30am and then got up to get ready for breakfast. I pulled on my sweats and ran downstairs to eat my banana several hours before my race. Everyone seemed a little nervous, but excited. I didn't want to give myself the opportunity to psych myself out, so when I finished eating I went back upstairs to finish getting ready and watch the sunrise from the balcony.
The buses left at 7:45 sharp. I was down in the lobby ready to leave at 7:15 (there was NO way I was missing this bus!). The ride out there was pretty relaxed. I sat with Laura and she and I encouraged each other excited to represent Florida in a National race. When we arrived at the park the course was lined with spectators. I was able to attend the National Footlocker Championships when it was in Orlando and it was never this crowded. Imagine running the state meet course totally lined with people on both sides of the course the entire way. That's a lot what this was like. 3.1 miles of excited fans anxious to see who of the 64 athletes would come out on top.
We were escorted to a roped off area where we were able to leave our bags and stretch. It was a little strange sitting in a designated area with security all around. We were able to leave and warm up with our coaches, but it provided a really nice safe area for us to get away from everyone and be able to focus and stretch. After a thorough warm up and a mental prep the regions regrouped with our team captains. The national anthem was sung, the color guard was presented, and the girls were lined up to start intros. The Northeast was the first region to be introduced, starting with the eighth qualifier down to the first. We jogged down as the read off our resumes and joined our team in our designated boxes. I was called forward along with Nicole Blood from the Northeast, Katelyn Kaltenbach from the Midwest, and Zoe Nelson from the West to be presented as the Regional winners for special recognition and pictures before the race. The whole start was so overwhelming and encouraging at the same time. I had just as good accomplishments as anyone and it really made me feel like I belong there at the park that morning.
Before we knew it the gun was off and so were we. There was little time for strides or prep after intros and photos were done. The girls started out strong but not super fast. I was a little surprised when I came across the half mile in the lead at 2:35. Two things were different than I expected: we were at 2:35 (a little slower than I had expected) and I was in the lead. I held my lead for about the first mile. I honestly don't remember all of the exchanges in places. I know I was in the top pack up until about the 2.5 mile mark, but I was very focused on my race and didn't notice much of what was going on behind or to the side of me.
Arriving at the mile mark in the lead I ran into our first obstacle. The monster hill was intimidating but exactly what I needed to show the girls I was going to run an aggressive race and I wasn't going to give up. We all charged up the hill in a huge pack trying hard to stick together with legs burning and hearts pounding. I made it up the first segment of the hill, but never relaxed because there was a second uphill that lead into the short straight section at the top before a long steep descent. The ground was soft, so the shock wasn't so bad I guess, but the traction wasn't spectacular. Coming down the hill it was one of the first times I've every really felt nervous about going out of control. I was racing the fastest girls in the nation, so I couldn't slow down, but form was the key to staying balanced and collected while flying down the slope.
The second loop was a lot of exchanging leads and new girls putting up moves to push the pace. At the 1.5 mark the race was still anyone's to take. We pushed hard up the smaller hill on the first section of the figure eight course and sure enough, the monster hill was still there when we arrived at the 2.5 mile mark. I pushed hard up the hill, but my quads and hamstrings were threatening to stay at the bottom. I convinced myself that this one hill was the last challenge and I couldn't give up now. I made it and on the downhill I believe it was Nicole Blood that came up for a final challenge. She passed me on the steep out-of-control hill. We hit level ground and I felt home again and ready to race to the finish.
Knowing I wasn't going to win or even have much of a shot at it with about 600m to go and the leaders at least 10 seconds ahead, I still gave it my all to finish up the race and for that reason I'm able to walk away from this race with my head held high. The whole race was difficult, but I ran my usual aggressive race and never let up. When I crossed the finish line I wasn't looking at the people, I didn't notice the time, I didn't even realize there was somebody announcing. All I was thinking was "I didn't come this far to get out-kicked at the end." I pushed hard in and when I turned around I realized there was nobody super close. I had finished "alone" but only in the physical aspect. I raced myself the whole time along with 31 of the very best cross country athletes in the entire nation and when I finished there were plenty of people there that had emotionally raced right along with me.
I entered the roped off area where somebody was there to take my tag and people were there to help the athletes. It wasn't until I bent over to reach for my bag that I realized that ever muscle in my body was still burning and aching. There is only one other race that I can remember finishing and really being terribly sore. Great American and the FLCCC were two of my most competitive races ever and also the most physically painful. As I look back, those two were the only two that I "lost" this year and both were to Katelyn Kaltenbach. Those two races are also two of my three most impressive and successful races ever in my own mind. I overcame the toughest courses and competitions and never choked. I walked away from both races pleased with my time and thrilled with my effort.
After the race I was able to meet with my coaches and family. Most of what when on I don't totally remember. When you've just completed something you've worked so hard and so long on you enter a thin place where time stops and you enjoy and absorb the moment. I will never forget the pride in my coach's face and the looks we exchanged while I knelt down to sign autographs for admiring spectators and interviewed in front of cameras and accepted compliments from complete strangers. My parents were elated with my accomplishment and were already on the phone to friends at home. I went on a short cool down after finishing some photos and interviews. The feelings and emotions and conversation during that cool down were unique and unexplainable, so I'm not even going to try...
After the boy's race (which I didn't get to see much of) we all got together to take photos and talk as a team. We loaded the buses after it was all said and done and headed back to the hotel. The trip home was fun. Everyone was relieved that the pressure was off and the big event was over. The chips had fallen and everyone accepted the results and the position they had earned. There was some disappointment I think, some excitement, but overall everyone was just ready to have fun!
When we got back we received a lunch voucher and were basically free for the afternoon until the evening banquet. I spent most of my time with my family and coaches that had come to watch my race. I spent some time with Laura, my room mate, and other girls from the team. Many of the athletes were out on the beach playing volleyball and a mix-match version of soccer with what appeared to be a dodge ball and garbage cans as goals. People swam in the pool and enjoyed the hotel's facilities. The whole afternoon was very relaxed and fun.
The banquet was one of the highlights of the trip. It was so fun to see all of the athletes all dressed up just hours after we had all been hot and sweaty on a cross country course. We sat together with our teams and enjoyed dinner before the awards were presented. Speakers took the stage making several comments before the awards were actually presented. The three All-American teams were recognized and then at the end they had the two National Champs come up and receive their awards and allowed them to make a couple comments to the audience. The honor of standing on a podium with 4 of the other absolute best high-school female cross country athletes was overwhelming. I had made the First All-American team.
After the banquet, parents and coaches were dismissed to allow the party to begin. There was a dance arranged afterward for the athletes only. We had a blast and about halfway through the Nike Pro Athletes came in and joined us on the dance floor. We had so much fun and followed up the evening with fun on the beach. We enjoyed the cool weather and the late hour that turned quickly into early morning. All game faces were off and everyone relaxed and had fun. I could not have asked for dreamed for a better ending to the best experience of my running career.
Given that I've been blessed by God with the talent and the motivation to run; given that I have amazing coaches that put my interest before their schedule week after week; given that I have a loving family that has supported me all the way... I worked so hard to get here. I worked so hard once I got here. That is why I was successful.