I ran in my first Mt. Sac Relays fifteen years ago. I was in grade 10, and when my parents gave me the green light – and the greenbacks – to travel to Walnut, California with my track club to compete in the very famous Mt. Sac Relays where “the World’s Best Athletes Compete”. I can’t remember how many times I have been to this meet now, but it is close to nine or ten times, and when I arrived yesterday after a four year hiatus, I was filled with nostalgia.
It really is an epic meet, full of history, energy and nostalgia. A four-day extravaganza featuring hundreds of races from high school, college/university, and open/elite levels, Mt. Sac Relays is the only meet I can think of where any serious track athlete at a given level has the opportunity to compete. Chantelle Wilder of RunnersFeed describes it as the Super Bowl for track. There is literally a race for everyone. In my open/elite division, there are over 200 women entered in the 5000m alone! This means that from 7:30 – midnight Friday night the track will be dominated by alternating men’s and women’s 5000m heats. My race is at 7:30 pm – find results at http://www.mtsacrelays.com/results11.htm or watch the live Flotrack coverage.
When I checked into the Shilo Inn yesterday afternoon, I suddenly got a major surge in energy and nostalgia. It was there, in 1998, that I gave my verbal commitment to Stanford my grade 12 (senior) year of high school. I was so thrilled that the team was staying in the same hotel as me and I was totally in awe of my future teammates. I remember meeting some of the girls on the team and being totally intimidated by them – how fast, smart, funny and cool they were. And of course I was too shy at the time to talk to any of the boys! Thankfully I got over being tongue tied around the Stanford clan and many of my past teammates are still among my best friends.
As a post-collegiate professional runner, the majority of my competitions now have a very different tone than the big University/College competitions. Now when I see the big university track teams proudly wearing their school colours, I am struck by a couple thoughts: how young they look; how old I am getting (in the track world at least!); and how amazing college track is. College track is the essence of the sport and now in my eighth year of running professional track, including the Olympic Games, my fondest track memories are still from being on a DI track team.
When I was leaving the track yesterday afternoon after my pre-race warm up, the fence was lined with athletes cheering on their teammates in the collegiate steeplechase competition. Sometimes it takes hindsight to really understand what a special experience it is to be a part of a team where everybody on the team is invested in your performance – and vice versa. There are very few opportunities in life when you have a captive and engaged audience of fifty or more teammates who share your successes and failures so intimately with you. Now when I race I realize that there are basically seven people who really care how I perform: me, my coach, my husband, my parents and my in-laws. And at that my parents actually only know what I filter back to them.
The Stanford team was particularly notorious for cheering, and with Gabe Jennings leading the charge, we would have the whole stadium banging drums, water bottles and anything else that made a noise. We had all sorts of chants, usually derivatives from one of Vin Lananna’s famous team pep talks like “Get you hands on the torch, get your hands on the torch.” Or, “Get on the train, train’s leaving”. We would chant and drum for the entire length of a 10km race, with the beat of the chant matching the tempo of the race. It is too bad that my college days preceded You Tube because it was some pretty good stuff. Even digital cameras were scarce then. Wow.
Over the fifteen years I have competed here, I have run at least four personal best performances (at that time in my life): grade 11 800m PB of 2:08 to win the collegiate section; grade 12 4x400m split PB of 56.x (which is probably still my PB!); 4:09 1500m PB in 2004 to win the open section before setting a new PB almost every race that season; and my first ever and personal best 5000m in 2007 (15:12) for 3rd in the open section. So I will try to come back tonight with another PB performance at the magical world of Mt. Sac Relays. And whatever happens tonight, I will always have fond memories of Mt. Sac and be grateful for all the opportunities to race here among the world’s best athletes.