The last few weeks have been a whirlwind to say the least! I have no updated my blog in a few weeks and a lot has happened. I am, however, really grateful for all the messages and emails of support and inquiry so I figured it was time to bring things back to current around here. And oh my goodness it is long so I should figure out how to do the “Cole’s Notes Version!” From what I can recall, in less than a month I have raced in Jamaica, South Korea, Morocco and Norway and have spent my transition time at home and in Switzerland.
Yesterday I counted that I have been in 21 airports in 14 days – no wonder they are all blurring together! (Now if only all my flights were all on the same carrier I could actually have accumulated some serious airline points!). All this in the hunt of an elusive Olympic “A” standard….!
After running Olympic B standard in South Korea on May 16th, my team and I agreed that it would be prudent for me to hop over to Europe for a couple races and to get the Olympic A standard. Otherwise my next – and probably last before Olympic trials – race would be June 10th in Vancouver at the Harry Jerome meet. Since things were feeling good and my training had been going so well, it seemed like a good decision to just go over and “get ‘er done” and then be able to train, recover and prepare for the rest of the season in June.
My first race as going to be shortly after arriving in Europe on May 27th in Rabat Morocco. After that we were hoping that I would be confirmed in Rome (May 31st) or Oslo (June 7th) with a back-up plan with what was supposed to be a low key but fast race in Northwest Norway on June 2nd – or any other race that looked like a good opportunity. So I merrily hopped on a plane, joining Hilary Stellingwerff in Vancouver who had more or less the same plan. Since she lived in Switzerland for the last 5 years, she arranged for us to stay with her old massage therapist in a lovely village midway between Geneva and Lausanne. So far the best part of the trip has been staying with Inge and her delightful 12 year old daughter who have been so generous, welcoming and kind. I wake up every day at their home feeling grateful for being in a home and not a hotel, and for the wonderful views from their house of vineyards, orchards and old villages overlooking Lake Geneva.
Hilary and I spent a couple days in Switzerland before hopping over to Morocco for the World Challenge Rabat Meeting. Unfortunately, I felt really flat during the race and still in my “jetlag” window. No matter how many times I have traveled to Europe and expected better results from my first race, I have never felt or run well when I first arrive so in retrospect it was no big surprise. I had to rely upon some major positive thinking in the latter parts of my race in Morocco when I could not change gears and felt the field running away from me. It would have been easy to jog the race in during the last 100m but I know I still ran about as hard as I could, which in the end is the most I can ask of myself in any race. The result wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either. Nevertheless, with every race counting, it did not set me up well to get into my next set of races.
And this is where things start to unwind… Two days before the highly anticipated race in Rome (one of the best races in the world with smoking fast results, great weather, beautiful track surrounded by Roman statues and where my personal best still stands), Hilary receives an email that she is in the race! Who hoo! What a great opportunity and surely a very strong chance of running a personal best and Olympic standard. At the same time, I received an email that said I was “first on the waitlist” and if anyone dropped out that I would also compete. So we were both optimistic that things were going to work out for both of us.
Needless to say the next 30 hours were close to agony for me as I waited to hear if I was in the race. Most of the time I stayed calm and at peace with whatever the outcome would be, but then I would check my email and get an update that suggested that there was still a very good chance that it would work out for me so I would get really excited and hopeful, only for more and more time to pass without any firm word and I would slide into a state of mild depression. I went to bed the night before the race still hoping that I would be given a spot in the race, but no more emails came making the final decision clear to me that it was not happening. So I watched the race on TV in Switzerland with my host family and a bunch of neighbour kids – you should have seen how they jumped and cheered to see Hilary dip under Olympic standard with a new personal best time! It was great to see Hilary meet her goals she has worked so hard for and I would have loved to give her a hug in person – ideally sharing a similar fate.
Races in Europe are so hard to get into and until you run a fast time (under Olympic standard) you are forever on the bubble. But usually it just takes one of those fast races to get the fast time – most girls who run in the 4:06-4:09 world outside a big meet are able to pop a time several seconds faster in a Diamond League caliber meet. Running fast is about many many factors coming together, including fitness, tactics, weather, pacing and competition. You can run fast without every factor being perfect but you need most of them to be at least strong for a 4:05 performance.
The day following Rome, with a slightly heavy heart since I had so badly wanted to have been there, I began my journey to most westerly part of Norway, in the quaint fishing village of Flora, to race at a low key meet. Although it was low key, it had been arranged for a Norweigan athlete who was only a few hundredths off Olympic standard so they were bringing in about 6 or so fast 1500m runners to create a fast race. It was supposed to be 4:04-4:06 type race, but as I was heading to the airport to travel to Norway I discovered some bad news: the weather was going to be crap and most of the field had pulled out at the last minute. So I was traveling 10 hours from Geneva (lots of connections!) to Norway to go race in a “time trial” situation in early spring like conditions. I could have done that at home in better conditions with more athletes. Let me tell you, it took a lot of emotional energy just to get myself to that start line. I don’t think I have ever been less excited to race in my life.
The only thing that kept me focused on running the race was the fact that several people had told me that if I ran “well” (a very ambiguous term), it would be reasonable to expect that I would be confirmed in the next big Diamond League meet in Oslo on June 7th. It would be my “Rome”. We obviously ran very slowly, but in about 7 degrees C (~40ish F) and 50 km/hour winds there was no way we were going to run fast so the race turned into a tactical race. I rallied all my energy to get through the race and met my objective of winning the race. Obviously 4:16 is nothing to write home about, but I figured with the conditions it was at least a sub 4:10 effort. Regardless, I was assured I would know by 3:00pm the next day if I was in the Oslo race. The only problem was that my flight was leaving Norway at 2pm! I got on my plane departing from Flora wondering if I would stay in Oslo, go to Amsterdam and try to fly back to Canada that day, or go back to Geneva to stay a few more days with my gracious hosts (who don’t mind me coming and going as long as I help cook some meals!).
Spirits still hopeful, I check my email in the airport in Oslo and received a disappointing – although not entirely unexpected – email that the race was full and they did not have room to add me to the field but that if I waited “a few more days” maybe someone would drop out and there would be room. I almost burst into tears right there on the spot but I didn’t really want everyone staring at me so I just swallowed hard and resorted to many of the positive thinking lines that sound very fake when you are really bummed. It was another hard day of travel sitting on the planes wondering what next and how was I going to take back control of my running.
So this is what I have come up with: I can wait until Tuesday to hear about Oslo (race is Thursday) and if not then I will hopefully get on a flight back to BC and run Harry Jerome on Sunday. Is it ideal to not know if I am racing Thursday or Sunday in Europe or in BC? No, but now that I have gone through the emotional roller coaster of the week I have come to realize once again that I need to let go of things out of my control and focus on what I can control. I know that I am fit, strong and competitive; I can run at least the best race of the year this week whether it is in Olso or Vancouver and that both are good opportunities for fast racing. I know that once I step on the line I will be able to focus 100% on executing my best race and not worrying about the past or future. I want to walk away from the race and this year knowing I did everything in my power and control to do my best – and the rest is just the way life and sports goes. And no one said it would be easy! But when it is easy and is does click, it is so worth it!