Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A brush with the greatest: US Road Racing Championships

How often do we get to meet our role models? The people we look up to, who we follow regularly, whose hard work and commitment to excellence play an indirect, yet significant role in our lives.
Growing up, I was not an athlete and accordingly, did not have any role models who were athletes. I knew some of the big names like Michael Jordan and...were, but did not have real interest in sports. But once I got into running, I quickly became engulfed in the world of track and field and road racing. Now, I can rattle off the big races and top competitors, where they train, their backgrounds, etc. And reading about these Olympians and Olympic hopefuls and the 100+ mile weeks they put into training inspired me and motivated me to train hard too.
2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist Shalane Flannagan
I've known for weeks that on the 17th, Alexandria, VA, just a hop, skip, and a jump from my home in Vienna, planned to host the National Road Racing Championships - the culminating race in a year-long series among elite runners. The race (a 12k) was also open to the general population, and they had a 5k as well. I kept thinking about it, and in hearing all of the hype, it was hard not to get excited about it. But my race season had just ended and I was supposed to take it easy. But how often does this happen, when Molly Huddle, Shalane Flannagan, Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp, Abdi Abdirahman, are all in the same place, same race, and I could be a part of it? So, on a very last minute whim, I signed up for the 5k - just 2 days before the race. At packet pick-up, I saw Abdi Abdirahman in the lobby, but he was talking with someone else. I smiled, he smiled back, and that was all of my failed exchange with the 3 time Olympian. But after I grabbed my packet - it was very cool to see everything with the USATF logo, I headed over to Pacers Running Store, which was doing a meet and greet with some of the greats: Shalane, Chris, and Matt!

Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Solinsky
Prior to arriving, I only knew Shalane was going to be there, so this was a great surprise - a triple whammy of American excellence. I waited as patiently as possible to meet them, all of whom were very kind and took time to speak to each person and take pictures. I tried to just express my admiration for their accomplishments without looking like a blabbering fool. The cool thing was, I had chatted with Chris Solinsky at the Wharf to Wharf in California, and he remembered meeting me. Pretty cool. They all signed my bib with good mantras to keep in mind:
Dream big - Shalane Flannagan
Run fast, have fun - Matt Tegenkamp
Hard work pays off - Chris Solinsky
Anyways, I was a kid filled with all of the anticipation of Christmas before the race.
It was a beautiful morning in Alexandria, and the fog was just lifting as I did my warm up around the historic town. I was totally relaxed. This was a low pressure race - I was here to have fun and partake in this major running event. Now, I think many people were drawn to the 12k because they could run in the same race with the elite runners, so I think many of the more competitive runners did that. I looked around at the start of the 5k and didn't see the usual suspects.here). I yelled as I crossed the finish - I won!
Along the waterfront in Alexandria
It was my goal to go under 20 minutes - anything else was gravy. The siren blared, and we were off. A few women were ahead of men, including this little girl - a pipsqueak who held sub 6:20 pace for at least the first half mile. Impressive! Before the first mile mark, there was a sharp turn and a steep hill, and this was my chance to make a move - hills are my strength. I got myself to second place, and just before hitting mile 1, got in first. Mile 1 to 2 was entirely straight, so I couldn't see how close the other girls were behind me. I was feeling good with my pace - nothing out of control, but still fast. It was beautiful to run along the Potomac - Alexandria was so pretty and the streets were so fun to run on.What was cool was as I made my way through the street, people would clap and say first woman. That doesn't happen often! There was no indication that the next woman was right behind me, but this wasn't verified until after mile 2, when I could sneak a peak at a turn and check. As my first cross-country coach in middle school said when you run on hills or turns "Run like a thief" - make a quick break, and then by the time the person behind you sees you again, it can be psychologically demoralizing. And so I did! I finally got onto the last stretch and could see the finish line in the distance - there was even a big banner held up (and you can watch the finish
Me and my friend Maggie
19:45 - I got my sub 20 and then some.
I did my cooldown beaming, and watched the elites finish. They looked so fabulous - these are strong men and women. I congratulated Sara Hall on her 6th place finish, and she asked me how I did in my race. When I said I won, her and a couple of the Boulder team runners said congratulations. What?! How was I in the same space as these people? I saw a friend of mine who I met when we both volunteered at Pacers races - she did the 12k and ran 47:39!
Bib, finisher medal, champion medal
Another friendship brought to you by running. Then they had an award ceremony. Right before they started, I spotted Deena Kastor - I knew she was in town doing some of the coverage, but suddenly my biggest running hero and role model was just a few yards away. I have always wanted to meet her - her bronze medal, American record, and other tenacious races just make her amazing. I have blogged about her a lot - above all other runners, she has given me the most inspiration and drive. They called my name to come up, and there she is, clapping for me and saying "Go Vanessa." Seriously? I was just beaming. By the way, that little girl was 9 and ended up in 3rd place - she was speedy! They gave my medal and then I stepped down and got a chance to talk to Deena.
Thrilled to meet my hero, Deena Kastor
I was beside myself - she congratulated me, and then I talked about how much I looked up to her and was so impressed with her recent 9th place finish at the IAAF World Championships Marathon in Moscow at age 40. It was a dream come true - I got to meet my hero, and not just standing in line for an autograph, but because I won my own race.
Heroes are there to inspire, and I certainly got a big dose of inspiration this weekend meeting some of America's best runners.
Good mantras to keep in mind

1 comment:

  1. This is so amazing! Congrats!

    PS - I'm so jealous that you got to meet Deena Kastor... she's my idol too :)