Flashback to the end of May, in Austin, Texas. 25 laps, 85 degrees, 200 percent humidity…Okay, well I’ll admit that doesn’t exist, but that’s what it felt like with about 8 laps to go in the Western Regional NCAA 10k qualifying race.
Everything had been going so well. A 32:06 10k at the Payton Jordan meet in April had gotten us excited about going for the NCAA title in June. Maurica Powell, my coach at Oregon, told me before the race if I got nervous just tell myself, “You’ve run the 4th fastest 10k of a collegiate athlete, EVER”. It wasn’t supposed to be hard. Top 12. That’s it. Just qualify. But sometimes no matter how much you will your legs to go, to move faster, they just won’t. That’s why I’ve always liked running, it’s like life. People are funny.
We try to plan things out, we want things to go a certain way, we get into a routine, expecting life to be perfect. But that’s not how God intended it to be. We go through ups and downs and actually, if we choose to learn from these downs and most importantly always do our best, we ultimately become wiser, stronger, better people. That’s sort of what happened to me, that night in Austin. It was everything I had trained for all year. All those early morning runs, long hard tempos, interval workouts in the pouring rain of Eugene…all the time visualizing the 10k at Hayward. No team title.
The past 3 years we had finished second. No individual outdoor NCAA title. 2 indoor titles to my career but this was my senior year, outdoors, at home, last one. The crowd that had been so supportive of me as a high school junior in the 2008 Olympic Trials and had now become my home town crowd, my inspiration to run, to put on a big performance. The whole year, all my training, was based on that one day at Hayward field.
But suddenly, that day we had been planning for so long was about to be nonexistent. I kept my eyes on the 12th place girl, “You can be 12th, come on, come on, you’re fine.” But it wasn’t in the plan. I’ve never even looked at the results of the race, so I couldn’t even tell you my time or place; needless to say, the dream ended. The individual title, gone. Of course, I still had the 5k, but we all knew my best chance was certainly the 10k, and without the double our team title chances were in jeopardy. I won’t go into detail about the NCAA meet because I’m sure no one wants to be reading this for days…in short, I thankfully got to compete in the 5k, finishing 3rd in a race that I was proud of. As a team, we had an off meet. Coach Johnson would always talk about ups and downs, and it turned out that we had a lot of downs. But that’s okay. Sometimes the cards fall your way, sometimes they don’t. As I said earlier, it only makes you stronger, and I know the Ducks will be better than ever this spring.
Now…. fast forward to Des Moines Iowa. A week after the NCAA meet at Hayward. Hot and humid, just like Austin. But this time, I was prepared. After joining the Oregon Project in Park City and running in sweats and tights for a bit of heat and altitude training, I was fairly confident. It was all really exciting, it was really happening. I had signed with Nike the morning of the 10k final, and was out there to prove something. With about 3 laps to go, we had broken away. Shalane Flanagan out front, and my new teammate Tara Erdmann and I had gapped Amy Hastings just slightly. We were going to do it! My first world championship team. My first professional race. Crossing the line in second, being handed the American flag, running over to hug my parents, my new coach Alberto Salazar, it was all really surreal. We had talked before the race that the result didn’t really matter. It was all upside. My career has a long way to go and whether or not I had made the team or failed to make the team, I will hopefully have many more chances to make teams in the future. But to make top 3 just proved to myself more than anything that I belonged. Ever since I first started running in 4th grade, I had dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, specifically of running for Nike. I’d get in fights with boys on our tiny 200m dirt track that Nikes were better than Adidas or Reeboks. Now I am a professional runner for Nike; the dream, it’s real. It still feels weird when people ask me what my job is. It’s always an honor to say it and I can’t help but smile when I do.
A little bit on the rest of the summer…. This will just be a highlight from each race as I could probably write a blog on each one!
Although I finished 2nd in Des Moines, I still had the task of qualifying for the World Championships in Moscow. I was one second off the B standard with my 32:06 10k from the Payton Jordan race in April. Thankfully Alberto and the meet organizers of Portland Track festival were able to set up a “Chase race” for me to try and get the time. It was a fun night. Lots of people came out to support (thank you!!!) and I ended up running 31:46, a second off the A standard, but good enough to make it on towards worlds. I won’t recap it all…but you can find stories and watch the video here. Thanks again to everyone who helped set this up or came out to support.
After that it was off to St. Moritz for a little bit of altitude training before the London Diamond League meet and the World Championships in Moscow. London was to be my first Diamond League meeting ever. It was extremely special because my mom is originally from England, so all of my family was able to come and support me. After the race, in a crowd of 80,000 people, I knew it’d be almost near impossible to find them. Miraculously, however, I was about to exit the track when I heard my Aunt screaming my name at the top of her lungs!! The security was nice enough to let me stand on the edge of the track to visit with my aunt, uncle, and granny, who will celebrate her 80th birthday this next year. It was the first time they had ever seen me race in person, so to do it in the Olympic stadium was really special. Due to the large crowd, I didn’t even get to see my other aunt and uncle who had also come to watch!! Oh and side note, I also PR’d by 11 seconds running 8:46 for 3k…so that was pretty cool too!
Moscow was an incredible experience as well as a humbling one. . It’s sort of funny as an athlete how goals and expectations continue to progress. That’s something I love about the sport, there is never a ceiling. To be honest, I was disappointed with my race in Moscow. I had hoped for a PR, or if not a PR, a higher finish. Rewind to Austin as a described above, and I couldn’t even finish top 12 in the western region. In Moscow, I finished 12th in the World but we actually had hoped for more. Wait, say that again?! Crazy as it sounds, that’s part of being a competitor, and hopefully a part of eventually becoming one of the best in the world. There is always a new challenge; always a higher goal. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I am proud of my race in Moscow. It was a good starting point, especially considering the year and the journey as a whole.
Remember how earlier I was talking about how sometimes things don’t always go according to plan? Yes, that just about sums up my last 2 races. I think my time was up. Six 10ks, three collegiate seasons, one great summer of training later, my legs refused to cooperate. Both meets were still an amazing experience and will help me for next year when I don’t have a peak in November, March, June, July and August! I’m really thankful to have had the chance to compete at each event and meet some great people along the way.
In sum, the dream of a little girl came true. A lot of people said it would never ever happen. I’ll admit, it’s true. A lot of age group/high school stars never end up moving onto the professional level. I hope that I could be inspiration to all the current young runners out there to never give up on your dream. There were tough times, but I really think that’s what ultimately makes it real, exciting, and makes the good times even more special. I’m really passionate about the sport and I’d hope that as I progress in my career, it would be an inspiration to all runners and all fans of the sport out there. I’d like to thank everyone who has always believed. It’s a really neat thing and in sum, a privilege, to feel so much support.
Of course, as an athlete, dreams never stop. My mantra all summer, and those of the people around me was, “This is only the beginning.” I know I still have a LONG ways to go towards my goal of becoming one of the best in the world. I mean, come on, I was lapped in Moscow. But with the support of Nike, the Oregon Project, PACE sports management, my friends, and my family I’m confident it’s an exciting future ahead. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to develop my talent, and hopefully one day be able to perform at the highest level. The 2014 year ahead will hopefully be a huge one, but more importantly we will be working towards 2015, and most importantly towards 2016…but actually 2020! That will hopefully be my, as I like to call it, “Galen and Mo Olympics.” It’s an exciting future, and who knows what the outcomes will be… But ultimately, the journey is the most fun part, and that’s what I always have and always will be, signing up for.