As I lay tossing and turning last Thursday night in our Omaha hotel, I finally fell into a shallow sleep. Suddenly I was on the line for the 400 meters, in front of thousands of people. The gun had gone off and I was running smoothly. I saw the whole race ahead of me, and with every meter I was growing in confidence. I had passed the top-seeded runner on the final turn and when I dipped my chest over the line I saw 55 seconds flash onto the board. Everything had gone perfectly. And then I woke up. Sometimes our dreams have their happy endings, but many times they do not. It is how we learn to deal with the disappointment that makes us stronger, faster and better.
My dream did not have its happy ending this time. After finally making it to the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Lincoln, Nebraska a day late due to snowstorm Vulcan, I could already feel nerves building. This was not my first nationals; I had come last year as a member of a phenomenal distance medley relay team. As a fresh-faced first-year and the 400-meter runner in the relay, I had let the older senior girls take care of me. Now I was alone. As a qualifier for the 400 individually as well as the now 800-meter runner for the distance medley relay, there was no one to hold my hand. I had to deal with the expectations I had created for myself.
I have always considered myself a competitor and never had I been hungrier for a win. But sometimes no matter how driven, how focused, how ready we might feel, fate takes a different direction. Sitting in the bullpen minutes before the race, I was surrounded by sixteen other girls just as hungry as I was and most more experienced. Although there was barely space for us to move, I felt so alone.
Sometimes before even stepping onto the line, I know that I am going to have a bad race. But this was not one of those times, I felt like I had it all in me. But as soon as the gun went off, it just did not click. The girls were too strong and fast right from the start, and as a runner that thrives in the second lap by chasing people down, they were already too far out of my grasp for me to even think that was a reality. I am never in my head during a 400, but this time, the whole second lap I could not stop thinking about how much I had messed up. I had let a great opportunity literally run away from me. Reality does not get much harsher than finishing in dead last place.
I could only weakly hug my mom and my coaches who did their best find the positives in my race. I couldn’t even tell them where it had gone wrong. I had not felt weak, tired, or slow. Sometimes the race just gets the best of you. My teammates knew that no words could make me feel better; they had all been there before. We all have those days, but I was kicking myself that one of those days had to be on the national stage.
The individual nature of track is both my favorite and sometimes the hardest thing about being a runner. Success is solely mine, but so is that failure. When you set such high expectations for yourself, it is hard not to be disappointed. We must take ownership of our actions, and make sure that a loss is not our downfall but rather just one hurdle on the road to greatness. As much as I wanted to beat myself up about what I could have done better, less than three hours later I was running in the distance medley relay – running for three other girls that deserved glory collectively more than I deserved it individually. And receiving All-American honors was a great way to bounce back.
It is so hard to not get in your head, to define yourself based on your latest race. But I came into Middlebury having never run indoor track, never having run under 60 seconds, and unsure how I would be able to prove myself. Going into that Friday race, I should not have lost sight of how much I had accomplished from that starting point. I will always be disappointed with what happened in that race, but I cannot help but be proud of how much I achieved, especially this season, just to be able to be in that 400.
For now, there is nothing to do but move on. I am ready to do anything to earn that spot again on the 400 starting line, this time on the outdoor track. Then, maybe my dream will have its happy ending.