While attending track meets I sometimes keep a journal. I recently stumbled across my notes I wrote only a few hours after my late night 10K at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships.

It's a little insight to my pre-race, race and post-race thoughts at that time in my running life.

It's good to look back and remember who you were, and who you can be again.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. but I couldn’t sleep. I kept waking up in the night and my stomach still really hurt, so I finally decided to try and eat something. I had a few bites of banana and feel much better, but now that I’m up it’s hard to fall back asleep, even though I went to bed only five hours ago! And it was not very restful. It’s hard to sleep when you’re heart still feels like it is pounding and your stomach feels totally torn apart. Ha ha! So, I figured now was a good time log some thoughts about the race.

I was nervous. I’ve been able to control my nerves so well all season, and they were definitely not out of control yesterday, but they were there. More so than any other race so far this season. Like I told mom last night though, I don’t know how you come to a national meet and not get a little bit nervous unless maybe you are Jennifer Barringer or Galen Rupp. I’m not quite to that stage yet, but just wait!

These nerves were a little different from normal nerves. I feel like normally nerves come because you don’t know what’s going to happen and that is a scary thing. You’re unsure of your ability because you’re unsure of your training or how you’re feeling, etc. I was nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen, but it wasn’t scary. It was more exciting!

I was sure of my ability and my training. I was nervous for the test because I knew I could do well because I was feeling good, not because I wasn’t sure. Does that make sense? And this is a feeling I have before most races, but it was just multiplied by that fact that this was nationals. It was new arena for me. All the other meets I’ve competed at this season were meets I’d been at before and knew I could conquer. Nationals? We’re talking about some serious uncharted territory (seriously awesome!)

I sat with coach to watch the 1,500-meter prelim heats before I left to warm up. I think he sensed my nerves because he went over the race with me again. I knew that the girl who held the collegiate record was in my race and ranked No. 1. She is from Iowa State. I also knew to watch for a girl from Boston.

Coach told me that if they went out and tried to hammer it, that I was to let them go. But we were both pretty sure it would be a tactical race and go at a fairly conservative pace at first. I knew I just had to be in a good position and hang on the whole time and I could give myself a great shot. Coach said he knew I could be Top 4, he just didn’t know if that meant first or fourth. He told me that’s what we were going to find out and that I needed to enjoy the ride.

Then I had one of those cool coach and athlete sweet moments where coach really said the right things that I needed to hear. He reminded me what an amazing thing it was that I was able to go from being a walk-on to being ready to compete on this level. He told me what a joy it is to coach those kinds of athletes, even more so compared to the athletes who come in with lots of talent and high expectations right out of high school. He told me that I deserved to be here and that I was so ready based on my workouts and races all season. I’d been solid and was ready to compete.

I warmed up alone, which I am fairly used to doing at this point. The lonely life of a distance runner, but I had coach’s words echoing in my head the whole time and I felt more and more legitimate as I jogged, gathered my spikes, numbers and racing uniform and headed to the check-in tent.

In fact, the whole time leading up the race start I would look down at my uniform or my bright green shoe laces and think about the first time I put them on. I was so excited to be in that BYU blue. I think I ran that entire first race with a huge smile. And then I thought about how far I really had come, and knew that coach was right. I have absolute trust in that man. I’ve always prayed that coach would have confidence in me, and boy, was that prayer answered!

Nothing feels as cool, or as completely terrifying, as striding down that home stretch to the start line. I couldn’t help but think that this was the moment I’d been waiting for and dreaming about for quite some time. Normally I try to play down the importance of races so as to control nerves, (and because let’s face it, someday I’ll be an old grandma and really not care about how I did in that one race that one time, etc.) but c’mon, this is nationals! I knew this could be my moment if I let it.

I was hip No. 19, so I was lined up as the second girl on the second line, the line that starts further up on the outside of the turn, and cuts in after the first 100 meters or so. I was kind of happy about this because sometimes it’s easier to be the one that converges on everyone else, rather than the one on the inside who get boxed in.

I started and got the inside almost immediately, but I could feel the other line of girls coming parallel with me before I got to cut in. I picked up my start so that when I did merge, I merged on the front of the pack instead of the middle. Good thing I noticed because it worked and I managed to get a pretty good position on the inside. It’s important to be on the inside in a 10K because it’s so long, so any extra distance you run, even being in the middle of lane one, can add up to a lot lap after lap.

We were about 80-second pace on the first lap which I was happy about, but then the real girls got in the front and picked it up. I had to make a move to get back on the inside behind these new leaders.

They started to try and pull a surge and create some distance. There were three girls, one being a Washington girl I recognized from my 5K two weeks ago at Oregon (yeah, I beat her there.) I decided that this was the break away coach and I had discussed so I hung back a little to let them go do their thing. As I came around the turn that coach was sitting on, however, he told me to get back with them.

That was a little frustrating because first,. they were going fast; second, this was contrary to what coach and I had discussed, and third,. now I had a gap, though fairly small, to make up for.

Luckily, like I said before, I have complete trust in him, so I surged ahead to close the distance. Now there were about five or six of us who had already started to separate ourselves from the rest of the race. And we were cranking it! It scared me a little at first. The pace really was quick. At first I was thinking thoughts more along the lines of “gee, I hope this works” and “I wonder what this will feel like in 20 or 25 minutes” but as we settled and I found a rhythm my thought was more like “this is going to be a great PR!” I was running in that back of that pack of five or so girls and coach kept telling me I was in perfect position.

Despite the fast pace, I felt very good, that is, of course, except for one thing. I could tell my stomach was hurting. And after a little more time, I could tell that this was going to be one of those races, but here I was, halfway through my national race. It was then that I made a decision. This was my race and my chance. Nothing would make me stop or slow me down. Incredibly, I was able to stay focused on and very alert to the race despite my stomach pain. Seriously though, this was a race where I needed my head, and somehow I was able to keep my wits enough to be a good competitor.

There were a lot of times in the race where someone in that pack would surge, and I, still hanging on in the back, would have to make a pretty big move to get around whoever in the pack wasn’t moving with the surge. I had to make the decision over and over in that race to put on some speed to get back to where I needed to be. I knew that if I didn’t, I would lose the pack, end up in no man’s land, and possibly get run down by the chasing field. Because let me tell you, we ran a 16:35 5K split! I was excited about it however, because I kept thinking that I was going to get a great PR. I really wish we’d held that pace because my finishing time was a second or two slower than my PR, which means we significantly slowed down in the second half of the race. Oh, well.

With 800 to go, the girl from Providence really earned her win. She took off and laid it down. Looking back of course, I really wish I’d gone with her, but she definitely broke me, broke us all, when she surged that time. She ran a 72-second lap, and then a 71, so good for her. I know that’s what coach had prepped me for in my last really hard workout (2x800 with one minute rest; the first in 2:20 aka 70-second laps, the second all out, but I only managed a 2:19…it was hot…and I was tired from two days of 12 miles…) but I didn’t respond, no one did, and so this girl got a huge lead on us. I think I was running fourth at this point.

Normally, I would wait to really kick until the last 120 meters or so, but I could tell the girl in front of me was tired so I went around her before the 200 to go mark, which looking back could have been risky. I sprinted in, not as hard as I would have had I had someone to catch. Which is another reason why I’m frustrated for not going with the girl who won. I’m very confident in my kick, and I like it better when I can really use it.

Needless to say, I haven’t really had a chance to let it sink in yet. In some ways it felt like a bad and good dream that will end with me waking up on Thursday morning when I’ll have to do it all over again. But it's real and my season is done, and I am finally an All-American athlete. On my cool down after the race, I did do some celebratory leaps and fist pumps when I was sure no one was looking. I am the No. 2 10K runner in the nation. And right now, I'm exhausted.

My favorite part of the whole night was when dad and Matt hugged me despite all my sweat from the Arkansas humidity. I told Matt that he’d already proposed and couldn’t take it back now!

Good thing he’s going to be a doctor, right?

Cecily is a graduate from Brigham Young University and is a two-time All American in cross-country and track. Email: ceclem@sbcglobal.net