What Is It Like to Become An Olympian?

I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I am heading to RIO for the 2016 Olympic Games! As I mentioned in my last blog, things have seemed far from picture perfect this season. Since I last wrote, I have had a couple of great races and a couple of OK races. Most importantly, I achieved my ultimate goal: I made the OLYMPICS! The races that got me there are all part of the story, the good ones, the bad ones, and even the DNF one.

I want to write about my journey because I think it is important to highlight that the buildup to becoming an Olympian is not always smooth and ideal. In most cases, it is the opposite. But in the end, it is that one race on the right day that makes everything possible and erases all of pain and feelings of defeat of all of the other races. When I think about running a big PB in June of the Olympic year, I catch myself saying, “I’m SO lucky.” But when I think longer about it, I realize it is not luck. There was a ton of hard work, a lot of sweat, some tears, huge sacrifices, and an endless amount of support from people helping me on this journey. We all worked our butt off for this day, and I am so happy we were rewarded.

Below is a little recap of the series of races in the buildup to my selection for the Olympics.

May 20th: Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic, Occidental College, LA

This race was the first time I lined up for a steeplechase since I walked off the track 3 laps into the race at Payton Jordan. The weeks following my DNF were hard, but good. I was nervous before every challenging training session and I was questioning whether I would be able to tough it out or not. Did I want it badly enough? Each day I proved to myself that I DID want it—I relit the fire in my belly and I was genuinely excited to line up at Oxy.

I raced aggressively and ran my third fastest time ever--less than 2 seconds outside of the Olympic Qualifying mark. I felt like I had brought my Olympic dream back to life and was relieved, proud, and excited.

June 4th: American Track League, Atlanta

I was overly eager to get back out and race after the Hoka meet. I wanted to secure my second Olympic qualifying time, and I wanted to do it sooner rather than later! As the race day approached, I had a lot of doubts. Was the weather going to be too hot? Was I recovered enough to race again? Was I forcing an unplanned race onto my schedule? In my heart, I knew I wasn’t ready to put everything on the line again. The race didn’t go nearly as well as I wanted. My doubts, the weather conditions, where I was in my training cycle, and the environment of the meet (including an extra barrier) all played a part in me not racing as well as I hoped for. Time to move on to the next one.

June 12th: Portland Track Festival

This had been a tentative race on my schedule. I was hoping to leave for the UK and start prepping for the trial race around the time of this meet. However, I was extremely uncomfortable making the trip over to the trials without securing my second Olympic standard. Training after the last race had gone really well, and I knew that if I raced to my potential, I could run under the Olympic Qualifying mark of 9:45. And then, BOOM, I ran 9:35. I had teammates from Rogue and from Rice cheering me on massively, and I could feel their energy pushing me the last two laps. I couldn’t contain my excitement when I crossed the finish line. I had essentially booked my ticket to RIO!

June 26th: British Trial, Birmingham

This meet was where I could secure automatic selection for the Olympics. For those who followed my story last year, you will remember that I was denied selection for the World Champs team even though I had the qualifying time and I won the British Championships. Things in Britain are done differently than in the US—to gain automatic selection you need 1) a top 2 finish at the British Champs and 2) two qualifying marks. If you don’t attain the automatic criteria, then your place on the team is left up to a committee to decide. In my case, the committee determined to bring 0 people to World Champs in the steeplechase instead of bringing their best steeplechaser who had achieved the qualifying standard. After last year, I made sure to read and re-read and re-read the selection policy.  I knew I had to hit the automatic criteria to guarantee selection.

Unlike last year, I entered the trial with my 2 qualifying marks, so a top two finish would secure my ticket to Rio. Going into the trial, I was the favorite by far. I also was the only person with an Olympic spot on the line. I was very nervous—the barriers always add an uncertain element and my Olympic selection depended on this race. I felt that I had the emotions of my non-selection last year creeping in and making things even more difficult for me. I DID NOT WANT TO MESS THIS UP!

I lead the race from the gun at a pace that I thought would thin out the field and keep me out of trouble. For the most part, I was right. Two girls followed my lead, but that was one too many! I was hyper aware of everything happening during this race. I was looking up at the jumbo screen and could see two girls on my heels. I wanted to win so badly, but more importantly, I needed to finish top 2 to gain automatic selection to Rio. I put in an injection of pace with 1k to go, and managed to lose one of the competitors. With 400 to go, there was still one other competitor by my side. All of the worrying, angst, and concentrating on not messing up had drained me throughout the race. I didn’t have the final kick I needed and I ended up finishing second.

Initially, when I crossed the finish line, I was disappointed. I was the favorite to win and I didn’t. However, the disappointment fleeted pretty quickly as interviewers started asking me how it felt to be going to Rio. I had checked all of the boxes for automatic selection for the OLYMPIC TEAM! Mission accomplished.

This trial race was emotionally taxing for me, but I still achieved what I needed to. I have been reminding myself of that. The journey is not picture perfect, and overcoming so many doubts, fears, and barriers is what makes the journey so great!

What’s Next? 

I am currently in Amsterdam with the Great Britain team preparing for the European Athletics Championships. I am excited to get some practice at a major championship event and have the opportunity to run rounds in the steeplechase. My prelim is on Friday, July 8th and the final is on Sunday, July 10th. You can read about the meet entries, time schedule, and streaming information here: http://www.european-athletics.org/

After Amsterdam, I’ll be heading back to London to continue preparing for Rio. I’ll also be lining up at the London Diamond League on July 23rd. Thank you all for the support, likes, and words of encouragement to help me get here!