Where am I supposed to start?! I have a million stories, thoughts, and reactions to share with you from my Olympic journey. Reflecting on this epic journey is hard, especially for me, as I am the type of person who focuses on moving forward. When I start reflecting, my mind wanders to what could have been. What if I didn’t get hurt? What would the Olympics have been like if I was able to compete instead of hobble for survival to the finish line? I’d be lying if I said that each day I didn’t wonder why I tore my plantar fascia at the Olympic Games. However, I am a firm believer in the phrase, “I don’t bounce back, I bounce forward.” And I bounced forward from my race as soon as possible and focused on the positives that achieving my Olympic dream presented to me. I can honestly say I have walked away from Rio with an armor of happy memories.
Thought # 1 from the Olympics: The People and the Conversations
My favorite part of the Olympics was the people that I got to meet and the conversations I was lucky enough to have with other Olympians. I think a lot of people that interact with me may notice that I ask a lot of questions when I get talking to someone new. The researcher in me is fascinated by the different pathways that people take to become an Olympian, the support system that they have, and what their life looks like outside of the village.
I took advantage of running along the likes of Jo Pavey, and asked her to describe all four of her previous Olympic experiences and what it was like to get to her 5th Olympics. Jo confirmed my belief that finding a way to make running part of a sustainable lifestyle is the key to a long, successful career. She has inspired me to avoid limiting my career by my age and instead focus on the enjoyment and improvement I have seen in my running over the past couple of years.
There were several young stars on the GB team who I loved hanging out with because of their high energy, no fear, and invigorating approach to the games. There were other ladies who I had competed alongside over the past 6-8 years and we all finally achieved our Olympic dream after each of us had to overcome several obstacles on the journey to Rio. It was great to make it to the Olympic games alongside so many friends.
I spent time speaking to athletes from other countries on the long bus rides to and from the Olympic village. I loved coincidentally sitting next to Canadian runner Micha Powell, who happened to be the daughter of Rosey Edeh, a hall of famer and 400m hurdler from Rice University. It was also great to catch up with Marielle Hall, who I competed against back in college, and was also once coached by Steve Sisson. The conversations I had were fascinating and proved to me how small the Olympic community really is. I felt connected in someway to everyone I spoke to in the village.
Thought #2 from the Olympics: Team GB knows how to do the Olympics.
I feel lucky to run for Great Britain. The British Olympic Association (BOA) knows how to make the Olympic experience unforgettable for the athletes. It started with the kitting out process: picking out the sizes for our village wear and competition kit and being presented with a lot of freebees was the first way I was spoiled by TeamGB. I was quick to take advantage of several of the perks that go along with making a British Olympic team, like my free Oyster travel card and the £25 monthly vouchers from Aldi. The perks didn’t stop there. When we travelled out to Rio, we had a lovely free breakfast at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in Terminal 5 and we picked up a lunch box for the journey. Our facilities at training camp in Belo Horizonte were top class, and the BOA did a great job of making sure everything was in place for the athletes when they arrived.
Before arriving in the village, the news had spread stories about how poor the living conditions were in the Olympic village. The British block was great—the BOA had solved all of the problems before the athletes arrived. Plus, our apartments were fully outfitted with TVs, wireless Internet, tea and coffee supplies, including a kettle and refrigerator, decorations on the walls, and lamps and cute pillows to lighten up the ambiance of the living rooms. I know that several other countries only had the bare bones in their rooms—no TV, no excess furniture, nothing in the kitchens. I am interested in the differences between countries and what each provides for Olympic athletes—I guess I still have more questions to ask J. We were greeted with special gifts at our welcome meeting to the British block and constantly reminded of the caliber of our achievements to get to the Olympics. The star treatment continued on the journey home with a private, gold nosed, British Airways 747 plane. On the plane, we did a champagne toast, sang our national anthem, and were treated like heroes. We were welcomed home by loud cheers and congratulations at Heathrow.
Thought # 3 from the Olympics: It’s expensive, but totally worth it.
This year, I made no money from running. I do not have a salaried contract. Adidas provides me with shoes, racing kit, and training gear, but I am not a contracted athlete and I have no bonus structure. The majority of my travel and expenses are covered by Scottish Athletics (who are unbelievably supportive, positive, and by my side through thick and thin). Through British Athletics, I receive the Virgin London Marathon Silver funding, which covered an additional £1000 of my travel for races that wasn’t covered through Scottish Athletics. Luckily, my sister Katie is an incredible physical therapist, and when I’m in Texas she takes care of me, which saves me a huge expense. When I was in Teddington this summer, I paid for massage and visits to the chiropractor to help keep my body in once piece in the build up to Rio. I know I did not get nearly enough treatment to maintain my body because of the expenses and my lack of access to British Athletics physical therapists outside of competition. I used airline miles for travel to and from London for the summer, I paid out of pocket for some accommodation in the build up to Rio, and I was lucky enough to have great friends put me up for the remainder of my time in Teddington so that my Olympic dream didn’t burn a hole in my pocket.
I like to keep my running a sustainable part of my life, and sometimes that means I miss out on some of the extra things that could really benefit me. My running situation is similar to a handful of other athletes (perhaps more, but people aren’t very open about this stuff), but drastically different to many people at the Olympics. I know I am not on track to win a medal, and making the final this year was going to require me to run the best race of my life with a healthy left plantar fascia.
When I reflect on all of the sacrifices I made to line up for one race, momentarily it can seem crazy. However, Making the Olympics was worth every penny that I have put towards running, every penny I have missed earning by delaying putting my PhD to full time use, and every missed party / wedding / bottle of wine. Becoming an Olympian is PRICELESS, and I am so excited to be able use my experiences on the journey to the Olympics and through the Olympics in my role as a sport performance consultant in the future.
Other interesting things from the Olympics
· I’ve never eaten in such a diverse space. Think about taking people from every country in the world and putting them in a single dining hall. It is chaotic. There are so many different cultural intricacies that surround food and I loved watching them unfold in the food hall.
· Some athletes stay in the village in the build up to competition and some do not. A lot of athletes miss out on the spirit of the games because they want to stay in a quieter, more controlled environment. Others want to make sure they have their altitude tents, which aren’t allowed in the village apartments. Some people want to stay with their families. A handful of athletes are great at balancing both: staying focused and participating in the Olympic spirit. From my perspective, the Olympics are a lot about savoring the experience and participating in the Olympic spirit. I know I am swayed by the fact that I don’t have a medal, massive bonus, or pay check waiting for me at the finish line. But I also know that my Olympic memories would not be nearly as great without the fun times I had in the team apartments, participating in activities in the village, meeting new people, and navigating the insanely unique village environment.
· Transportation was the one downside of the Olympics. It was very hard and time consuming to get to competition venues, even when using the Olympic lanes. Luckily, I was tired from the excitement of watching so many thrilling races at the Olympic stadium that I fell fast asleep on many of these bus rides.
What’s next for me?
I am settling into the next stage of my life in Houston, Texas. I am currently taking my annual break from running and giving my left plantar some time to recover. I am using my free time to focus on my business and I am excited to work with Houston based athletes regarding mental performance in sports. I will start training in a couple of weeks with Rice coach Jim Bevan, and I am so excited to be back on the track where it all began. My main aim for next year are the 2017 World Championships in London. Yep, you guessed it, I can’t hang up my spikes just yet!