Episode Seven: On Choices and Championships
Hello from Hampton and Taipei!
Well, despite our resolution to put out an episode every two weeks, TASG ended up taking a (rather oblong) hiatus. The unfortunate departure from qwerty mongering was mainly due to my looming big-scary-thesis deadline, as well as Sarah’s intensive MCAT studies. As a result, this installation arrives on the eve of the most momentous moment of TASG: tomorrow morning, Sarah races for a medal in the 1500m final at the World University Games.
Since our most recent, altitude-infected post, most of our outdoor and championship season has run its course. And, looking back on it all, two very different stories came out of the mix.
The way I see it, there’s only one way to classify Sarah’s year. If having a second breakout season can possibly be a thing, 2017 saw Sarah do just that.
To get the scope of her journey, wind back the clock to early June. At the first annual Vic City Invite, Sarah was at the lowest point of her season. She had come off of AC’s altitude training camp strong, and had put in performances that hovered around her PB. However, at the Victoria-based, athlete-run, high-performance meet, her emotions got the better of her.
The sky was grey and the wind swirled, threatening rain. During my own warmup, I donned gloves and zipped up the neck of a cozy sweater. The short card featured Canada’s top Olympic hopefuls, and everyone who registered had shown up to run fast.
Even during activation, those who knew Sarah could tell something was wrong. Typically, her pre-race demeanour bubbles with excitement and gratitude, but on that day she was tense and quiet. In recent weeks, life had been overwhelming; she had been preparing rigorously for her upcoming MCATs, managing her increasing workload at the cancer research agency, and dealing with the life challenges specific to being a twentysomething.
In the race she settled in mid pack, her stride wavering and lacking in impulsion, and from the infield I could see that she wasn’t focused. At 800m she stepped to the inside of the track and slowed to a walk, the other runners whizzing past on the rail.
I was sprawled on the massage table, getting a twisted calf treated, when Sarah burst into the hangar. Her face was contorted with panic, and tension ran through her movements. The hours after dropping out of a race is probably the worst time to be a runner—the confusing mix of emotions thunder like a blitzkrieg. You feel guilty relief, because you just stepped away from something scary, but you also feel angry regret, because you wasted an opportunity. Sarah sat on the floor beside my table, and I gripped her hand while the panicked thoughts that had filled hear head mid-race bubbled out like a spring. Good or bad, the emotional hurdle of racing is something all athletes face, and sometimes the only thing that helps is being close to the people who go through it too.
Dropping out of that race ended up being a turning point for Sarah. Simply put, it made her realize that, in the rush accomplish everything, she had neglected a key part of mental performance and pushed aside a sense of balance and peace. After Vic City Invite, she sat down with the WestHub’s sports psyche, who provided the advice she needed. From their sessions, Sarah began to have the confidence to go all in, to take risks in a race.
Three weeks later, she raced the Harry Jerome Classic like a different athlete. Her stride was smooth during the middle of the race, and, charging into the third lap, she faced head on the long dark place of the 1500m race. This time, there was a calmness in her shoulders and focus on her face. With a strong closing lap, she grabbed third place and smashed her lifetime best by four seconds, clocking 4:09.
After her race she pulled off her spikes. Even from forty meters away, I could tell she was glowing. She jogged across the infield in her bare feet, and, still warming up for my race, I continued my marching As in her direction.
She stopped in front of me. Her eyes were wide and sparkly, and she didn’t need to say anything. I didn’t need to say anything. We both knew she had just done something amazing, and that the amazing thing wasn’t the time and it wasn’t the placement. The amazing thing was that she had finally let go and found her flow. I said, “You looked incredible.” Sarah was too full of emotion to speak, but later that evening she said she’d never felt stronger in her life.
Sarah finished fourth at the Canadian Senior Championship in July, just a few strides behind a medal and her best national placement ever. Immediately after the meet, she boarded a plane to Brussels, where she hopped from city to city, meet to meet, running fast and even winning in Ninove. Tomorrow, she and another Canadian runner, Regan Yee, compete in the 1500m final at the World University Games. I, for one, can’t wait to write about the outcome.
Thank you for reading about our journeys!
You can catch Sarah’s race on CBC and at, https://livestream.com/fisu. The championship gun fires at 8:15am NB time and 4:15am BC time, so brew your coffee extra strong and tune to watch!