January 3-- I stepped up to the starting line surrounded by 50 athletes all aiming at running an Olympic Trials Qualifying time (OTQ). Some had hit the mark and were aiming higher, some had run an OTQ and were there to help the rest of us who were trying to make the standard for the first time. I was one of those who had yet to run the OTQ standard and was thankful for the others who's plan was to help me hit the pace. This was my first real shot at it and it would be my last as well before the deadline on the 17th. This was the first time I felt like I was in good enough shape to even attempt to qualify. For me to qualify would be a long shot and I knew it. I knew it when I made the goal to qualify 2 years ago after I ran 2:36 at NYC marathon, and I knew it was still a long shot as I stood on the starting line.
"Long shot." I use this term, because it was unlikely. Potentially conceivably possible, but still unlikely. In my mind, when I made the goal at the end of 2013 to qualify for the 2016 trials, I knew that it would take a lot of work. I'd have to run a lot of miles, perform very tough workouts and PR in the marathon by 18 more minutes or in the 1/2 by 13 more minutes. I was a long way away, but I was determined to give it everything I could to get there in time.
Just over two years later, as I prepared to race I thought about that term, "long shot." While it was still a term I used for myself, the context was drastically different. Before, it was a long shot that I even gain enough fitness, or that I ever get the opportunity to toe the line with the intention of qualifying. But there I was warming up, doing a few strides and shaking my legs behind the line next to dozens of athletes ready to run 4:57 pace for 13.1 miles or until their body no longer allowed it. In many ways I had already succeeded. My fitness was right there. I knew I'd have to have a good day, but I was so thrilled to be there as a "long shot" when I could have so easily not been there at all.
Running with the group in Jacksonville was one of the greatest racing experiences of my life. The feel and the energy of the group was incredible. Runners yelling "Watch the lines!" (because it was wet and they were very slippery) and "Right!" or "Left!" as we approached a turn. I've never seen such support from competitors during competition. In reality, whether we finished before or after any or all of these men, we knew the only competitor that day was the clock. Our first 5k was perfect (15:24). First 10k, perfect (30:50, a new PR...). I went through mile 7 in 4:57, still on pace and still rallying to get back in the group that was slowly creating distance from me.
The group moved on up the road and by mile 8 I knew that my tank didn't have enough fuel to get me to the line under 65. I knew I was running a sure PR, so I pushed with the other stragglers and held on to just miss going under 67 minutes. I had done what I drove to Florida to do: attempt an OTQ. I left nothing on the table, nothing in the tank, nothing to regret. There was no use attempting again on the 17th. For the last 6-8 months, the question was no longer "Can you get in shape to run under 65?" it was "Can you get in shape IN TIME?" My fitness had just not progressed quickly enough.
I won't lie. I was immediately very disappointed. I wouldn't say devastated, but I was hurting as I realized I wouldn't be running in LA on February 13th. For years, my highest goal and most motivating factor to lace up every day was toeing the line at The Trials. For the first time since I began really running I have had to make NEW goals, different goals, to continue improving. Four years is too long to have a goal of qualifying, and qualifying is too low to aim for a four year period. After letting it all settle in for a month I'm able to see all the good things much more clearly. I'm proud of myself for the work I put in over the last 2+ years and the strides I've made (pun intended). I'm thankful for the abundance of God's blessings that allow me to pursue this sport on any level, and especially to aim so high. I look forward to this year. I'll get to direct my focus to new things, learn a lot, and set a new standard for "the best shape of my life."