My emotions leading up to the Olympic Trials were a study in roller-coaster construction, and I was constantly “in my head” wrestling with myself: I was disappointed that my fitness was sub-par on the national stage, sad I was not going to be able to fully extend and test myself during the race, embarrassed to be up several pounds in weight, frustrated that my family would be there watching me run what would likely be only part of the race, and terrified of damaging my baby. The bottom line was that all I could see about this race were the negatives. I swirled in this steadily darkening fog over most of the holidays, and finally, a few days before my flight to Houston, in a fit of “being weepy,” what my husband had been saying to me for the last month finally penetrated the fog: I was running the Olympic Trials! I had qualified for the race, I’d had spectacular fall training, and oh yeah, I was going to be in the Olympic Trials! I had not failed miserably (as I had seen it) in reaching my goal, instead, I had realized my Olympic Trials goal. Circumstances were that I was going to be running, pregnant, but I’d still be participating in one of the most exciting races in the nation!
I found I could relax after this revelation. My coach and I decided that I would plan to start at or near a pre-baby race pace, and I would run as far as I could, rather than start out conservatively and plan to just try to finish. So, I put my uniform on, pinned the numbers, did my warm up, gave myself my usual “be calm, be steady, you’re strong, you’re ready” pep talk and then we were in the last minutes before the start of the women’s race. With the men already started, the fans were excited, and it was in a haze of amazingly positive cheering and noise that we women did our final warm up and were called to the starting line. I started in the middle of the pack, testing out my body, giving myself a head-to-toe inventory of how I was feeling, how labored was my breathing, how were my shoes feeling on my feet, noticing the wind direction and the energy of the pack I was in. For the first few miles, I was feeling great and I was totally enjoying myself, however, soon, the 6:00/mile pace we were coasting at began to feel strangely fast (duh), and by four miles, the realization that things were going to get uncomfortable set in.
This is where my usual mental conversation took a new turn. Apart from the usual mental body-checks, I was focusing on checking up on my “baby”: did I feel any weird abdominal cramps? Was I getting dizzy? How was my breathing? My physician had been adamant that at the sign of cramping or dizziness, I stop. So I was hyper aware of my “stomach,” but in way similar to that when you walk up to a person who you have never met before, the quizzical “hello there, are you my baby? How are things going down there? I know the ride is a bit bumpy, but, do you need any fresh air? Getting overheated? Please, just let me know….” It was quite a deviation from the whole body fusion I usually feel when communication with my racing self, where I’m usually more aware of my leg strength, muscle feelings, breathing and posture and working together. Instead, I was sending specific inquiries to a being I knew couldn’t directly communicate, and paying less attention to the rest of my working body.
By 8 miles, and after having spit/vomited out my fluids contents, I knew that I was not going to finish the race. I switched to a new goal: try to make it around to the finish line past my cheering family one more time, and then find the nearest medical station and pull out of the race. Making the decision was both heartbreaking and a massive relief. I was able to enjoy the last painful, slowing miles of my marathon, through the downtown sky scrapers, running past my family and husband and spectators, until just after mile 11, where I stepped off the road.
I accepted the proffered Gatorade and space blanket, gave my number and reason for dropping out, and, after a few minutes of breathing heavily and convincing the medical aide that the dizziness had subsided and I wouldn’t keel over, I began to walk, wrapped in crinkling silver blanket, to where I knew my family had been watching. I shuffled along, my legs feeling the burn of the unexpected miles and speed, while my mind floated down, desperately trying to communicate with my uterus. I didn’t know how the walnut-sized bunch of cells that was going to become my baby had liked the race, or how my body would react after such an unexpected push, but the last 30 minutes of racing I had felt more in tune with my body than I have ever felt before. I was entirely introspective, barely noticing the pitying looks and nudges between fans who recognized an athlete who had dropped out. Instead, I crunched along in my sweaty uniform, racing flats and silver blanket, marveling at this race I had just run. I found my husband, changed into my warmups and returned to watch the rest of the races. I cried a bit with my dad, who I knew could sympathize with the ache of unfinished business and sorrow I was feeling. We stood, holding hands in the sun, watching as the leading women flew past us toward the finish line, and I just ached. I had so desperately wanted to finish this race.
Although the race did not end as I’d have ultimately planned, I sensed that I was finally on track to my “new” path. Much like the Titanic, I felt as though I had been “full steam ahead” on the Olympic Trials trajectory, and then, when the iceberg of pregnancy showed up out of nowhere, I was doing everything I could to frantically steer my mind and body to avoid disaster. I felt that I had finally managed to miss head-on collision, no damage or sinking occurred, and I was finally able to reset my course to becoming a mother. It was bittersweet: hollow in that I had my first DNF in over a decade at the biggest race of my life, but also awesome to feel that I had indeed done my best on the day, and that I could finally allow myself to take my mind off of the Trials, and focus on the excitement that was coming over the next few months of pregnancy, and indeed, my entire life.